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.

Sensée teams up with Bubbledogs for a Festive party with a twist

Sensée has teamed up with champagne and hot dog specialist Bubbledogs to hold a Festive virtual party for its clients and friends.

The event, run virtually via Zoom, featured an educational session on Grower Champagne from TV sommelier and presenter Sandia Chang, a  champagne quiz, and the opportunity to sample two amazing grower champagnes.

Guests also received a hot dog home kit so they could create Bubbledogs’ most-loved hot dogs from the comfort of their own kitchens – plus a pair of Jollies Socks, with a second pair sent to a local shelter for the homeless.

“In 2020, organisations have had to quickly learn how to conduct business in a virtual world and, as we enter the Festive season, that challenge extends to how to organise an engaging office party” said Paul Whymark, COO of Sensée. “A big thank you to Sandia and the Bubbledogs team for making our evening so special, and to our clients and friends for their support in 2020.”

Looking for ideas on how to make your virtual office Christmas party fun?  Check out our video below

 

 

 

Contact Centre Homeworking During Lockdown: An Industry in Transition (Video)

 

 

2020 has been a year like no other for UK contact centres.

In this video we explore:

  • The challenges the industry has faced in getting homeworking up and running
  • How those challenges have been addressed and overcome, and
  • How organisations are increasingly embracing homeworking as a new and positive long term business strategy.

 

Simply Having a Wonderful Virtual Christmas Time (Video)

Busy Planning for the Virtual Office Christmas Party?

Here’s some ideas for fun party activities, plus some thoughts on how to make your home office feel more festive.

With best wishes from all at Sensée for a wonderful festive season 2020.

We hope your office party is a cracker!

Go to the video

My Homeworking Story (Episode 4): Work-Life Balance

Jess has always led a busy outdoor life. For the last 15 years she has been a divemaster and scuba instructor, helped train racehorses, operated as a qualified equine sports massage therapist and worked on a rare breed longhorn cattle farm.

In March 2020, however, her new role as a scuba sales and training consultant came to an abrupt halt when Covid struck. While she could still operate as a diving instructor and carry out equine massage work (at certain times during lockdown), demand for those services was much slower.

Jess came across Sensée online and applied successfully to work on an important Government public information service in April.

Although she had never worked in an office before, she quickly took to work-from-home. “I love it because it has given me the gift of time” says Jess. “I no longer have to make a 1-1.5 hour commute each side of the day, giving me more time to ride my horses, work on the farm and do my other jobs.”

Jess works 30 hours a week, booking in her hours in advance at times that suit her best (which is often 3 full days and one half day) and there is currently plenty of opportunity for overtime.

“I never imagined that work-from-home would be so social” adds Jess. “But we’re a close team, the training and support is excellent, and the LiveDesk communications system means we’re always in live contact with managers and colleagues.”

“I’ve been self-employed for most of the last 12 years and never worked for anyone that gave me paid holidays! Sensée is not only providing me with guaranteed and interesting work but also a much better work-life-balance. I used to get up at 4.30am to work on the farm. Now I can get up at 6.30am! While I went into this as short term fix I definitely see it now as a longer term solution.”

Sensée strikes gold at the 2020 South West Contact Centre Awards

The success and professionalism of Sensée’s work-from-home contact centre teams during lockdown has been recognised at the 2020 South West Contact Centre Awards.

At a glittering virtual Awards ceremony last Friday night, Sensée was named winner in the “Covid – Best Homeworking Programme” category.

The annual South West Contact Centre Awards is a celebration of contact centre excellence for businesses operating in the South West of England. Other winners at the 2020 Awards included Ageas, Agilisys, Alexandra, Ascensos, Aster Group, Capita, NFU Mutual, Scotts and Co, Somerset County Council, Subfero and UCAS.

The event is organised and operated by the South West Contact Centre Forum, a networking organisation that delivers extensive support to the region’s 250 employers who collectively employ circa 52,000 people in both the Public and Private sector.

“Well done to the South West Contact Centre Forum for putting on a fantastic and highly entertaining evening” said Mark Walton, CEO, Sensée.

“We are very proud of the hard work and dedication of our homeworking teams during the lockdown period and delighted that their achievements have been recognised with this Award.”

My Homeworking Story (Episode 3): Living the Dream

Fiona was brought up on a small island in the Outer Hebrides and, for most of her life, has yearned for the day she could return to her birthplace, or a similarly remote location.

But work always got in the way. Fiona has had a long and fulfilling career working in the voluntary sector and undertaking community development work (including managing a Citizens Advice Bureau and running a Carers Centre) but this was mainly living in and around large cities in Scotland.

Five years ago, however, she figured it was time for a change. Partly this was because she had a medical condition that made traveling difficult but also because she wanted to do something at home.

Fiona says she found Sensée by accident. Soon after joining, however, she knew she’d made the right choice.

Fiona started working on the Argos account, moved to Aviva and then Photobox, before joining the Bupa team. This is when she really found her niche. “It’s challenging” she admits “but I’m a problem solver by nature and able to use my listening and counselling skills to good effect. I also find it the most rewarding account I’ve worked on at Sensée because you can really make a difference when dealing with matters of health and well being. It makes what you do feel very real.”

In 2020, Fiona upped stick and moved from Galashiels (near the English border) with her partner and five cats to a remote area at the very top of Sutherland. “We’re on a single track road, and the nearest house is 500 yards away” she explains. “The nearest big city is Inverness and that’s 150-200 miles away. But none of that makes any difference when it comes to doing my job effectively. We even have remarkably good broadband for such a remote location.”

“I can earn a living and be where I want to be. Plus, Sensée is probably the best place I have ever worked in terms of people engagement. Despite the fact that we all work remotely, you always feel part of the work community and never isolated. The training we receive is excellent too. I really am living the dream.”

My Homeworking Story (Episode 2): Coping with distractions

In the second article in our ‘Homeworking Stories’ series, Sensée Training Manager Sam Goldney explains another secret to her success as a homeworker.

Coping with Distractions

Sam GoldneySo you’ve dropped your daughter off at school crying and the teacher has peeled her off your leg as she fancies a day at home with Mummy.

The dog has chased a bird into what felt like the next county and wouldn’t come back so you’re running late to get back home with a sulky dog firmly on a lead.

The cat has brought a mouse into the house and it is currently squeaking its way round the lounge with said cat in hot pursuit….. and you need to be on a conference call with a new client in five minutes. Arrggghhhhhh!

All of those (and more) have happened to me during my work from home journey.  And I’d put part of my success at homeworking down to an ability to switch off and concentrate on the job in hand…. just as if I was in a contact centre where I wouldn’t have those distractions around me.

Here are my 9 tips for coping with distractions:

  1. If you have pets, shut them away in another part of the house so they don’t disturb you when you’re working
  2. Get dressed – it doesn’t have to be in a suit but the act of getting dressed ready for work psychologically amends your mindset
  3. Have a dedicated work space which is always kept clear so you can focus on the job in hand
  4. Switch off your phone or at least put it on silent and log out of all social media
  5. Ensure family members and friends know that you’re working. You can’t stop for a coffee if someone happens to ‘pop-in’ whilst you’re working
  6. Start the day with a realistic to do list and set yourself goals to achieve
  7. Stay active, stand up, stretch your arms. Generally avoid getting uncomfortable whilst you’re working
  8. Take breaks – get some exercise, plan a lunch time walk, or go for a bike ride or run. You’re always much fresher after exercise and it’s good for your mental health too
  9. Plan time to speak with your colleagues – then you can ignore the ping of Teams without worrying about appearing rude