Peter Hubbard argues that we are approaching the tipping point for home working in the call centre.The days of being a pioneer are over, home working is now here to stay.
The benefits of having a home working strategy as part of your contact centre resource plan have been well publicised over the past few years. The operational cost savings to be gained and the ability to grow an operation without all the traditional workplace costs can no longer be ignored.
Here are some practical steps that you can take now to ensure that you not only have a home working strategy but a plan that can be executed quickly.
Set the goals for your home working strategy
What are the aspects of home working that you are looking to benefit from? These can be everything from operational cost reductions, lowering the cost of business expansion, lowering the associated costs of high attrition, improving agent productivity, having access to a more diverse and regionally spread talent pool, providing a more effective split-shift load balance and flexible out-of-hours solution, improving your environmental and green credentials, repatriating some of your overseas contact centre functions (homeshoring) or simply fixing a chronic car parking problem!
Develop an initial cost/benefit analysis
Develop an initial cost/benefit analysis model that reflects your current costs, the target saving you need to achieve and in what areas of your operation these savings can be found. These areas will include building leases, facilities and infrastructure costs, business rates, utility bills, recruitment and training costs and ongoing maintenance and support contracts. Layer on top of this the value of the benefits discussed earlier to get a true picture of the savings potential of your home worker strategy. Use this to track the actual benefits as you deliver your plan.
Get buy-in from the management team
The first focus needs to be on communication and how your management team will champion home working in your organisation. Getting their buy-in and engagement up front is vital. Recent studies have shown that without doubt home working and flexible working arrangements are highly valued among employees and come very high on a list of employee needs, often eclipsing pay as a key benefit and motivator. Home working will therefore be seen as a positive benefit for your employees and those new employees yet to join your organisation.
Your management team must be bought into the home working strategy.
The duty of care
You must then focus on making sure the employee is looked after. You are responsible to deliver the same ‘duty of care’ to your home workers as you are to your office-based staff. This need not be either resource intensive or expensive but it needs to be done well and done genuinely to ensure the well-being of your home worker and not seen as just a box-ticking exercise.
Several organisations have tried to do this by having their home worker employees sign a waiver imposing the full responsibility for health and safety back on the employee. Clearly no responsible employer would do this, but for those that do, this abdication of responsibility will no longer be acceptable as home working becomes embedded in the corporate working environment. It is not difficult or costly to do this properly.
Build home workers into the company culture
You must have a plan to ensure your home workers feel that they are part of your company culture and support your corporate values. They need to feel they are valued and have a career path within your organisation. Managers need to have a home worker engagement plan that ensures that agents are communicated with regularly, have easy access to their immediate supervisor and access to adequate training.
This can include regular days in the office each month, weekly team calls, scheduled training webinars and daily calls with their team supervisor. The feeling of inclusion among your home workers is a must. The implementation of a ‘workgroup’ strategy and not a group of individual contributors will greatly increase the inclusion factor.
Set up key performance indicators
It is also important that you have set the right performance expectations with your home working employees. This can be done by updating your contracts of employment to reflect the home workers’ duties and responsibilities and have clearly set objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be easily measured using the technology you have in your contact centre. ‘Providing a complete HR management process to look after your home workers is not difficult, in most cases it will be an adaptation of policies and procedure that you already have,’ comments Jenny Trist, a consultant HR specialist with many years of HR experience at companies such as Dyson and Dell.
Home working technology
Let’s look at the technology that is available to support you and how it can be best used to deliver your strategy. Delivering a home worker telephony and information infrastructure does not require the huge capital expense that might have been associated with this kind of work practice in the past. The technology stars have lined up for you. You now have a vast array of cloud-hosted solutions that can deliver a home working infrastructure more powerful and feature rich than your current office-based systems for a fraction of the cost. These solutions are usually available on a ‘pay as you go’ basis with very flexible contract terms and no set-up costs or ongoing maintenance fees.
Hosted telephony management is now available from a number of high quality suppliers who deliver flexible, self-service solutions that can work alongside your legacy systems to support home workers. Whether you are looking for call metrics, interactive voice response (IVR), voice recording, skills-based routing, CRM pop-ups or voice analytics, there are now easy-to-use solutions available. The are a number of secure payment card industry (PCI) compliant payment card solutions available in the cloud that will allow home workers to take card payments without ever seeing or handling the card details or having to stop the voice recording. The performance and reliability of broadband into the home is now more than enough to handle the kinds of voice and data traffic that your home worker might need.
Five years ago none of this would have been possible, today we are at the dawn of a completely new work practice that is revolutionising the way you can run your business.
You will no longer be a pioneer
We are approaching what some industry observers describe as a ‘tipping point’. As more and more companies transfer part of their operations to home working more and more companies will have to follow suit to ensure they continue to be cost competitive.
‘We have seen a huge increase in demand from our membership for information and practical advice on building a home working strategy for their businesses,’ says Trevor Butterworth, membership director at the South East Contact Centre Forum, ‘A significant number of organisations ranging from small local government bodies through to large multinational operations that reside in our region are now working hard to build home working into their contact centres. The benefits to be gained are now too great to be ignored.’
If you are concerned about being the first organisation to adopt home working and making the big mistakes that all pioneers do, you really have nothing to worry about; you are not going to be a pioneer. If you do not currently have a plan to use home workers you are already way behind the curve and your competitors are already way ahead of you.
It’s now time for you to catch up…
Peter Hubbard is the Managing Director of Cloudbase Systems Ltd. Cloudbase provide a complete end to end service to help you plan, deploy and support your home worker infrastructure.