Practical advice and tips on working from home

“Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others” said Boris Johnson on Monday (16th March) “and to stop all unnecessary travel. We need people to start working from home where they possibly can…. and avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues.” On 18th March, it was announced that all UK schools would be closed ‘until further notice’.

We are in dangerous and uncertain times and few would argue with the logic of the Prime Minister’s statement. However, there’s a lot more to homeworking than simply picking up a laptop and a phone from the office and setting up from home.

Homeworking advice

If you google flexible working tips or homeworking tips or even Coronavirus work-from-home tips you’ll find plenty of helpful advice.

On 11th March, for example, The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development issued a factsheet to help businesses support their operations and workforce. ACAS too offers plenty of useful advice, drilling down into much finer detail about what Employers should consider before embarking on their homeworking journey.

Both organisations are communicating a very similar message: that you need to plan for homeworking. In a section within its factsheet entitled Develop flexible resourcing plans the CIPD recommends developing “strategies to maximise the amount of home working to prevent the spread of infection”.

Similarly in the ACAS guidance, the author sounds a note of caution: “One of the first steps for an employer is to consider whether the job is suitable for homeworking or teleworking. Many roles may be, but others may not. And while homeworking can be seen as an attractive option, it will not suit everyone. A homeworker needs to be able to cope with working on their own with little supervision.”

Plan ahead

So having a homeworking strategy is essential. When considering whether a job is suitable for homeworking, ACAS asks Employers to consider whether the role needs “team working, face-to-face supervision, equipment (installed in the home) or equipment (which can only be in the organisation’s central base).” And it suggests homeworkers ideally need to be “able to spend long periods on their own, confident working without supervision, self-disciplined and self-motivated, and able to separate work from home life.”

Is this overkill when all we’re talking about here is people working at home for a few weeks until the Coronavirus sombrero is squashed? Absolutely not!

For certain job roles and functions, switching to homeworking and doing so with scalability and cost-efficiency is highly complex.

Front and Back Office Functions

Take back or front office functions, such as your customer contact centre. It’s highly unlikely that your office-based contact centre agents can just up sticks with a computer and a phone, set up from home and carry on business-as-usual.

The demands of contact centre working means that a complete 360 degree solution is required that provides full visibility, control, engagement, and of course information security. And if an organisation is looking to operate a 100% homeworking model in the longer term, it will need to master an even broader range of skills: from recruiting the right homeworkers, to adapting a virtual mindset when it comes to training, management, scheduling, security, communication and technology.   These are not skills that can be learnt overnight.

If used as a short-term measure in the contact centre, organisations won’t have the luxury of trialling concepts and refining their work-at-home model over time.  They may have time to turn to an experienced outsourcer that uses a home-based model, adopt some specialist technology tools, or seek the advice of a homeworking consultant – but any medium or long term planning really won’t be feasible.

Here are six things to consider if you are thinking of introducing contact centre homeworking in response to Coronavirus:

  1. Communications: Pay attention to all aspects of communication. Not just company announcements but communication within teams, and real time support for advisors that may be experiencing difficulties (using virtual technologies, instant messaging etc.).
  2. Team Managers: Don’t ignore the crucial role they play in providing support and guidance. If possible, use technology to enable and deploy a system of virtual floorwalkers.
  3. Technology Support: If homeworkers are using company equipment (computers, phones), ensure you can support this equipment effectively.
  4. Appropriate Office Space: Ensure homeworkers can work from a suitable office in the home. Working and making calls from the living room with kids playing in the background, or dogs barking, just isn’t acceptable!
  5. Scheduling: Add greater flexibility into your planning schedules – such as split shifts and micro-shifts. This will enable homeworkers to fit work in around their other daily priorities (such as taking the kids to school or caring for a relative) while helping your organisation better match resources to daily peaks and troughs.
  6. Security: Consider adding extra security measures – such as restricting homeworker access to certain customer data. Also ensure you are not breaching your obligations under FCA, GDPR and other regulations.  And ensure company equipment is adequately insured for home use.

With the Government strongly suggesting that people work from home it would be good to see more advice on how organisations can do so most effectively – and avoid the pitfalls. With the expertise available, and specialist technology tools that now exist, that advice could make all the difference.

As a response to the current crisis, homeworking can deliver a more dispersed workforce with a lower single point of failure, and hence a lower risk of cross infection.  This will enable contact centres to operate as normal even if other business functions need to close down.

NI Executive Ministers announce unique 300 job investment by Sensée

Pictured (L-R) are Kevin Holland, CEO, Invest NI with deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Minister for the Economy Diane Dodds, First Minister Arlene Foster and Rob Smale, Director, Sensée.
Pictured (L-R) are Kevin Holland, CEO, Invest NI with deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Minister for the Economy Diane Dodds, First Minister Arlene Foster and Rob Smale, Director, Sensée

The First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill today announced 300 home based jobs in a multi-million pound investment by Sensée.

They were joined in making the announcement by Economy Minister Diane Dodds.

“The home-based work opportunities span a range of roles, including agent, manager and support levels, contributing over £5.8 million in additional salaries to our economy.” — First Minister Foster

This first-time investment into Northern Ireland by the company will see the creation of 300 work from home contact centre roles. The jobs will also provide a unique opportunity for those facing barriers to work as a result of location, personal or family circumstances.

First Minister Foster said: “We are delighted today to announce 300 new jobs for Northern Ireland. Uniquely these are not limited by geography, they are accessible to everyone no matter where they live.

“The home-based work opportunities span a range of roles, including agent, manager and support levels, contributing over £5.8 million in additional salaries to our economy.

“As an Executive we are committed to strengthening our economy and commend Invest Northern Ireland for their work to secure this significant investment.”

“We offer the security of full employment contracts with guaranteed hours and with flexibility to choose workdays and times.” — Rob Smale, Sensée Director

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “We are committed to working together to bring about prosperity for all our people. Creating employment opportunities is an important part of this, as is working to remove the barriers faced by many people to get into employment. This includes people with disabilities or caring responsibilities.

“These new jobs with Sensée provide a real option for people right across the north who will benefit from home working and give them an opportunity to get in to paid work and improve their quality of life.

“Invest NI has offered £900,000 of support towards the jobs, which the company intends to create by 2022 as it continues to grow its business.”

Sensée works with many well-known brands, including Bupa, Hastings Direct and Allianz, providing service and support for their customers.

Economy Minister, Diane Dodds said: “The contact centre industry is experiencing a lot of change and the home working model is gaining traction with more companies. As well as offering flexible working for staff this approach benefits the environment including reduced energy use and costs. It will also open up rural communities providing employment opportunities for those not able to travel to work. These benefits directly align with many of our Programme for Government objectives.”

Sensée is looking to fill the 300 positions over the coming months. Recruitment and training are both completed on-line and candidates can apply online.

Rob Smale, Sensée Director, said: “Our skilled home based service advisor team work for well-known brands on an outsourced basis, either as continuously available resources or to handle peaks in customer demand. Currently we employ about 700 staff across the UK, all of whom work from home.

“We offer the security of full employment contracts with guaranteed hours and with flexibility to choose workdays and times. There’s also no commuting, saving our people time and money, and a social element that creates great teamwork and companionship.

“Our home based advisor services are also attractive to businesses in all sectors, from healthcare to financial services and retail, with the great attitude of our homeworking team providing excellent customer service. It also reduces the carbon footprint and aligns with their corporate social responsibility aspirations.”

Sensée is looking to fill the 300 positions over the coming months. Recruitment and training are both completed on-line and candidates can apply at www.sensee.co.uk/ni-jobs

Struggling to recruit the right contact centre people? Try homeworking

Business woman planning in front of a whiteboard
The key for enterprises that want to focus on consumer retention is fresh thinking around the traditional way of doing business

Let’s face it. Running a contact centre has become more confusing, complex and challenging, even for the seasoned enterprise professional. With more demands from consumers across a multitude of channels, alongside the need for different technologies and compliance requirements, ensuring end-user loyalty in an efficient manner has never been more difficult. But it need not be that way, provided the right business model is in place, one that leverages the best people, platforms and processes.

One of the core areas of any business model must be ‘People’. Operating a home-based agent model, we are fortunate because we can attract an abundance of top-quality applicants interested in pursuing a home-based contact centre career.

Team members can choose the campaign that they want to work on, helping create a highly experienced and engaged workforce… which equates to better service for our clients and their customers.

A home-based model offers our people the ability to work anywhere in the UK, in a way that suits their lifestyles while providing full-time employment and a full set of benefits to ensure team members’ financial stability. This has a major and positive impact on driving down attrition. Moreover, team members can choose the campaign that they want to work on, helping create a highly experienced and engaged workforce… which equates to better service for our clients and their customers.

Our experience contrasts sharply with those of many bricks-and-mortar contact centres, which often have great difficulty finding a strong base of applicants. In the current near full-employment UK economy, many struggle to retain the talent that they have. With due respect for the traditional contact centre model, the target agent profile is under heavy demand from not only customer experience providers but from other sectors, such as hospitality, travel & leisure, retail and front-line financial services. Combined with recent increases in the minimum wage, it is little wonder that good agents for bricks-and-mortar contact centres are harder to find and costs are increasing!

As a home-based contact centre, we can avoid these pressure points. Our recruits are drawn to customer service as a career. They like working from home; it fits their lifestyles. And because we recruit from across the whole UK – not from a finite pool of labour, typically within a fifteen mile radius of a ‘traditional’ contact centre – we do not experience the regional workforce pressures that many operators do in contact centre hotspots like Manchester, South Yorkshire, South Wales, Glasgow and the North East.

I believe that 2020 represents a great opportunity for business whilst operationally being a challenging time for customer experience delivery.

The virtual model allows home-based contact centre operators to focus on pulling in specific skill sets that would otherwise be very tough to recruit for in a traditional contact centre. We are able to better serve clients across sectors by attracting agents with specific experience, higher education levels, language capabilities or professional certifications. This results in a higher-touch point between the brands that we represent and the consumers we serve.

I believe that 2020 represents a great opportunity for business whilst operationally being a challenging time for customer experience delivery. The key for enterprises that want to focus on consumer retention is fresh thinking around the traditional way of doing business. Embracing new operating models that concurrently deliver the best results alongside efficiencies that can be passed back to the client.  As consumers, we continue to grow more discerning than ever, and Sensée’s virtual approach is designed to exceed expectations.

Is homeworking part of your Coronavirus Business Continuity Plan?

Closeup shot of a young man hanging up a closed sign in a shop window

Is your business prepared for the unexpected?

Take the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.  At the time of writing, 14th February 2020, just nine people have tested positive for coronavirus and the risk to individuals is currently considered ‘low’.

Yet the World Health Organisation has declared the situation a “public health emergency of international concern” with The Foreign and Commonwealth Office issuing daily updates, including travel advice to and from various geographies.  In late January 2020, Chinese officials heightened concerns by pointing to evidence that transmission could occur during the viruses’ incubation period (i.e. in the days before people become visibly ill) or amongst carriers who never get sick.

Currently, travellers arriving from Wuhan or Hubei Province (or elsewhere in China if they have symptoms) are being advised to stay at home for 14 days and avoid public places.  But what if those travel restrictions were extended and really started to impact our daily lives.  For instance, if travel restrictions meant we couldn’t travel to the office, or to face-to-face meetings?

It’s not that far-fetched.  A recent Forbes article points to several global businesses including Starbucks, KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s that have closed stores, closed offices and introduced Work-at-Home policies.

Is that an option your business has considered?

Is Work-at-Home possible?

When it comes to the spread of diseases, highly populated business operations are clearly a major concern.  And especially so given that Coronavirus carriers won’t necessarily exhibit symptoms and can therefore, in theory, infect a large number of people very quickly.

If your people work in people-heavy operations like factories, goods delivery depots or retail stores home working isn’t an option.  But if they work in others, such as contact centres or back office admin functions, where the main ‘physical tools’ of their trade are a desk, a phone and a computer, then it could make a great deal of sense.  In theory at least…….

Not as simple as it sounds!

Ask any organisation that has introduced contact centre homeworking (or HomeAgent working) and I’m sure they’ll tell you the same thing: you can get a homeworker up and running easily enough from a technology and HR perspective, but getting a HomeAgent operation running effectively is a completely different matter.

In short, operational effectiveness in homeworking calls for a completely different mindset across everything that your business does: from recruiting the right homeworkers, to adapting a virtual mindset when it comes to training, management, scheduling, security, communication and technology.   And these are not skills that can be learnt overnight.  The skills, knowledge and operational excellence required to operate a HomeAgent operation can take years to master, with organisations often making many mistakes along the way.

If homeworking is used as a short-term measure, for example in the contact centre context discussed above, organisations won’t have the luxury of trialling concepts and refining their model over time.  The only options will be to work with an experienced outsourcer that uses a home-based model.   Or indeed just get on with it themselves.

Six Considerations

If you are considering the latter as part of a Business Continuity Plan for your contact centre personnel, here are six considerations:

  1. Communications: Ensure that you pay particular attention to all aspects of communication. Not just company announcements but communication within teams, and real time support for advisors that may be experiencing difficulties (using virtual technologies, instant messaging etc.).
  2. Team Manager Role: Don’t ignore the crucial role of the Team Manager providing support and guidance. If possible, use technology to enable and deploy a system of virtual floorwalkers.
  3. Technology Support: If homeworkers are using company equipment (computers, phones) to conduct their work, ensure that you can support this equipment effectively.
  4. Appropriate Office Space: Ensure that homeworkers are able to work from a suitable office in the home. Working and making calls from the living room with kids playing in the background, or dogs barking, just isn’t acceptable!
  5. Planning and scheduling: Use the opportunity of homeworking to add greater flexibility into your planning schedules – such as split shifts and micro-shifts (i.e. shifts of an hour or less). This will enable homeworkers to fit work in around their other daily priorities (such as taking the kids to school or caring for a relative) while helping your organisation better match resources to daily peaks and troughs.
  6. Security: If you are moving away from a highly secure office environment, you may wish to add extra security measures – such as restricting homeworker access to certain customer data. Also ensure that you are not breaching your obligations under FCA, GDPR and other regulations.  And ensure company equipment is adequately insured for home use.

These are just a few thoughts.  If you have other concerns, consult an expert with direct experience of contact centre homeworking.

Whether you are looking at homeworking as a short-term fix, or a long-term strategy, remember that it isn’t for everyone.  Get it right, however, and it can deliver huge advantages in terms of a better work-life-balance for your employees and financial benefits for your business.  According to a major 2016 HomeAgent survey, for example, 42% of organisations reported lower attrition, 58% lower absenteeism, and 46% higher productivity as a result of homeworking.

As a response to the current Coronavirus issue, homeworking will, in theory, deliver a more dispersed workforce with a lower single point of failure, and hence a lower risk of cross infection.  This will enable your contact centre to operate as normal even if other business functions need to close down.

Ethical values at the heart of Sensée’s delivery

Real living wage graphic
The real living wage is up to 30% higher than the national living wage set by the UK government and is independently assessed to make sure it provides enough for employees to live on.

Over a long career in outsourcing, I have seen many changes. How we do business as providers of front-line services has little resemblance to even a decade ago. One of the things that strikes me is the need for outsourcers to be proactive around fostering a more inclusive workplace, an approach that benefits the agent in tandem with the client whose services or products they are representing. This aligns with ensuring that environmental responsibilities are taken seriously, and not just paid lip-service. I am proud to say that Sensée is committed to ethical delivery, and we are already taking the needed steps to be a British provider of choice in this regard.

“One of the things that strikes me is the need for outsourcers to be proactive around fostering a more inclusive workplace.”

People are a good starting point for this discussion. After all, human resources count for over 70% of contact centre operations in the UK, so it just makes sense to ensure that front-line team members are happy and motivated. And because workplace uncertainty is so pervasive, at Sensée we want our agents to feel as financially secure as possible. This is why we pay our team members a real living wage, in order to remove the uncertainty that comes with so many other jobs in the current marketplace. There are no zero-hour contracts at Sensée — this way of working only drives low morale. When somebody joins our team, they do so with the understanding that they can count on a steady income, one that includes benefits, holidays and pension.

“There are no zero-hour contracts at Sensée — this way of working only drives low morale.”

Smiling young disabled woman in a wheelchair
Around 30% of our team are either registered as disabled or care for someone at home, a figure far above the national average.

But, at Sensée remuneration is only a part of the agent equation. Anybody that knows the contact centre industry realises that working conditions greatly influences how well a team performs. This is why we have worked to ensure that our workforce across the UK is able to take full advantage of their virtual status. Agents can map their skills and interests to the client campaign that they choose to work on. This immediately means more engagement with the role (and customer) at hand. Consider, too, that among those seeking to work for Sensée, the lack of a daily commute is a real selling point. Anyone who has been caught on the motorway or the train during rush-hour can relate to this. The Sensée ethos is based on inclusiveness, and we are proud to be an employer of choice for individuals who may have reduced mobility, have mental health challenges, have carer responsibilities, live in rurally isolated communities, or who simply do not want to work traditional shifts in a Bricks and Mortar environment.

“we are proud to be an employer of choice for individuals who may have reduced mobility, have mental health challenges, have carer responsibilities, live in rurally isolated communities, or who simply do not want to work traditional shifts.”

The net result of our ethically driven workplace practices is a team of highly engaged agents who are ready to serve consumers above and beyond. The numbers speak for themselves. Our annual attrition is around 10%, well below that found in traditional outsourced operations. And with sickness levels under 3% per annum, it validates that our agents enjoy coming to work.

This goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to the environment. With business more worried about the climate than ever before, it is important for customer experience to be done with a green approach. Therefore, Sensée’s work-at-home virtual model is more relevant now than ever. Keeping agents off the roads, allowing them to work from their homes, delivering high-quality service means that we are operating with a carbon footprint that is 90% lower than an equivalent sized bricks-and-mortar operation. Our clients love this, and it has been a great morale booster for our agents who are very worried about the ongoing climate change crisis.

“we are operating with a carbon footprint that is 90% lower than an equivalent sized bricks-and-mortar operation.”

Ethical contact centre delivery does not need to be hard — it simply makes sense. Sensée is leading the market with this approach to customer experience delivery, and it continues to be received positively by agents and clients alike. I believe that this approach is the right one for 2020 and beyond.

Contact centre award recognises Sensée’s investment in people

CCNNI Award Pic

Annamarie, Northern Ireland Sourcing Manager, with the CCNNI People Engagement award
Annamarie, Northern Ireland Sourcing Manager, with the CCNNI People Engagement award

Last week at the Contact Centre Network Northern Ireland awards in Belfast we picked up the People Engagement prize.

We came out as winners in a category with many of the UK’s leading contact centres including BT, Ulster Bank, Power NI and Capita.

The award was presented to Sensée because of our work, across many parts of our business, to put people at our heart:

  • Pay — providing the Real Living Wage
  • Recruitment — starting by engaging with people who are considering a career with us
  • Training — making everyone feel at home from day one
  • Operational Management — engaging our colleagues every hour they are working
  • Community — engagement outside of work
  • Initiatives — such as our initiative to support mental health week

The judges also recognised the impact our people engagement strategy has had on our business — reducing sickness as well as improving retention and performance.

Many thanks to everyone throughout Sensée who has made winning this award possible.

Northern Ireland homeworking opportunities roadshow

The Sensée team at the Ards and North Down job fair in Northern Ireland
The Sensée team at the Ards and North Down job fair in Northern Ireland

Over the last 6 month we’ve been working in Northern Ireland to bring our flexible homeworking to towns and glens.

If you’d like to find out more about how our homeworking will fit around your life, and how to apply, drop in to see us at one of these locations:

Ballymena Jobs & Benefits Office — 10th October
2 Parkway, Ballymena, BT43 5ET
2pm until 4pm

Strabane Jobs & Benefits Office — 15th October
18 Urney Rd, Strabane BT82 9DA
10am until 12pm

Mid Ulster Job Fair, Cookstown Leisure Centre— 20th November
78 Fountain Road, Cookstown, BT80 8QF
11:30 am until 6 pm

Foyle Jobs & Benefits Office — 26th Nov
Crown Buildings, Asylum Rd, Londonderry BT48 7EA
10am until 12pm

Come along for a chat, we’d love to see you there. If you can’t make it, but would still like to find out more, you can get more information and apply online or drop Annamarie a line: 028 867 63889, nirecruitment@sensee.co.uk.

Sensée shortlisted for more top contact centre honours

We’re pleased to say that, once again, we’ve been selected as finalists for major contact centre awards.

2019 CCNNI Awards FinalistThe Contact Centre Network Awards recognise the outstanding achievements of service organisations and individuals in Northern Ireland, where many of our team are based.

Our selection as a finalist in the People Engagement Award category recognises the range of work we do to engage and support our remote teams.

The UK Contact Centre Forum Awards acknowledge best practice amongst the UK’s 6000+ contact centres — rewarding innovation, team-working, employee engagement, the delivery of superb Customer Experience and more.

2019 UKCCF Awards FinalistOur unique homeworking operation has made the finals in three categories:
• Outsourcing partnership of the year — for our work with DPD
• Employee engagement strategy of the year
• Home agent operation of the year

The Gala Awards Ceremony for CCN takes place on 17th October at the Crowne Plaza Belfast. Awards for the UKCCF will be presented on October 25th at MK Dons Football Club.

 

Homeworking best practice and benchmarking workshops support UK business

 

We regularly run one day best practice and benchmarking homeworking workshopsto support UK businesses that want to benefit from homeworking for voice as well as digital customer service.

The workshops are designed to help optimise existing homeworking operations or successfully implement new ones. Led by our senior homeworking experts, they cover:

  • How to benchmark a current approach and future homeworking plans
  • Best practices for everything from recruitment to IT and scheduling
  • The many benefits that contact centre homeworking has brought for businesses in all industries

We’re passionate about homeworking and — as specialists working with companies in all sectors from financial services to utilities and retail for over 15 years — have a lot of experience to share.

The workshops are open to both public as well as private sector organisations, and we’ve had great feedback from leading UK contact centres including Nationwide, Sky, M&S, HMRC and Budget Insurance. 

If you’d like to come along to the next event, take a look at the workshops page where you’ll find out more about the date, location and what’s covered.

Sensée homeworking communities engage and connect

We think that providing opportunities for engagement, communities and socialisation is part and parcel of creating great work from home jobs. And, that working from home isn’t a solitary experience unless you want it to be — some of our people do choose it for the peace and quiet!

At Sensée we have a community and socialisation programme that connects everyone through positive engagement. It’s supported by our technology platform, that joins our teams together by allowing communication as well as interaction, and is actively managed throughout the year.

So far this year just some of the successful projects in the programme include:

Mental health week

For this we focused on providing information, throughout the week, on where support can be found as well as the impact of mental health issues. We also covered how we’ve created practical ways to help our community with improving life-work balance, reducing stress and managing anxiety.

National Carers week

8% of our team are carers and this project looked at how we could support them with information and help from various institutions. We also created a Sensée Carer Support Community. This provides a support network for carers and a voice for how we can best cater for their specific needs.

ex-Military and Military Spouses, Maternity Leavers and Disability groups

These groups have also been created to give support and understanding for people within our homeworking community that may also have special requirements.

All the effort, from community leaders and moderators to team leaders and managers, put into the projects, is making home a better place to work.

Overall the positive impact of the programme is reflected in the fact that our people are happy to stay with us for much longer than the industry average.

Better engagement, and the long length of time that people stay, is also something that means the standard of care our clients’ customers receive is high (we consistently provide industry-high standards). Our continued engagement, community and socialisation work will only add to this in future.