What Will An ‘Acceptable Professional’ Eventually Look Like When Working-From-Home?

2020 was a challenge, even for those who didn’t face a healthcare emergency. For many people it not only involved an adjustment to working from home, but also a dramatic shift in social norms and values. Zoom has become a verb in the past year and virtual happy hours have been an unlikely respite from the crisis.

But what about 2021? Picture the situation, you’re trying to impress a new client, or you are on a review call with your boss, or even a job interview. But now that you are working from home (WFH) you are struggling to come across as the professional you want to be seen as.

Maybe your broadband keeps cutting in and out or your cat keeps walking in front of the camera? Your dog is barking because there is a delivery at the front door, or your kids are home-schooling and creating a lot more noise than studying kids should really be creating. Is your presentation affecting your chances of that new job or new contract?

These are unprecedented times. Values have been changing quickly, just look at how unusual it is to see anyone wearing a tie today. Everyone is aware of the difficulties of working from home, especially for those who have been suddenly forced into this situation by the pandemic.

But this will not always be the case. It is now more than a year since most office-based professionals needed to move into a WFH environment. The noisy kids and rogue cats were easily tolerated in May 2020, but by May 2021 everyone has had a long period to adjust.

As we exit the lockdowns many people will return to their office. Some will choose to continue in a WFH environment and some will be asked by their company to stay at home. There will be a change in attitude as some normality returns.

If you are migrating from the office to a permanent WFH environment then I doubt that people will always be so forgiving in future. It is no longer an emergency situation or something forced upon unwilling employees. If you are choosing to remain at home then you need to start considering what does an acceptable professional WFH environment really look like?

For important meetings, clients will not expect to see people in hoodies, at kitchen tables, with pets and poor connectivity. The flexibility and casualness that we all experienced during the midst of the pandemic will start to dissolve as we all have a choice to project a more professional image.

As WFH becomes more of a choice than a necessity, and companies break down the barriers between office-based and WFH employees, I believe that expectations of WFH professionalism will unquestionably increase. And while it’s unlikely that companies will issue a rule book, WFH employees might want to review:

  • What they wear
  • Their video background
  • Background noise
  • Timekeeping
  • Tone of communication
  • Connectivity
  • Privacy
  • Health and safety
  • Security
  • Communications equipment

It’s great news that so many people are being vaccinated now and 2021 holds the promise of some normality. For those who choose to remain at home, just take a moment to think about how to project yourself because (hopefully) this crisis should now be in the past.

Sensée launches new Employee Assistance Program for its homeworking teams

Sensée has launched a new Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in partnership with Health Assured – the UK and Ireland’s leading wellbeing provider.

The EAP is a confidential employee benefit designed to help people deal with personal and professional problems that could be affecting their home or work life, health, and general wellbeing.

The Health Assured EAP service provides a complete support network that offers expert advice and compassionate guidance 24/7, and covers a wide range of issues:

● Life support: Access to counselling for emotional problems and a pathway to structured therapy sessions (employees only) at your convenience. Formal counselling could be either face to face or via video.
● Legal information: For issues that cause anxiety or distress including debt management, consumer, property or neighbour disputes (employees only).
● Bereavement support: Health Assured offers qualified and experienced counsellors who can help with grief plus legal advisors to help with related legal matters.
● Medical information: Qualified nurses are on hand to offer support on a range of medical or health-related issues offering practical information and advice.
● Online CBT: Health Assured recognises the value of self-help tools in dealing with a range of issues.  These include: CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) self-help modules, informative fact sheets and invaluable advice videos from leading qualified counsellors.

Support is also available to the spouse/partners and dependents of Sensée employees under the scheme.

“The health and wellbeing of our employees is paramount and an integral part of our culture, and we are well aware that balancing everyday life with the requirements of work and personal life can create pressures for all of us” said Brigitte Gratton, Chief People Officer at Sensée. “We are therefore very happy to be able to offer access to the Health Assured EAP service to all our employees.”

Disability Confident scheme reaches landmark

Sensée is a proud member of Disability Confident and delighted to learn that the number of employers in the UK supporting the scheme has reached a record breaking 20,000.

Reaching this landmark means that the Disability Confident network now covers inclusive organisations that employ more than 11 million workers – including major employers such as Microsoft, Sainsbury’s and Network Rail.

Sensée has been a Disability Confident Committed member since November 2018.

Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, said “we are committed to seeing 1 million more disabled people in work by 2027 and as we recover from the pandemic we are redoubling our efforts to boost the support for disabled jobseekers.  I know this is a challenging time, but we will be building on the record disability employment we have seen by protecting, supporting and creating jobs for disabled people.”


Disability Confident Committed

Engaged homeworkers are the key to happy customers

a young female call centre worker takes a call.

By Mark Walton, CEO, Sensée


With all the talk about the future of the workplace it’s easy to forget why we’re here in the first place. “It’s about the customer, always” and at no time has that expression been more apt than in today’s turbulent economic times. Forget to put the customer at the heart of what you do and there’ll be a thousand and one competitors keen to take their business away from you.

So what can we do to make sure customers get the best possible service each and every time they make contact? For starters, we can look after our people better as there’s plenty of evidence to show that there is a direct and strong correlation between employee and customer satisfaction.

A 2017 Aberdeen Research report, for example, concluded “businesses that understand the importance of employee engagement and manage it through a formal program to align to their customer experience goals, achieve far superior results” while a 2013 Demand Metric Employee Engagement Survey found that organisations with more than 50% employee engagement retained more than 80% of their customers.  As Richard Branson once famously said “take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers”.

Many of the common techniques used to improve employee engagement in contact centres are well known and well used. They are still worth repeating though. Leading consultant Carolyn Blunt offers 8 tips for success. Namely to ensure that:

  1. Your teams are properly trained, supported and coached
  2. Your teams are properly and competitively rewarded
  3. Your working environment is clean and pleasant
  4. Coaches and team leaders are motivated, of high quality, and take ownership of driving forward the strategic performance of your centre
  5. Your centre promotes from within, growing talent from frontline agents into people managers
  6. Planning/resourcing is professionally run in a way that is as fair as possible to everyone
  7. New recruits understand what is expected of them and your organisation recruits primarily for attitude, aptitude and energy in the first instance
  8. Managers talk to people both as individuals and as teams. Giving someone the impression that their efforts are ignored will impact motivation, retention, and absence.

While not exhaustive, this list is a great starting point. However, I’d add an extra tip – in many respects one that has emerged because of our experiences during lockdown – and that is to recognise employees’ emotional requirements, and in particular their desire to have more control over their working days.

For most contact centre people, lockdown has meant transitioning from the office to work-from-home. And while this new method of working hasn’t suited everybody, for others it’s been a revelation. No travel to work, no travel costs, spending more time with the family, more time to indulge in sports and hobbies, etc. For many people, moving them back to the office in 2021 will be forcing them back to the office. To a world of sitting in traffic jams on motorways, endless office meetings, and sometimes stressful colleague relationships. And it won’t necessarily be for reasons of productivity. Many people have proven to be just as – if not more – productive working from home.

Stats from the 2020 HomeAgent survey conducted pre lockdown and covering over 200 UK homeworkers paints a particularly interesting picture about employee engagement. 65% of long term UK homeworkers say that they are ‘proud to tell people where they work’, 88% say ‘I want to perform well for the sake of my team’ and only 20% say ‘I miss the emotional support of my co-workers’. 74% say that they enjoy a better work life balance as a result of homeworking.

I’m not advocating work-from-home as the answer to all employee engagement and motivation issues, that would be wrong. What I’m saying is that work-from-home can be a key part of the long term mix and especially for those that are suited to homeworking, have a suitable home office working space, and can prove that they are efficient working from home.

The rest is down to their employers to make sure that homeworking is effective. In some respects running a homeworking contact centre is simpler than running a bricks and mortar operation. In other respects it is much harder, calling for a virtual mindset and suitable systems and processes across everything from recruitment & onboarding to training, scheduling, communications, management, infosecurity….. and of course procedures and systems that look out for the health and well being of all employees working remotely.

Inspiring Productivity Among Remote Workers

In this piece, journalist Ana Steele discusses ways that organisations can help their people get more from homeworking.

Homeworker 8

The rise of remote work is perhaps one of the most welcome changes brought about by the pandemic. About two-thirds of UK adults are now working from home, and it is expected that this setup will last for quite some time. But while it is indeed the safer and more convenient option for companies, it isn’t always the easiest for workers to stay productive. With that, here are a few ways you can help your remote worker colleagues be more productive:

Equip them with the right tools

If your company doesn’t have the online tools to stay connected and work efficiently yet, now is the time to provide them with it. Sensée’s LiveDesk platform, for instance, provides contact centre homeworkers with a full suite of communication and collaboration tools, enabling them to communicate with colleagues, and receive online support from managers and experts, just as they would in a bricks and mortar centre. With LiveDesk, managers can create bulletins and alerts to immediately keep everyone up to speed with important events. Polls can also be made for quick feedback regarding anything — from team satisfaction to checking if important information has been read. For project management, Asana can handle large projects and complex teams. It even utilises Gantt timelines and has a project dashboard that shows tasks by status, priority, and assignee.

Encourage them to work ergonomically

Working at home should give your employees more control of their work environments – and you can point them in the right direction by suggesting they make their work spaces more ergonomic. An ergonomic workspace should be comfortable enough for them to work in but not too relaxing that they might slack off like they would on their couch. Aside from the usual ergonomic chairs and tables, you can also encourage them to use ergonomic accessories — such as the right keyboard and angled mouse to ease the tension from their wrists due to typing all day. It may seem like a small change, but it can help prevent more serious problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, which will most definitely discourage them from being productive.

Set proper work hours

A key reason many people choose to work from home is to have a better life-work balance by fitting in work around their other daily priorities. If they don’t plan for homeworking effectively though, the lines between work and personal life can get blurred, sometimes leading to employee burnout. Effective planning tools are therefore essential. Homeworkers must set proper work hours to maximize their days and fully clock out afterwards. Sensée’s TeamTonic helps make this possible by enabling contact centre homeworkers to self-select their workday hours (within parameters set by the centre) to achieve their desired life-work balance – while ensuring organisations can precisely meet customer demand without wasting resource.

Have a virtual co-working space

With entire days spent alone and in front of the computer screen, the feeling of isolation can definitely creep in for many remote professionals. Creating virtual co-working spaces however can lessen this feeling of loneliness. In addition to being a platform for supporting, training and providing guidance for homeworkers, Sensée’s LiveDesk is also a collaborative workspace with private chat areas where homeworkers can socialise during breaks. With colleagues visible online at all times, homeworkers know that they’re not alone. Employees may not get the experience of physically working together, but they are able to get a sense of community in these spaces. Other ways to improve the sense of community is to organise virtual games nights or give virtual shout-outs, so that all employees feel appreciated.

Coping with distractions is hard enough, but continually working when you’re away from your peers is sometimes harder. However, these tips can help encourage your employees to stay productive.

Sensée Scoops Three Winners Trophies at 2020 European Contact Centre and Customer Service Awards

Work-from-home specialist Sensée was recognised with three winners trophies at the 2020 European Contact Centre and Customer Service Awards’ (ECCCSA). The Virtual Awards evening took place on Tuesday 16th March 2021.

Silver winner for Most Effective Homeworking Programme, Sensée was also named bronze winner for Outsourced Contact Centre of the Year and for Best Outsourcing Partnership (small) with Bupa.

Sensée has a homeworking team of over 1200 Customer Service Advisors, Trainers, Team Leaders, Managers and support personnel and manages customer contacts for leading brands such as Bupa, ageas and Allianz Partners as well as for several Government departments.

The European Contact Centre and Customer Service Awards (ECCCSAs) recognises organisations across Europe that are leading the way in delivering exceptional service to customers.

With entries from 26 countries – competing across 36 categories – the ECCCSAs celebrated its biggest ever awards evening during its 20th edition with over 2000 people attending the Virtual Awards Evening from 30 different countries. The awards were hosted by Sally Gunnell, OBE.

ECCCSA 2020 winners included Allianz Direct, EA, Hitachi, Home Group, HSBC, NHS Business Authority, Shell Energy, Telefonica, Very Group, Vitality and Virgin Experience Days.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to pick up three trophies at such a prestigious event as the ECCCSAs” said Mark Walton, CEO, Sensée. “Our teams have put in a tremendous effort throughout lockdown and this is fabulous recognition for their efforts.”

“Winning an ECCCSA is something Sensée can be very proud of. They have been through a vigorous judging process, meeting highly experienced judges that can recognise ‘the best’ from our industry. Congratulations!” Ann-Marie Stagg, Chair of the Judges, ECCCSA.

ECCCSA20 Homeworking Sensee - Silver

When will it be safe to go back to the office?

Today’s BBC investigation into Covid within the office workspace highlights a major problem facing organisations right now.

According to the BBC 5 Live Investigations team, data from Public Health England reveals more than 500 Covid outbreaks, or suspected outbreaks, in offices in England in the second half of 2020 – more than in supermarkets, construction sites, warehouses, restaurants and cafés combined. Plus, there have been over 60 suspected outbreaks in English offices in the first two weeks of the current lockdown.

Contact centre operators face a particularly tough challenge. In its article, the BBC team highlighted the continuing struggles of one particular contact centre that has stayed open throughout the pandemic – and there have been many other examples.

In April 2020, it was reported that 44% of workers on one floor in a South Korean contact centre contracted the coronavirus. In July, it was widely reported that a Test & Trace centre in Glasgow recorded a number of positive cases. And in December, the PCS union claimed 500 workers had contracted the virus at a DVLA centre in Wales.

It’s no surprise that call centres are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks as this floor plan, published by Business Insider Australia, illustrates http://bit.ly/39u30j3

Bricks and Mortar contact centres are, by their very nature, heavily populated, and personal space has always been an issue. Pre-Covid guidance from the Health and Safety Executive recommends that personal space should be as follows:

“The total volume of the room, when empty, divided by the number of people normally working in it should be at least 11 cubic metres. In making this calculation a room or part of a room which is more than 3.0m high should be counted as 3.0m high. The figure of 11 cubic metres per person is a minimum and may be insufficient if, for example, much of the room is taken up by furniture etc.”

Many contact centres however clearly don’t adhere to the 11 cubic metre guidance and, besides, that recommendation was issued pre-Covid.

So what are centres expected to do in the absence of a new ‘acceptable number’? Nick Floyd, the Managing Director of callcentrefurniture.com, a space planning and furniture supply business, advises companies above all to be sensible.

“If pre-lockdown there were 30 people working in a large room, post-lockdown that number needs to come down, maybe to half” he says, “and organisations need to install high perspex screens between people. It’s also not just a question of just what employers want to do any more. What employees are comfortable with is more important than ever.”

There’s no doubt that some people are desperate to get back to the office. However the old office can’t be the new normal. Greater social distancing will necessarily mean less people able to fit into the same space – and that means more homeworking for the foreseeable future for most centres.

The question is ‘what will that look like?’ Will it be 100% work-from-home (WFH) or some version of hybrid homeworking, whether that be 100% WFH for some and 100% office for others, part-time WFH for all, or the appointment of a third party homeworking outsourcer to supplement office-based personnel to maintain service levels. The end of lockdown will not be the end of the office versus WFH debate.

To access the Government guidance on “Social distancing to make your workplace COVID-secure” go to https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/social-distancing/index.htm

(Survey) People Engagement in the Contact Centre 2021

Complete our survey today and receive a free Results eBook showing the views of UK Contact Centre Directors/ Managers and Agents/ Advisers about the current state of people engagement in the new world of work.

The survey is operated by the South West Contact Centre Forum (SWCCF) and Call North West (CNW) and supported by Sensée.

To participate, click on the appropriate link below and answer around 25 short questions on your current experiences. Please answer all questions. The questionnaire will take around 4 minutes to complete. All responses will be handled confidentially and aggregated for analysis purposes.

Agent/Adviser questionnaire

Director/Manager questionnaire

If 20 or more employees from your organisation complete the Contact Centre Agent/ Adviser questionnaire, we will send you a bespoke report detailing aggregated results from their feedback. This report can then be used to compare and contrast against our total survey findings.

Areas Covered

• How has a year of lockdown affected manager/ employee relationships?
• How engaged are employees?
• How has lockdown affected perceptions of peoples’ roles – and career prospects?
• How are organisations ensuring that they support the Mental Health & Well Being of employees?
• How do management and employee perceptions differ?

Free Prize Draw

At the end of the questionnaire you will be asked to provide your email address.

By doing so, you will be entered into a free prize draw – with 10 winners each receiving £50 of vouchers for a leading high street brand. The SWCCF/CNW will notify all winners by email.

If you have any questions in relation to this survey, please email: info@swcontactcentreforum.com

The survey will close March 12th 2021 and findings will be published in an SWCCF/CNW eBook shortly afterwards.