Jeremy Watkin shares some of the many benefits gained by allowing agents to work from home.
Early in my career as a contact centre manager, I received a call from one of my agents who staffed the overnight shift. He was quitting and there was nothing I could do to change his mind.
After some investigation, I discovered that this employee was attempting to balance full-time school and a full-time job, among the other demands of life. He had burned out and reached a point where he had to quit a number of things to get healthy again.
Perhaps it was his fault for biting off more than he could chew. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was more we could and should have done to help prevent this. That ultimately led us to create a work-from-home program, allowing many of our agents to work remotely some or all of the time.
Over the course of the next several years, we saw many benefits from this program that I’ll share in the remainder of this article.
1. Reduce agent sick days
There are many occasions where agents feel under the weather but are still willing to work if they can do so from home. The opportunity for additional rest in lieu of commuting is appealing.
This is an area where we need to be careful so we’re never coercing or guilting a sick agent to come to work. They should be encouraged to rest and recuperate. But in the case of things like the common cold, you may have a hard time convincing an hourly contact centre agent not to work. It certainly helps to allow them to work at home rather than running the risk of infecting the rest of the office.
2. Increase agent retention
There are a variety of reasons agents leave contact centre jobs, and some can be prevented by offering remote work. For example, one of my best agents wanted to move to New York “just because”. Allowing her to work remotely meant that we retained a highly effective employee, and kept her engaged in her role.
3. Increase the likelihood of shift coverage
It’s not for everyone but I can recall a handful of star agents who loved working overtime. I tried hard to plan such that we didn’t abuse their willingness to help out in a pinch. But in those times when agents do call out sick and coverage is needed, others are significantly more willing to work overtime if allowed to do so remotely.
4. Widen the available talent pool
Consider the parent who wants to work but also needs the flexibility to pick up and drop off their kids from school. Also, consider college students. Oftentimes they need something flexible and part-time, but after graduating not only become great full-time contact centre agents — they also grow into other roles at the company. Work-from-home is a great way to attract folks who need more flexibility than the traditional nine-to-five contact centre job offers.
5. Scale more readily with an outsourcer or multiple locations
The presence of a work-from-home option enhances your ability to rapidly scale your contact centre — whether you hire the agents yourself, work with a business process outsourcer (BPO), or do some combination of both. Hopefully, you are using a cloud contact centre platform, making it easy to quickly add agents, get them connected, and accurately track their performance alongside your internal team. In my first experience scaling with an outsourcer, we linked together two premise-based phone systems and it made call distribution and reporting a nightmare.
6. Create a backup plan for the unexpected
Work-from-home also distributes your workforce, making it easier to withstand inclement weather, illness, internet and power outages, and other adverse situations. This can be part of your company’s strategy to help mitigate risks and stay online. Before the days of backup generators and redundant internet connections, we once had a power outage. Our remote agents kept our contact centre afloat. A work-from-home option, even if not 100% of the time, is a smart backup.
7. Save on overhead
In my case, we reached a point in time where our office was full and the ability to offer work-from-home bought us time while we sought out a bigger space. Whether you eliminate your office altogether, downsize, or just avoid the need to upsize, work from home can save money on brick and mortar along with other overhead required to house a contact centre employee.
8. Go green
Finally, I think we can agree that reducing our carbon footprint and decreasing congestion on our roadways is a good thing!
As I reflect back on the story I shared in the introduction to this post, I’m grateful that the employee who resigned due to his heavy schedule is doing much better nowadays. I’m also proud of the fact that there were no repeat incidents — and allowing my contact centre agents to work from home had a lot to do with that.