Hybrid working is the latest trend to hit working patterns in the contact centre.
What Is ‘Hybrid Working’?
Simply, it’s the capability for organizations to offer employees the ability to work either at home or in the office, which take many forms:
- The choice of permanently being based at home or in the office
- The flexibility to choose when they will come into the office and when they work at home
- Set a specific number of days per week for home working, with the rest in the office
- Allow all employees to work at home, but request they come into the office for specific activities
Ability = the policies and culture that allow this to happen
Capability = technology and processes that enable this to happen
Do I have to choose one? No – take your pick of all. A combination of all of these could work within customer services and I’m going to explore this in more detail.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Hybrid Working?
- Supports you in retaining and attracting talent. Homeworking has gone from a luxury ‘nice to have’ to an expectation.
- Enhances your team’s work/life balance by reducing commuting time and enabling them to be at home. This will result in a fresher workforce due to reducing the mundane routine.
- Enables teams to have more ‘focus’ time. Working in customer services can be manic – and sometimes difficult for concentration and distractions.
- Reduces physical office space, which can be used towards reducing cost. Or the spare space can be utilized for collaboration, or as a quiet coaching area or well-being zone.
- Increases flexibility in resource management: I’ll explore this point in more detail later on.
- Increases your talent pool from your local area to the whole of the UK, if you’re not bound by location.
1. Team members may abuse homeworking. For example, how do we actually know if agents are having IT issues? or dealing with customer queries as expected?
- Monitor “Make Busy” status data and identify trends and anyone who is consistently above the reasonable time on “make busy” that you’ve set.
- Have a role within your contact centre who is there to troubleshoot when an agent has been on ‘Make Busy’ for longer than a set time.
- Establish a call monitoring and quality coaching framework that enables call listening on customer conversations that are dealt with when working at home.
- Ensure the homeworking policy clearly states that if homeworking is being abused then this right can be retracted from the employee.
“Make Busy” definition: a status in the telephony or CRM system that means an advisor is unable to handle other contacts.
2. Relationships could become ‘transactional’: we lose the personal, deep friendships as there are fewer opportunities to build this at home.
- Proactively build in time for ‘fun’: in a team meeting have time for a chat, or, if the team is large, then split into virtual breakout rooms in pairs for a 5 mins speedy catch-up.
- Have set ‘in office’ days for teams, where they sit with each other and get time to catch up. Adjust resource plans to account for fewer calls per person for this ‘in office’ day and maybe review forecast and pick a lower-demand day.
- Get the ‘onboarding’ right, so people have the opportunity to build friendships from day one.
3. Poor well-being can be difficult to spot. It’s more difficult for managers to spot if team members are struggling with their well-being or safeguarding concerns.
- Ensure regular ‘check-in’s that aren’t focused on work but just them as a person.
- Increase capability at a manager level to lead virtual teams and identify poor mental health well-being.
4. Reduced team engagement as team members lose touch with the organization’s vision and values. In contact centres, we are often the ones uncovering issues within the organization. It’ll be harder to hear from front-line teams around customer experience improvements.
- Ensure those team meetings and huddles still happen, even if it’s just virtual. Reinvent your team meetings so you cover organization-wide updates or guest speakers from across the organization.
- Implement a system for front-line team members to flag and share ideas to improve the customer experience. This could be a dedicated ‘Team’s’ page where ideas are shared and voted on.
How Could Hybrid Working Work in Customer Services?
Some examples to bring it to life:
Example 1 – Work from home as default
All teams work at home as default, unless employees specifically ask to work from the office. They are required to attend specific activities at the office such as:
- Team meetings
- Team days
- Group and 1:1 coaching session
- Organizational events
Example 2 – Office time is rotated
Office time is rotated between teams. For example, if you have four teams, they’ll each spend one week in the office and then three weeks at home. The office week will entail team meetings, coaching and time reconnecting with the team and the organization, while the other three teams work from home. Then they rotate each week.
Example 3 – Specific homeworking shifts
You identify specific roles that can be permanently based at home. This could be more data-focused roles such as data analysis or forecasting. It also could include specific homeworking shifts for agents. For example, between 10am and 2.30pm can often be a stretching time for contact centres with high call demand and reduced resource due to breaks and lunches. You could offer a permanent home-working shift between 10am and 2.30pm, which would attract parents looking for a homeworking role. This could be a win-win-win for employees, the business and the customer.
Example 4 – Reduce seats by 50%
You reduce your contact centre seats by 50%, and with the additional space, you redesign the contact centre, adding in new areas such as coaching space that supports managers to have more confidential coaching sessions, well-being spaces for the team to chill during their breaks or after a difficult customer conversation, informal areas for team huddles and training, and collaboration spaces for workshops and joint working.
Example 5 – The 3:2 ratio (3 Home : 2 Office)
A common method of working is the 3:2 ratio, where you work from home 3 days a week and come into the office 2 days per week. The 2 days per week are the same as the rest of your team. This enables the team to have a regular balance of time at home and in the office.
The Checklist: 6 Things You Must Have in Place for Successful Hybrid Working
1. Knowledge base
To improve agent confidence, first contact resolution and customer experience – the knowledge base is the unsung hero to achieve these three. With agents not having the easy-to-access ‘expert’ colleague in the office with them, they’ll need a reliable and user-friendly knowledge base to support them with customer queries and to feed real-time updates.
2. Hybrid working policy
If the organization policy doesn’t quite fit customer services, then co-create with HR a specific policy around hybrid working that covers expectations and ‘rules’ that everyone needs to follow. This will support managers when issues arise with a policy to fall back on and guide them.
3. Onboarding programme (all or partly virtual)
This has many layers. The first is ensuring you actually have an onboarding programme. I define this as the day you offer them the job to the day they pass probation. If they are at home permanently or some of the time, the onboarding needs to support new team members understanding the organization and getting to know other team members.
4. Data and reporting
If managers can’t physically ‘see’ their teams, they at least need robust and frequent reporting about team performance and demand. This reporting must clearly highlight any concern areas for the team manager to review – e.g. higher-than-forecast demand, lower-than-forecast performance, certain team members on high “make busy”. This will support the manager to focus on activities that add the most value. Compare call quality scores between home and office working to ensure no significant variance.
5. Clear plan and ‘way of working’
To complement the policy, you need to bring it to life in a practical sense with a clear forward plan and way of working. This means engaging with your teams around what works well and starting to design in a real practical sense what hybrid working means for you and your team. This will support the cultural change and support teams in getting used to the different way of working.
6. Enhanced leadership capability
This needs to be focused on well-being, emotional intelligence and leading virtual teams, such as running virtual team meetings, huddles and building stakeholder relationships virtually.
To summarize, this is a real opportunity to review and enhance the flexibility of the workforce in customer services. With the right thinking, planning and implementation, we can turn hybrid working into a catalyst for higher engagement and ultimately improve the customer experience.
Thanks to Paul Pember, a customer service specialist, for putting together this article. To read more from Paul, please visit paulpember.com