(Webinar) Hybrid Working Management and Communications


In this online event, SensĂ©e Team Leaders and Managers will discuss how they overcome challenges in managing remote teams – as well as help webinar attendees resolve their burning New World Of Work issues.

Subjects covered will include how to:

  • Maintain effective team working and morale
  • Look after the health and well being of remote workers
  • Ensure good communications so that your whole team is informed, engaged and on the same page
  • Create fun events (games, competitions, online groups) that keep colleagues close and engaged
  • Enable homeworkers to self-schedule shifts for a better work-life-balance

Register for the Webinar

Boost Diversity And Inclusion By Embracing WFH

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) has long been understood to be a valuable way of introducing new ideas and innovation into companies. More voices from more diverse backgrounds creates space for a better understanding of your customers.

It’s also great for the bottom line. It is not just the right thing to do for your team, it can also lead to better business outcomes. D&I ensures that you don’t have a team that all think the same way because they are drawn from a very narrow group of people. 

It enhances creativity and cultural awareness and ultimately it will make your company more profitable – that’s what the experts at McKinsey have found.

But often when people write articles about diversity and inclusion there is a caveat – it’s difficult to get it right. It requires the HR team to align on a broader corporate strategy. It requires more effort during recruitment. Even when corporate leaders know that it is important, they often find it hard to achieve.

There is an easier way. Offer people the opportunity to work from home (WFH) and you will naturally start attracting a more diverse group of people to your company.

How can it be this simple?

First, think again about what we really mean by diversity and inclusion. The immediate response if you ask someone to define this strategy is that the company needs to attract a wider variety of people from different ethnicities and religions. However, this is a very narrow approach to D&I and misses some vital opportunities.

Contact centres provide a very clear example. When a contact centre relies on people working from an office then it is only possible to recruit people within commuting distance of the office – so diversity already depends on the area where the contact centre is located.

In addition, most contact centres with a requirement to work in-office focus on young people at the start of their career. The contact centre is seen as a gateway to jobs in sales, marketing, or customer service management so this emphasis on hiring young people self-perpetuates.

Now consider the WFH alternative for a contact centre service. 

There is no need to commute so the jobs on offer are available to people with a disability that makes it a challenge to commute twice a day. There is no need to be sitting in an office full of young people, so people of all ages with a variety of skills can be approached – including retired people who want to work flexible part-time hours.

Offering flexible hours from home also means that people with caring responsibilities, such as parents or carers for elderly relatives, can also contribute. They might not be able to work 8 hours a day, but a four-hour shift in the middle of the day could be exactly what you need to boost agents during the lunchtime peak.

All these people are usually excluded from the traditional workplace that demands an office commute and then a long shift at a single location. Working mums, long-term home carers, wheelchair users, and the recently retired. They can all participate fully in work if they have the flexibility to work from home.

Meta, the huge tech company responsible for Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, achieved their own goals for diversity and inclusion two years early because of remote working. McKinsey research has found that many underrepresented groups of employees have a strong preference for home working because it levels the playing field – they don’t need to be in an office full of people that look or feel ‘different’, they can just focus on the work that needs to be done.

It is clear that office-based jobs attract a certain type of employee – diversity is traditionally low because the employees must all share the same values. They must be willing to commute for work. They must live near their employer. They must be prepared to dedicate a solid block of time everyday to being in the office. There is very little flexibility in this traditional view of how professional work is organised.

The ability to work from home creates many more possibilities than just allowing your team to work without requiring a commute. It allows you to recruit from anywhere, which also means you can raise the bar on who joins the team. If they can be recruited from anywhere across the country – or even internationally – then you can afford to look only for the best potential team members.

It also creates the opportunity for much more diversity in the team. The contact centre example makes it clear that many different groups of people could become available if this flexibility is on offer. The opportunity exists beyond contact centres alone – as the success at Meta indicates – which then leads to an obvious question: if you are not already promoting diversity and inclusion by allowing team members to work from home then why not?

Can AI Play A Role In Coaching And Mental Health Support For Employees?

Most of the recent media coverage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has focused on the possibility that jobs will be completely replaced by AI. During the Covid pandemic, the relatively sober ‘Economist’ featured a headline suggesting that robots may be about to take your job. IBM announced a freeze on hiring where AI could replace the open position – potentially thousands of roles will be replaced.

Most of the media coverage is hyperbole, particularly in jobs where human empathy is still valued. Although there are many sections of the customer journey that can be handled by self service, when a customer really needs urgent help there is still nothing better than a reassuring voice. Many customer service interactions still require this human engagement, so we are not about to see a widespread replacement of contact centre agents just yet.

However, there are some interesting ways that AI can help agents in the contact centre. It can become a virtual assistant, taking notes and summarising calls. It can monitor customer sentiment and the quality of the interaction, so all calls can be checked for quality rather than just a random selection. AI can access information that the agent and customer are talking about, so there is no need to place the customer on hold while the agent performs a manual search.

All this can boost productivity and improve the customer experience (CX). However, I think there is another area that could be extremely positive for remote agents that are working from home: coaching and personalised guidance.

Remote agents will naturally not have a team leader by their side. Their managers are probably monitoring most of their activities through dashboards and real-time reports, rather than listening to a large number of the actual customer calls.

This can create a gap for the coaching process. Detractors of home working often say that it does not facilitate in-person learning or coaching and it isn’t possible for a team leader to spot when problems are developing.

But this is rather different with AI. The content, context, and sentiment of each call can be analysed and the agent can be guided to specific training workshops that will help them to boost any weaker areas of their performance. This can also be a useful way to monitor mental health, to see if the agent is behaving unusually or has a different attitude to normal.

Some might think that this monitoring and real-time guiding and coaching has an air of ‘Big Brother’ – an all-seeing intelligence that misses nothing. This is a natural concern and some companies do have form – remember all the web cams deployed during the pandemic because paranoid managers were unsure how to manage people they could not see?

Companies are already exploring how AI monitoring can help to reduce stress at work. Software already exists to help identify when remote workers may be feeling isolated – it automatically connects people to their colleagues if they are identified as lonely.

Some may fear a new era of control and supervision, where AI can read brain patterns and know what you are thinking. However, this is over-analysing the situation. Just like many other tools, AI can be used productively or in a more controlling fashion.

Think back to those webcams. They are great for remote agents that want to feel more connected to their team. Audio-only calls now feel a little odd for many office workers – we are used to talking with our colleagues on camera and engaging in meetings where we can see multiple colleagues on camera.

This connectivity and team-building is positive. Taking still photos at random times to check your employees are at their desk is not. It shows a lack of trust and an inability to manage people using tools such as a virtual office – see our LiveDesk for a good example.

Likewise with mental health monitoring. If companies start scanning every spoken or typed word for signs that their employee is under stress then it should only be driven by the desire to help employees when they are stressed.

AI – and in particular generative AI – can play an important role in supporting employees and helping them to cope with periods of stress or anxiety. In a contact centre environment it can be used to identify stress triggers and can offer coaching that may help to avoid difficult situations – all personalised for the individual.

Some companies deal with stress by running training sessions on ‘managing stress’ rather than dealing with the root cause of the problem. We are now creating technology systems that are becoming smart enough to identify when there are problems and what may be the cause.

Enlightened companies and managers will see this as an opportunity to support their team. There will be some less principled use of these technologies as monitoring systems, but the companies that deploy technology in this way will soon realise that they are driving their own employees away.

We have a choice how to use tools such as AI. Where it can offer support and positive individual coaching we should embrace it and look to the future.

Could the Digital Workspace be the Killer Business App The Metaverse has been waiting for?

The history of killer apps is fascinating because each time one is discovered it can entirely change how we use a device or gadget. The first documented killer app was the Visicalc spreadsheet for the Apple II computer. Released in 1979 it was such a compelling tool that people bought the computer just so they could use the software.

The same thing happened to the IBM PC when the spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3 and word processor WordStar were released. These business tools were so important that users went and bought the hardware they needed to use them.

More recently, software such as Netscape’s Navigator made it easy to browse the web in 1994 and in the late nineties Napster made it easy to share music online. Time and time again, software can influence the hardware we all use and change how people behave and interact.

The most recent example where this was expected to happen was the metaverse. For the past few years Mark Zuckerberg’s company, Meta, has been investing tens of billions of dollars into the idea that the next iteration of the internet will be immersive and visual. We will all need to use the Meta Quest headset as we all use our iPhones today.

According to the Wall Street Journal, however,  the plan has failed to reach its goals. Meta had expected to have 500,000 regular users of its flagship metaverse environment ‘Horizon Worlds’ by the end of 2022, yet the reality is less than 200,000. Almost all users that try it don’t last more than a month. The number of users is declining, rather than growing. Even Meta employees don’t use it.

Considering that over 5 billion people now regularly use the internet, this is disappointing. Whatever does come next will need to meet the requirements of billions of users.

Cost is one major factor. A Meta headset is likely to set you back over $1,000 so you need to be a committed early adopter to really want to experience the metaverse at present.

However, I think there is a more important reason – there is no killer app. If you look at the original launch ad for Horizon Worlds it features people beekeeping in a virtual world, cooking Japanese food, and playing golf. When Mark Zuckerberg appeared in some demo videos he was playing cards with friends in a gravity-free environment and talking of being able to hang out with friends online.

Nobody has ever said that they want to get home from a tough day at work to then pull on a VR headset and spend the evening farming virtual honey from virtual bees. Everyone that does enjoy socialising online usually has a specific reason to be in whatever system they are using – usually a game like Roblox or Fortnite where you can play and talk to friends at the same time.

These are games. People have a reason to be in that environment because they want to play the game. The metaverse, as it exists, has no strong purpose. It costs a lot to participate and there is nothing pulling people in and saying ‘you have to be a part of this.’ Do people really wants to go online to just hang out?

However, there is one idea that I believe may be important for companies like Meta – the workplace.

Modern work is more fragmented than it was before the pandemic. Now it’s common to have people working from the office, from home, from a cafe or airport, and everyone is on the same team and connected using various business tools such as Slack or Teams.

At Sensée we use LiveDesk to bring our teams together. It is effectively a metaverse, a virtual office, where people can see their colleagues, work with them or just socialise with them. It creates a much stronger sense of the team working together as one.

This doesn’t require VR headsets, but then our team probably would not enjoy having to wear one all day. Many people experience nausea from motion sickness when using them anyway.

A digital workspace like LiveDesk reflects how people are working in the 2020s. We are rarely sitting side by side with colleagues today – often we may be working alongside colleagues that are not even in the same country. However, if we can see them in our shared virtual office then the team building becomes real.

Perhaps the digital workspace will be the saviour of the metaverse concept, but then it could be Microsoft with their Teams and LinkedIn platforms that beats Meta to the initial business-focused market. Only time will tell.

We already have our own solution and we know that when clients see it they can’t understand how remote work can be managed any other way. Perhaps the digital workspace is the spreadsheet of the 2020s? The killer app that will help people become used to operating in virtual worlds. It certainly isn’t going to be a game of virtual table tennis or beekeeping.

New Work Patterns Are Emerging And They Are Largely Positive

The 2023 Gallagher ‘State of the Sector’ report is a survey of over 2000 HR and internal communication professionals. It highlights some very interesting recent changes in the nature of the traditional employee and employer relationship.

There were nine themes that came out of the research, but let’s just look at a few of the broader ones because some are very much focused on internal communications:

  • The rise of culture and belonging. Three quarters of the survey said the purpose of internal communication is to support culture and belonging. Internal communication was always first and foremost about communicating strategy and creating alignment around an organisation’s vision and purpose. This has always been true, but it was clear that creating a corporate culture and sense of belonging is now more prevalent and important than ever.
  • Reinventing the employee-employer relationship. Just over half of the survey respondents have started to revisit their employee value proposition. Existing value propositions have limited effects, because only just over half rated employee understanding of compensation, rewards and benefits as excellent or good.
  • Being a force for good in the world. Although 41% said they have a clear ESG strategy in place, most organisations still are struggling to strategically deploy ESG communications and share their views on sustainability. They instead choose to focus exclusively on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Taken together this all looks like quite a change in the traditional employer and employee relationship. In fact, employers have almost always held the upper hand in this relationship as they offer jobs to employees – they are making the monthly salary payments. However, as these three trends demonstrate, people want something more from their employer today than just a salary at the end of the month.

Employees want their employer to appreciate what drives them, what makes them arrive at work each day – often it isn’t the salary. They want to feel that they belong to an organisation that share similar beliefs, a culture that feels positive. They want to feel that the broad power of their organisation is doing some good in the world, for the environment, or diversity and inclusion.

Some employers are responding to this change – many are not. During the period of the Great Resignation it appeared essential for employers to listen carefully to their employees, but now there is a great deal of economic uncertainty almost everywhere it feels like the power dynamic is shifting again.

Some commentators are suggesting that skilled employees will give up on traditional jobs completely by embracing the gig economy. Traditionally most people have looked at these jobs as fairly precarious and without a requirement for specific skills – delivering pizza or driving a taxi. However, platforms such as UpWork and Fiverr are creating a place where highly skilled individuals can offer their services one task at a time.

The gig economy will become more important, but I can’t see a world in which every highly skilled worker prefers gigs to a solid employment contract with a single employer. Most people want the assurance of knowing they can pay their bills each month.

However, there are a few important changes in the employer and employee relationship that I believe are becoming more important for all executives to appreciate if they want to attract the best people, including:

  • More work is outcome-based. Some jobs need to be based on time performing a task – such as a food server has to be available when a restaurant is open – but many employers are finding that if they manage people based on output, rather than time at a desk, then it works better for both – even in the traditional salaried environment. This changes the management approach to focus on who is really delivering value, rather than who is present at their desk all the time.
  • Agency. One of the most common reasons for people to quit their job is that their manager does not listen to them or does not give them any scope to make their own decisions – they have no agency or control over their working day.
  • New working patterns. People want a greater ability to control the days and hours that they work. In the customer service environment this has been achieved by companies such as SensĂ©e by modelling the coverage we need in 30-minute intervals through the day and then asking our team to sign up for specific shifts based on the hours available. It allows the team more flexibility and ensures we can offer better coverage for our clients too.
  • ESG. Environmental, social, and corporate governance goals may just sound like an update of corporate social responsibility, but it really matters today. Employees are looking to ESG statements to give them an indication that this company is worth working for. Customers are also making purchasing decisions based on ESG and investors are too – nobody can seriously seek business funding today without a solid ESG plan in place.

There is a general move to a more flexible work environment. People are working from home or with hybrid contracts more often. They are also working more flexible hours with the ability to change their working hours fairly easily.

All this was not imaginable in professional jobs a couple of decades ago where fixed office hours had to be tolerated and colleagues would be called ‘part-time’ if they left the office on time.

Work is becoming more flexible and more meaningful. All this is very positive. The gig economy is also offering greater flexibility to those who are happy to work with a lower level of security, but with a greater potential upside. People want to believe in what they are doing at work and they also want employers to leave them to get on with the job.

(New eBook) The Team Leader Role in a Hybrid World

Think you understand what it takes to be a great Team Leader?

Well think again… because the switch to home & hybrid working is bringing about major changes in the way organisations view the role.

‱ In an office setting, Team Leaders must be managers, supervisors, motivators and enforcers (!) – as well as providers of practical support (especially when it comes to problem solving, knowledge and delivering emotional support)

‱ In a work-from-home setting, all those qualities still apply. But, in addition, they have an even more important role to play in employee engagement, communication, health and well-being support, and building team culture (WHEREVER people work)

So what makes a great Team Leader?

Read the eBook (no need to register)


(Digital Event) Creating The Ideal Hybrid Workspaces

Time and date: 11.30-13.00, 7th June
Chair: Sandra Busby, Managing Director of Cnect Wales

In our latest digital event (11.30-13.00, 7 June), we’ll discuss creating the perfect office space in Bricks & Mortar and homeworking environments.

What are the key elements that’ll determine how effectively your hybrid workspaces function? And what technologies are required to create digital workspaces that bring the worlds of home and office together?

Sandra will be joined by experts from Sensée, as well as a leading contact centre based in Wales.

Register for the Digital Event today

(Pic courtesy of k2space.co.uk)

Is Improving Mental Health baked into your hybrid working strategy?

In 2020, almost everyone was talking about the effect of enforced working from home. Studies were quickly undertaken where academics explored how the sudden change in working arrangements had affected people – in particular their mental health.

Burnout was common. Depression and stress were often being triggered by a low quality of leadership – because leaders were simply not equipped to manage people remotely. This BMC Public Health analysis from 2022 said: “While personal factors are not controllable, the quality of leadership provided to employees, and the ‘place and pattern’ of work, can be actively managed to positive effect. Innovative flexible working practices will help to build greater workforce resilience.”

In the early days of the pandemic it was clear that executives needed to manage rapid change across a number of fronts. Many were moving to a work from home (WFH) environment with no experience of remote management. Many leaders had no way to manage without constantly calling and micro-managing their team and many individual team members found that working in this environment, with none of the social activities of a workplace, became intolerable.

But how have attitudes and management practices changed? Have companies learned how to work within this flexible environment or are they still muddling through?

Learning from our WFH mistakes:

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development stated in their 2022 Health and Wellbeing at work report that ‘management style’ is still a main cause of work-related stress. The report stated: “This finding is a stark reminder of the negative impact people managers can have on people’s mental wellbeing, if they are not trained and supported to go about their management role in the right way. Good people management can help manage and prevent stress which can be linked to common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.”

The CIPD has created some practical guidance for managers, to help them become more aware of how their actions can influence the mental health of their reports.

What the research is telling us:

Research by the International Labour Organisation titled ‘transforming enterprises through diversity and inclusion’ notes that the experience of the pandemic has elevated the importance of how companies manage the mental health of their employees. The report said: “The physical and mental health and well-being of employees quickly rose to the top of the enterprise agenda as it became critical to continue operations at the start of the global crisis (Fisher 2020). Remote working has been implemented at scale, almost overnight, with many enterprises now moving towards ‘hybrid’ working, i.e. mixing remote and office-based work, even though that was unthinkable for many before the pandemic”

Forbes published an analysis of research from the office group IWG. This said that WFH and hybrid workers are in a strong position to improve their mental health because they exercise more, they don’t waste time commuting, they sleep more, and all this additional exercise and sleep is drastically improving mental health.

The Harvard Business Review said: “In 2020, mental health support went from a nice-to-have to a true business imperative. Fast forward to 2021, and the stakes have been raised even higher thanks to a greater awareness of the workplace factors that can contribute to poor mental health, as well as heightened urgency around its intersections with DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion).”

The HBR article makes some powerful statements about how employees now see their workplace: “Employees need and expect sustainable and mentally healthy workplaces, which requires taking on the real work of culture change. It’s not enough to simply offer the latest apps or employ euphemisms like “well-being” or “mental fitness.” Employers must connect what they say to what they actually do.”

Planning your hybrid strategy:

This is the real message. Before the pandemic, helping employees manage their mental health was the type of support that a responsible employer would offer. Others would see it as an unnecessary expense. The HBR research notes that, when they surveyed employees, 76% said they had reported the symptoms of at least one mental health condition in the previous year.

Three-quarters of the workforce have faced at least one mental health issue in the previous year. This is why the sudden change since the pandemic needs to be baked into boardroom strategy. More people are talking about their mental health and attempting to deal with problems through treatment or therapy – rather than just “coping.” It also applies to all levels of the organisation – even the top. 

There are also many specific factors about how work is organised that can contribute to mental health conditions. In the HBR research, 84% of respondents said that at least one workplace factor was influential in their mental health problems. 

The way we were working before the pandemic was not working. By adopting WFH and hybrid work with good communication and support we can create workplaces that don’t contribute to stress and anxiety. It’s in the interest of both the employer and employee and can contribute to a wider strategy focused on diversity and inclusion. 

What is your own post-Covid strategy and does it directly embrace how to improve the mental health of your employees?

Will WFH be good news for the poorer UK economic regions?

London has always dominated the British economy. Our national wealth was more evenly distributed when there were still shipyards in Belfast, productive mines in Wales, and vibrant ports, such as Liverpool and Hull. However, as all this heavy industry has declined more and more service sector jobs – such as banking and insurance – have gravitated to London and the South East.

There is even a government department for ‘levelling up, housing, and communities’ which is focused on creating opportunities for business and employment all around the country.

But is there an opportunity to more strategically use working from home (WFH) as a way to create opportunities outside of the South East?

It’s clear that WFH has quickly become an expectation of employees. Bloomberg recently reported that three-quarters of workers in London would quit if their company demanded that they return to work in the office. But this also means that those workers don’t really need to be in, or near to, London at all.

If employees are WFH then they could be in a remote village in Scotland, Wales, or a small town in Yorkshire – they just need broadband. There is an obvious opportunity for regions of the country that desire more residents paying local taxes to create greater pull factors for these professionals.

Some civic executives have encouraged an end to WFH because of the effect on cities when people start working remotely more often. These effects include fewer people enjoying the city, fewer people visiting shops and business – especially hospitality, and a general change in how people use the city centre.

Dr Jesse Matheson of Sheffield University published research exploring the regional effects of WFH and found that there is a significant increase in economic activity in suburban areas – many of those coffees are still being purchased, just closer to home. Dr Matheson estimates that over ÂŁ3 billion in retail and hospitality spending will permanently leave city centres in the UK. This is also depressing property values in London, but is increasing housing prices in traditionally less expensive places to live – such as Sheffield.

The Office for National Statistics has managed to capture an interesting picture of regional changes and how WFH has become more popular. ONS data shows that between October to December 2019 and January to March 2022, homeworking in the UK more than doubled, increasing by 108.8% (up 5.2 million), from 14.5% (4.7 million) to 30.6% (9.9 million). The number of homeworkers increased by more than 50% in all UK regions and Scotland saw the largest percentage increase in homeworking (203.5%, up 544,000 people). 

Regional patterns captured by the ONS are also interesting because it is clear that the number of workers living in or commuting to London has dropped by 4.8% at the same time as a 3.1% increase in the East of England. The UK WFH population is now roughly the same as the entire working population of Austria. 

A large number of countries have enacted policies to specifically attract remote workers – often called digital nomads. Argentina, India, Spain, Croatia, Estonia, are all examples of countries that make it very simple for skilled workers with remote online jobs to move to their region. These countries want smart, generally well-paid, people who will come and pay taxes.

But isn’t there a similar opportunity inside the UK? Surely Manchester, Liverpool, or Hull could create pull factors that would draw remote workers to their regions? If you look at the government agenda it is aspirational and worthy, but it doesn’t feel like there is anything to make a professional want to leave London and move to Liverpool.

Property prices, rent, and council tax are all lower outside of London. Could regional mayors offer extra tax discounts or subsidised rail travel or other financial incentives that might attract professionals? Many nations have seen the opportunity and are actively promoting their region to digital professionals. If we saw this happening inside the UK then it would be a huge shot in the arm for levelling up plans because once people are focused on WFH, they don’t need to be in any specific region of the UK.

The regional possibilities are clear, but will mayors have the vision and ability to design attractive pull factors?

Are you making the most of your homeworkers’ life experiences?

According to the last major UK HomeAgent survey*, 75% of contact centre advisers who CHOSE to work from home (WFH) were 35 or over, with 61% having over 10 years’ experience in customer contact roles. Over 200 advisers took part in the survey.

By comparison, the average age of an office-based contact centre worker (pre-pandemic) was somewhere between 26 and 31**, with the differences in life experience as well as customer contact experience between home and office-based workers obvious.

Clearly this picture will have changed significantly post pandemic with home/ hybrid working options available to a lot more people, young and old. However, the observation about WFH being attractive to an older, more experienced demographic remains.

Here at SensĂ©e, our average employee age is 41. Over 50% of our 1400 employees are working parents, many live in rural areas (so can’t easily access city centre offices), while others live with a disability, or care for an elderly relative. For many of these people, homeworking is a practical necessity as much as it is a lifestyle choice.

What you typically get with an older, more experienced workforce is better listening skills, higher levels of empathy, a greater understanding of customer issues, improved problem-solving skills, and better service quality.  

So how can organisations embarking on their home and hybrid working journeys make better use of these skills? Is it possible to give older, more experienced workers greater autonomy when handling queries – perhaps enabling them to adjust processes, handle more channels, and create innovative new approaches in search of better customer outcomes? 

Displaying this sort of trust in colleagues is important in any workplace but especially so in @home environments where colleagues are out of direct sight.  Furthermore, it could be an important step towards building positive engagement within your broader @home community.


  • The 2020 UK HomeAgent survey
  • Various sources incl. 2008 YouGov survey, BBC3 programme ‘The Call Centre’, 2004 ‘CFA Business Skills @ Work Contact Centre Labour Market’ Report 2012