COVID-19 certainly brought homeworking to the forefront of every businesses mind and has been a topic of discussion throughout the pandemic.
Whilst some companies are very much "Business as usual" for others it's been a very challenging time with many hurdles to overcome. In our blog, we look at how homeworking is set to continue past the lockdown period and some of the questions faced by the contact centre industry as they embrace this new way of working.
The main question is not if home working is possible, but why should it be utilised? Contact Centre workers have adapted to the challenges the pandemic has given the industry, finding new ways to provide excellent levels of customer service despite unfamiliar working environments, increased pressure and personal stresses. But what will happen when the pandemic passes, contact centres are reopened and we return to some version of normality?
Transitioning to Remote Working
According to pre-COVID research conducted by the Office of National Statistic, 50% of all UK employees were already set to work remotely in 2020. Remote working continues to divide opinion across businesses of all sizes and all sectors. Whilst governments across the world continue to recommend, or even enforce home working during the pandemic, discussions are round the practice are becoming more important.
For some organisations, transitioning to remote working is relatively easy - workers simply need a laptop and a WiFi connection and they are able to conduct their work as efficiently and effectively as when they are in the office. But for the contact centre industry, there are many challenges to be addressed. Are agent productivity and engagement impacted? Does it impact customer service? Will it impact revenue? How can employee productivity be monitored when unsupervised? How will isolated agents feel if they receive negative or abusive phone calls?
Practice Makes Perfect
Contact centres have always been a physical workplace with agents hooked up to a phone system and likely an integrated CRM system too so it's no surprise there are some concerns. The key to a successful homeworking setup is practice, this is key for any business and particularly for those working in a contact centre, it helps identify exactly what is needed to achieve effective homeworking and how it aligns with the overall needs of the business. For now, homeworking is quite often simply a case of survival, disaster recovery and business continuity. In the future business may consider the wider benefits of homeworking for its employees such as an aid to work-life balance and the recruitment benefits. This would not only deliver something for the reward strategy of a contact centre, but increased satisfaction and happiness at work may also lead to improved performance.
Businesses also need to consider the potential challenges. One of the key concerns around homeworking is trust, can agents deliver the same levels of quality and work as efficiently without direct supervision? Many employers worry that if they cannot physically see their employees working there is a chance that their productivity will drop, this lack of physical contact also raises questions around employees safety - what if they receive a threatening phone call or distressing message when they don't have their support network of colleagues and supervisors around them. Businesses considering homeworking need to address these very real concerns. Can businesses be certain that your employee is able to deal with a negative situation or customer complaint from home?
The Case for Cloud
Embracing the latest technology available to the sector is the easiest way to ensure contact centres can provide the flexibility or homeworking without sacrificing operations. CCaaS (cloud-based contact-centre-as-a-service) gives contact centres this flexibility, usually deployed in days and accessible wherever agents are, all an agent or supervisor needs is a laptop, headset and a WiFi connection and they can maintain their usual working practices.
Communication between agent and supervisor is vital for a homeworking set-up to succeed. Screen recording can provide supervisors with the same insights into their agents productivity as being in an office would and allows agents to feel supported in their daily work. This ensures the same levels of excellent customer service are delivered and allows agents to demonstrate that they can work as effectively from home as when they are in the contact centre. The chance to demonstrate their own skill and efficiency levels has been proven to have a positive impact on employee engagement and retention.
Access to insights of their agents work in real-time also allows supervisors the ability to offer support to their team when needed, for example in the case of an aggressive customer a supervisor will be able to step in and take over the call or offer help in other ways.
Technology to Help
Cloud Contact Centres are browser-based allowing agents to access the system from wherever they are, giving employees greater flexibility in their work. Long terms this degree of flexibility means work scheduling can be more easily fit around home and family life. With the introduction of technologies such as smart scheduling and intelligent automation these ensure flexibility and profitability go hand in hand for businesses by making sure resources are optimised. Workforce Optimisation systems automatically check to ensure that schedules are always maintaining peak efficiency whilst also giving agents the flexibility over the hours they work.
Training costs can be a barrier for transitioning a contact centre to remote working but this can be alleviated by cloud-based CCaaS. Quality Assurance capabilities mean both employers and agents can benefit from increased flexibility without the concern of work quality impacting customer service. Recordings of customer interactions allow trainers and supervisors to identify training areas and bridge the gaps in knowledge. And since the system is cloud-based the system the agent operates is the same whether they work in the office or from home meaning there are no additional training needs for a different system.
Homeworking for the Future
Homeworking has great benefits but it also has the potential for significant drawbacks, however as the pandemic has shown us, in order for businesses to survive, flexibility and agility are key in challenging times. Achieving the right balance to make homeworking a viable option for the contact centre ensures business continuity and should be key to future-proofing a business.
A true cloud solution that is the right fit for your business is a sure-fire means of ensuring that the location of the agent does not impact the service levels of the business.