Work From Home (WFH) programs have moved from the sidelines to center stage in most contact centers, courtesy of COVID-19. Thousands of agents worldwide scrambled to set up home offices all the while addressing higher call volumes, longer handle times, and a myriad of changes related to their physical separation from teammates, coaches, and leaders. Having made the adjustment, the April 2021 5th Talent WFH Survey found that 66% of employees prefer to WFH, 30% prefer a mix of home and office work, and only 2% seek office work exclusively.
Given enthusiastic support from customer service representatives, we took a close look at how contact center leaders plan to respond to this brave new world. For centers with onsite agents, leaders have instituted COVID safety measures to protect the health and well-being of their employees. Such steps include:
- Spreading people out physically to provide for at least 6 feet of separation
- Increased cleaning and disinfecting
- Increased communication to convey the priority of safety and health
- Implementing mask mandates and social distancing rules
- Developing plans to provide coverage when employees must take leave unexpectedly
- Adding plexiglass or other space dividers
- Setting up extra space for breaks and lunches
Despite some misgivings, the overwhelming majority of centers expect to support WFH employees in the future. A hybrid approach gains the most traction. Some centers plan to make a clear delineation between agents who work from home and those who commute to the center for their scheduled shifts. Others plan to allow agents to split their time between home and onsite work.
For the most part, leaders have developed a comfort level with the expanded presence of WFH agents. The program has proven effective as a recruiting tool, and most feel that WFH staff can perform as well as in-house staff. Areas of concern include management’s ability to train, coach, and develop WFH staff as effectively as in-house staff as well as their ability to achieve the same level of employee engagement.
Based on successful programs across a broad array of clients, we’ve developed Best Practices for Work From Home that provides guidelines for:
- Strategy (planning, executive sponsorship, cross-functional support, culture)
- Personnel Selection (recruiting, screening, employee agreement, compensation)
- Personnel Management (onboarding, training, scheduling, performance and QM, coaching, communication)
- Technology (hardware, software, communications channels, support tools, virtual community)
All indications suggest that WFH is here to stay. Mercifully, we may see a drop in call volumes and handle times as the rest of the world settles into the new reality. This breather may give centers time to hone their WFH protocols. They may also lean toward recruiting staff outside their local area. A modest increase in target geography – i.e., within a few hours’ drive – would support occasional in-person gatherings. A bolder approach considers areas where the company has other facilities or where the labor market is especially attractive.