Published on March 25, 2020 based on information available at that time.
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many contact centers have been transitioning to work from home setup to protect their employees from potential exposure and to ensure business continuity in a safe way.
However, for a lot of contact center businesses, this is a completely new situation.
They’re facing various technical and psychological challenges in supporting their workers in working remotely. What can contact centers do to overcome these obstacles and transition to working from home successfully during this difficult period?
Challenges contact centers are facing when transitioning to work from home environment
You as a contact center employer have to make multiple considerations when you’re moving to a work from home reality. Remote working will not only influence how your employees do their jobs but also how you can keep providing the best service possible to their clients. You might run into several problems here, such as:
Work from home setup for employees
You are unsure whether your contact center employees have the right hardware, software, and connection to access all the important company systems securely, and this is also difficult to check for remotely.
What’s more, you have to consider whether your to-be remote workers have a suitable working space and environment that will allow them to get the job done.
Contact centers usually serve multiple clients with different needs and guidelines. In many cases, employees deal with sensitive or privileged information and when working onsite in the facilities, they have restrictions on mobile phones or pens and paper in the workspace. These are often not allowed and working from home makes it impossible for you as a service provider to uphold these regulations.
Supervision and management
Managers in contact centers are responsible for supporting their team members on the job, as well as for monitoring their performance. In a remote work environment, direct support, supervision, and monitoring become impossible.
Contact center teams often utilize daily standups and team huddles to ensure smooth collaboration. Furthermore, it is a part of the normal routine of many agents to just raise their hand when they have a question, which is no longer possible while working remotely.
So how is working from home going to impact decision-making for your contact center agents?
It is clear contact centers have specific struggles when it comes to working remotely. However, there are several things you can do to make it not only possible but even a positive experience.
Collaborative contact center environments perform
better than average.
Good team collaboration is key to contact center performance, that’s why it must be maintained when working remotely.
How to manage a successful transition to working from home?
According to the current measures in the US as well as many European countries, employers should allow their employees to work from home whenever possible to ensure their safety. And while this might be challenging for you as a contact center, you can manage the transition successfully to keep your workforce safe and productive in this tough time through adapting your collaboration and managements styles and utilizing the right technology.
1. Ensure your employees have access to the right tech to do their jobs.
If you want your contact center representatives to be able to do their work from home in an effective way, you need to make sure that they have the necessary equipment. For example:
- Does their computer’s processor have to have certain computing power?
- Do they need a specific operating system?
- Do they have a sufficiently fast internet connection?
- Do they need a sound card?
- Do they need a video graphics card? If so, what is the minimum RAM they need?
- Do they need a monitor? If so, what are the requirements for screen resolution?
You can test this remotely via a dedicated system diagnostics software for employers. Such software lets you set minimum requirements for the home system and analyzes the employees’ setups from anywhere. Be transparent with your employees about what exactly you’re testing and why.
Look for options on how you can support the contact center employees whose home systems don’t meet the minimum requirements. Are they able to take the necessary equipment home from the office? Are you able to buy such equipment for them on short notice? Is there a possibility to rent hardware in your area?
You can also assist employees who do not have access to fast enough internet connection, for instance, by offering them to pay the cost difference of a connection upgrade.
Once you have the hardware needs sorted, it’s time to make sure that your contact center employees have access to the necessary software. Prepare a checklist of what the workers need to install before they start working and how they can remotely access all the applications they need to do their job.
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2. Share best practices on work from home setup.
While some of your employees might have an experience with working from home (68% of employees report working remotely at least once a month), working remotely for an extended period will be new to many of your contact center workers. They will need guidance on how to set up their home office.
Help your employees with this by creating a document on best practices for working from home setup. Put together a checklist where they can see what they need to set up their workstation. Don’t forget to educate them on good home office ergonomic practices!
3. Collaborate with clients to find a solution to meet realistic guidelines in a work from home setting
If your contact center has any clients that require restrictions on mobile phones or pens and paper in the workspace, discuss your situation with them. During the COVID-19 outbreak, many businesses have to make temporary adjustments, including yours and theirs.
Explore the options of how you can keep your employees as safe as possible while also meeting your clients’ guidelines. Collaboration with the end client is key. Can and are they willing to rely on you to have trustworthy employees? If they insist on you providing your services on-site, can you, for example, stagger working hours to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus?
4. Create a collaborative remote working environment
Your employees rely on frequent contact with their manager and team members in their day-to-day work. When your contact center is transitioning to working from home, it is crucial to create a working environment enabling open collaboration. There are a couple of things you can to help your employees connect and collaborate such as:
- Doubling down on internal chat tools
- Recreating daily standups, team check-ins, and huddles via video conferencing tools such as Zoom or Hangouts Meet
- Keeping open rotations of managers on duty to address real-time needs from contact center reps.
Employees and managers have to figure out how to strengthen virtual collaboration and meetings to communicate but also to celebrate daily victories. This will help the team members to stay engaged, focused and productive, as well as fight the feelings of isolation and uncertainty one might have in an unusual, stressful situation.
Pro tip: If you don’t have sufficient collaboration tools in place at the moment, have a look at online collaboration tools that are temporarily offered free of charge and see if any of them could help your team during the COVID-19 pandemic.
of workers say that collaboration apps boost productivity for remote work.
Source: HR Dive
Using collaboration apps makes working from home more manageable.
5. Adapt your management style
Management style also needs adjustments when transitioning to remote work. In a brick and mortar context, team huddles and on-floor coaches provide constant real-time on-the-job assistance to reps in need. Managers need to find ways to provide equivalent support to their employees in a remote setting, for example, via the above mentioned virtual meetings or having a manager on duty at all times.
What managers also need to consider is communicating expectations and goals to their team members, which is especially important to maintain productivity when working from home. What are they expected to achieve in a day? What are the rules for responding on an internal chat platform? When your employees know exactly what is expected of them, it will allow them to be effective and productive in their work, as well as help the managers monitor their team’s performance.
That said, with the lack of direct supervision, the management will have to introduce new monitoring techniques to keep track of how the work is going, where potential obstacles are how they can be overcome.
6. Pay extra attention to your employees’ needs
Don’t forget that as much as this period is challenging for you as a business and an employer, it is just as demanding for your employees. In addition to the worries about their safety, they might have difficulties adjusting to the new work from home reality, not to mention that many of them probably have kids at home at the moment as well.
Support your employees in learning remote work strategies to make sure they stay focused and productive. For example, you can organize a short virtual training session or create a dedicated channel on your internal chat platform to share interesting articles on working from home.
Make sure that your contact center representatives take regular breaks when working remotely. The breaks are common when on the floor and usually scheduled, and they also need to happen at home.
Consider adding supplemental wellness activities to your weekly work routine. For example, you can schedule a short online yoga session or a Friday afternoon drink.
Recognize that each individual is going to handle the transition differently. Also, bear in mind that in this difficult time, your employees are worried about the health of their closest ones as well as their own, about their families’ wellbeing, the threat of economic downturn, and much more. Encourage your managers to listen to your employees’ needs and work out how you can address them.
of employees report having some type of current caregiving responsibility.
Source: Harvard Business School
Many of your employees have caregiving responsibilities for their relatives or other close ones, which might be amplified at the moment. Take it into consideration when designing your remote work strategy.
7. Create a work from home policy accessible to everyone
If you already have a work from home policy, double-check that it is everyone can access it at all times and that everyone knows where to find it. People will be able to find answers to a lot of questions they might have about working from home, whether they regard remote access, scheduling and working hours, communication channels, or leave policy.
And if you don’t already have such work from home policy in place, start creating it. It will become an important document on your journey to remote working to refer to not only in times of emergency but also in the future.
Over to you
Having to transition a workforce of dozens, hundreds or even thousands strong to working from home in a limited time isn’t easy. However, in the digital age, it is also not impossible. Put your employees first and provide them with the right equipment, tools, and resources to stay productive. Being agile and flexible is key for your contact center to transition to a working from home reality successfully.
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