So… did Work From Home Lead To A Nation Of Slackers Watching Netflix?

In the early days of the pandemic there was a wave of fear that worried managers all over the world. Would their team be slacking off and enjoying daytime TV instead of working from home during the lockdown? If the team is filled with people that are happy to avoid the supervision of managers, then what would happen?

In 2020, Fortune magazine ran a story suggesting that both managers and the employees being managed were both in danger from home working. The managers would fret that the team is watching Netflix all day, but the reality was often that a 5pm finish became 9pm because without a commute to define the end of the day it just carries on.

Many companies, such as Sensée, have been facilitating work from home for years now. If you look back to the Harvard Business Review a couple of years before the pandemic started then it is filled with advice on how to ask your boss for the right to work from home. It’s well documented that home working can be just as productive as in-office work.

The HBR advice sounds almost charming after the experience everyone has had over the past couple of years: “If you’re proposing to work from home a single day per week, try for Wednesday. This way, your boss won’t perceive your request as a means to elongate your weekends, Nicholas Bloom says. ‘Wednesday is not a slacker day,’ he says. ‘It’s the middle of the week, and it’s a day for concentrated work, like detailed analysis.’”

Professor Bloom of Stanford University is well known globally for his work on research into modern working practices. His research into the Chinese travel agency CTrip has been cited as the classic example of how working from home can function well.

But even Nicholas Bloom was advising people how not to look like a slacker for wanting the flexibility to work from home. This idea of spending all day scrolling the Netflix menu is interesting because of exactly how wrong it was. When the pandemic happened, and most office-based workers had to start working from home, a subtle shift in managerial power also took place.

Working remotely, people need to be judged more on their deliverables, on what they are actually doing. There is far less scope for a manager to have favourites or team members who create a lot of noise in meetings, but then deliver very little. The typical “office politics” of being visible and yet doing very little doesn’t work when output is being measured transparently.

An RTÉ podcast from Ireland takes on the point directly: “When you are working remotely, people see the product and not the process. If your usual work process is to sit at your desk playing Solitaire (or Wordle) on your computer, this will not work out so well when working remotely. One of the early myths about remote work was that everyone would be a slacker. The data suggest almost the opposite, that remote work has probably made slacking less likely and less problematic.”

It’s a valid point that companies need to apply some systems and measurement to ensure that output is being measured fairly and transparently, but this isn’t difficult. It’s what most companies should be doing anyway and it can be done without the sneaky “spy software” that some companies have reverted to using. Monitoring deliverables doesn’t mean covertly spying on people at home using their webcam.

If this structure is in place then a great deal of workplace toxicity can be removed. A work from home team can actually feel more like a team than one that is physically together in the office. The slackers we all know from the office have nowhere to hide when their deliverables are monitored – for most people that’s a positive outcome from the pandemic experience.

Sensée to showcase its Contact Centre Outsourcing and SaaS solutions at BIBA 2022

Sensée will be demonstrating its Cloudworks™ technology platforms – including LiveDesk™ and TeamTonic® – and highlighting the company’s full range of Contact Centre Outsourcing solutions at BIBA 2022.

The BIBA Conference 2022 is the UK’s largest insurance broking event.

Book a meeting with a Sensée consultant at BIBA 2022 by emailing us today

 

 

How Is WFH Seen Around The World?

When Covid arrived, the world of work changed, with huge pressure on businesses to embrace work from home (WFH). And what we soon discovered was that the barriers facing businesses looking to transition to WFH were much more significant in some countries and regions than in others.

In highly developed countries, like the UK, moving from the office to home was an unusual challenge, but one made easier by the fact that most people had an internet connection at home and some space in which to work – even if it was just the kitchen table.

Compare that with India and the Philippines, two countries very popular as destinations for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). The latest research on popular BPO locations by Ryan Strategic Advisory places them at number one and two respectively. So how did they cope during the pandemic and what is the attitude to WFH now in these countries?

There were many challenges in the Philippines. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) rated internet speed the slowest in the entire region. There are only three broadband subscriptions for each one hundred people – compared to around 41 in the UK. The UN Broadband commission ranks the Philippines very poorly for access to the internet.

Unbelievably, some companies in the Philippines sent their employees home and then fined them for not having good enough broadband to be able to effectively work from home. Many companies in the customer service sector were forced to partner with local telecoms players leading to a situation where it was only possible to initiate a WFH strategy if all employees had high quality broadband at home.

India faced similar challenges. While BPOs could ensure that internet quality in the office was always effective, it was much more difficult to guarantee good connectivity with people working from home. India has even less access to broadband at home than the Philippines, with just 1.6 connections per 100 people.

As late as November 2021, around three-quarters (72%) of Indian employees that were working from home said that their internet speed was not good enough to create an optimal working environment.

The Philippines government has insisted on BPO employees all being back in the office from last month – effectively delivering a government ban on any WFH customer service work. This is not because of the poor quality infrastructure, it is because many BPO companies accept grants and tax rebates to locate their offices in specific locations – if everyone is working from home then all these financial incentives are pointless.

Now how do all these employees feel now the pandemic is more than two years old?

In the Philippines the message is clear, 9 out of 10 employees want to either continue working from home or expect to be able to some of the time. In India, just one in five employees would prefer to work from an office and 91% want more control over their work location and hours in future.

So what’s the message we can take from this? It’s clear that popular BPO destinations, such as India and the Philippines, really struggled with the transition to WFH. With few homes connected to high quality broadband it often required support from the telcos to facilitate the transition.

But now people in these locations have upgraded their internet connection and had experience of WFH it seems remarkably similar to locations such as the UK and US. These employees want more flexibility and more control over their working hours and location.

This may be a challenge if companies have a strong culture that is based on being present in the office, but executives need to pay close attention to these preferences. Any company that wants to be seen as an employer of choice now needs to offer more flexibility as standard. This is how you will attract the best talent. Even the Wall St banks have now acknowledged this. 

It’s going to be difficult in regions like the Philippines, where the government is telling workers to all get back to the office, but eventually the message will be clear – people want more flexibility at work and WFH is an important lever to achieving this.

Wall St Acknowledges That WFH Is Now Essential To Attract Talent

In May last year the CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co, Jamie Dimon, said that working from home (WFH) doesn’t work in banking. He said that his experience of working from home during the pandemic proved to him that it’s impossible “to hustle” and he was convinced that young people prefer to work in offices.

Other senior bankers agreed. The CEO of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, has said that “remote work is not ideal for us, and it’s not a new normal,” he famously told a finance industry conference in February 2021. “It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as quickly as possible.”

Most large investment banks have a collegiate working style that is similar to how an apprentice learns – learning on the job. Therefore it always seemed that there was some merit in how these senior bankers reacted to working from home. After all, if you learn from experienced bank traders by being there on the floor with them then how can you continue learning from home?

But there is another variable at play. What if the existing approach is flawed? Perhaps young bankers don’t need to be immersed 100% into a trading environment and some elements of their job can just as easily be managed from home.

This is the argument that many of those young bankers are now making because they want greater flexibility – just like office-based workers in many other industries.

JPMorgan has been forced to announce a reversal of the unpopular ‘back to the office’ policy. “It’s clear that working from home will become more permanent in American business,” Jamie Dimon acknowledged in his annual shareholder letter in April 2022. Mr Dimon then described how that trend will affect the real estate of his firm, New York City’s largest commercial tenant. JP Morgan expects to have about half of its employees work in-person full-time. That includes retail bank branch workers, security and facility workers, and others whose jobs cannot be done remotely.

This is an enormous reversal from 2021, when it was apparently impossible for banks to operate with some employees working from home. Why have companies such as JPMorgan been forced to change their approach?

Talent. People now want more genuine flexibility in their working location and working hours. If an employer insists on being in the office Monday to Friday for a fixed number of hours then they are no longer seen as a desirable place to work. Any company – including big banks – that wants to attract the best talent needs to offer more flexibility.

The New York Times recently reported on the change of plans by JPMorgan, but also noted that banks including UBS, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, HSBC, and BNY Mellon have all recently introduced flexible working plans.

Any company that now wants to be seen as a desirable place to work has to offer employees the ability to work from home – at least some of the time. If the big Wall St banks have now acknowledged that WFH is essential for their business then how is this affecting your own ability to attract the best and brightest to your business?

Sensée recognized as an Honorable Mention in 2022 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for Customer Service BPO

Sensée is thrilled to be recognized as an Honorable mention in the 2022 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Customer Service BPO*.

For further details on the research, visit the Gartner website  http://www.gartner.com

 

 

 

*Gartner, “Magic Quadrant for Customer Service BPO”, Deborah Alvord, Kathy Ross, Mark Dauigoy, Uma Challa, March 28, 2022.

GARTNER and MAGIC QUADRANT are registered trademarks and service marks of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and are used herein with permission. All rights reserved. Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

 

Will 2022 Be The Year Of Digital Transformation?

When the pandemic arrived many businesses were faced with a challenge. In some sectors, such as hospitality and non-essential retail, the immediate future looked bleak as government restrictions were closing down their ability to operate normally. In cases like this the companies had to pivot quickly to new services, or the same service delivered in a different way, or they had to calculate if they could afford to just temporarily close the business.

This created a wave of digital transformation that was inspired by the crisis. Companies that had never used e-commerce were suddenly creating stores on Instagram so they could still interact with customers and take orders. The five-star Claridge’s Hotel in London started delivering their famous Claridge’s Fried Chicken to discerning customers. Heinz started sending cans of beans directly to customers to avoid the retail bottleneck. 

Five years of normal e-commerce growth happened inside 2020. Crisis creates a situation where innovation and transformation is possible because the alternative is to watch your business fail.

Contact centres were not allowed to operate normally during the pandemic so there were thousands of British customer service advisers that started working from home (WFH) instead of commuting to their office. The WFH option has now been embraced by the industry. Even though it is now possible to get everyone back to the contact centre, it has not happened.

Why hasn’t there been a return to the old normal?

Because the emergency transformation has demonstrated to both employers and employees that there can be a better way to manage customer service processes.

  • Cloud computing can create virtual contact centres allowing advisers to work from home or from a contact centre – building resilience
  • Collaboration tools now make it easier for teams to work and socialise together, even if they are not all seated in the same location
  • WFH allows companies to hire from anywhere, rather than being restricted to the people who live near to a contact centre 

This transformation has already taken place. It’s clear that WFH is now going to be an integral component of any customer service strategy in future. There is now no reason why WFH cannot be the central core of a customer service strategy – that’s what Sensée has managed for many years now.

But the digital transformation of customer service processes is set to continue. It’s not just that 2022 will be a year of transformation, it is likely that this entire decade will see the relationship between brands and customers dramatically transformed.

  • Artificial Intelligence will find patterns in customer behaviour so brands can get closer to what their customers want and need.
  • Data analytics will allow brands to understand when and why customers buy their products – so they can engage more effectively and create personal offers that encourage more interaction.
  • A focus on relationship, not just transactions, will move contact centres away from the metrics that focus only on calls to exploring the value of a customer over their entire lifetime.
  • Product companies will offer services changing how we interact with our favourite brands – think about companies like Nike allowing customers to design their own shoes, so they receive a completely unique product.
  • Brands inside a lifestyle. Successful brands will insert their service into the lifestyle of the customer. This could be a bank that helps the customer to save for specific targets or direct-to-consumer brand that ensures you never run out of pet food – making life easier will be a requirement for success.

The digital transformation of customer service is already underway and was accelerated by the pandemic. Although today we still think about customer service as a process of taking calls from customers, the future vision will involve dramatically more self-service using smart speakers, automation with chat bots, and a more general focus on the long-term customer relationship – not just the individual transaction.

In 2022 we are already experiencing the early waves of post-pandemic digital transformation – are you ready?

Sensée colleagues shortlisted for 2022 UK National Contact Centre Awards

Massive congratulations to two of our Sensée colleagues for being shortlisted at the 2022 UK National Contact Centre Awards.

– Jo Hodge in the ‘Outsourced CC Manager of the Year’ category
– Emma Gunner in the ‘Rising Star in a Large CC’ category

Amazing achievement and best of luck to both for the upcoming judging.

2022 UK National Contact Centre Awards winners will be announced live on Monday 20 June at a gala awards evening at the fabulous Old Billingsgate in Central London..

(Online Workshop) 5 Strategies to Optimise Hybrid Working

Chair: Sandra Busby, Welsh Contact Centre Forum
Date: Apr 13th 2022
Time: 10.00 to 11.30am

As the world prepares for a full post-Covid re-opening, we look at 5 strategies that could help contact centres get more from hybrid working.  During this session, we will ask:

  • What strategic and tactical plans will best ensure everyone is on the same work mission?
  • What hybrid working model(s) will work best for your organisation?
  • How will you ensure effective ‘team’ working?
  • How will you ensure all team members are treated fairly and enjoy the same career opportunities?
  • How can hybrid working enhance your green credentials?

Sandra Busby will be joined by experts from home and hybrid workplace specialists Sensée – Service Delivery Manager Josephine Hodge and Homeworking Team Leader Emma Gunner.

We hope you can join us.

Register for the workshop

Did The End Of Covid Restrictions Bring About A Widespread Return To The Office?

Most of the Covid-19 restrictions the UK has endured for the past couple of years are now over. Free testing is about to end and the government is now trying to treat Covid like any other respiratory illness. This even applies to the previous rules on self-isolation – if you have Covid now then it’s advisable to stay at home and not go to work, or travel on public transport, but the government will no longer be taking any action if you do. The message is that we all have to live with Covid.

But one of the biggest changes for most professionals during the pandemic was the requirement to work from home. As the restrictions vanish are companies really returning to the way they were organised in 2019 or has two years of working from home (WFH) changed the expectation of both employers and employees?

Government ministers have urged people to ‘get back to the office’ because collaboration isn’t possible with remote working. But political messages are rarely focused on business alone – there is a political will to move on from the pandemic and the traditional commute is still seen by many as a return to normal.

Office occupancy rates give a better picture of what is really happening. Last month saw the highest levels of office occupancy since the pandemic started with the property analysts Remit Consulting measuring 27.5% occupancy. A look at the Remit data shows that occupancy through most of 2021 was around 10%, increasing at the end of the year, but then dropping to almost zero in January 2022 when the Omicron variant was sweeping the country.

It’s clear that some people are returning to their office, but even those now visiting the office are not at their desk from Monday to Friday as before. This is also clearly visible across the customer service environment where most contact centres remain far from their 2019 levels of occupancy – anecdotal evidence from industry analysts estimates that the major customer service specialists still have over 70% of their teams working from home – even now.

It’s difficult to get precise data on this because companies are naturally wary about sharing their ‘return to normal’ strategy and the situation is also very fluid – companies embracing hybrid WFH options are not returning to a 2019 situation, even if employees can now sometimes be in the office.

Our own data from last year was quoted in the FT – just 4 of 107 contact centre managers and directors predicted that there would ever be a complete return to the office. This situation appears to be playing out in 2022. Only the contact centres in the Philippines appear to be returning to what used to be normal and that’s because of a government mandate telling them that WFH will no longer be allowed from April 1st. How will this affect the industry in the Philippines if the customer service companies are now told how they must operate by a government?

This prediction of 2022, published in January by Contact Center Pipeline gives a stronger sense of where customer service is heading. Every single analyst and executive questioned in this article says that there will never be a complete return to the contact centre. They all talk about getting a WFH strategy under control, building out more flexible workforce management, and accepting that this hybrid working model is now permanent.

There are several clear messages coming from these surveys and analyst reports:

  • Offices still have very low occupancy in March 2022.
  • Employee expectations around flexibility have changed, largely because of the pandemic and the opportunity to experience work without commuting.
  • Employers need to offer more flexibility around WFH if they want to attract talent.
  • Very few contact centres have any plans to return to 100% in-centre employees.

It seems that many of these companies have finally learned what Sensée has always understood – allowing people to work from home can create a more productive and satisfied team. And if you know how to design WFH solutions that enable teams to work together and be engaged, then why maintain an office at all?