We list some key areas that you may need to address when creating a homeworking policy for a contact centre.
Why Do You Need a Homeworking Policy?
A homeworking policy is written to provide your remote teams with clear guidance on how they can perform their jobs while working from home…
A homeworking policy is written to provide your remote teams with clear guidance on how they can perform their jobs while working from home – either on a part-time or full-time basis.
It covers everything from what is expected of an advisor’s working environment, best working practices, all the way through to insurance considerations.
From a legal perspective, there are also lots of areas to consider – like data protection, health and safety, confidentiality and so much more. All this also needs to be included in the homeworking policy.
There are lots of aspects to consider. So, let’s take things step-by-step…
Start With the “Why”
What is the purpose of this document? It’s always good to start with a few lines that outline your purpose, so whoever picks up the document – whether that’s an agent, leader or manager – knows what to expect from it.
Then briefly summarize why your organization has decided to use remote workers. This can simply be done in bullet point and include factors like:
- To increase schedule flexibility
- To limit the costs of office space and upkeep
- To broaden your recruitment pool
- To reduce the company’s carbon footprint
- To help employees manage their workload and workspace (with clear protocols)
“Understand and outline why you want to go remote and what’s in it for you. Having this framework will allow you to dive much deeper into all of this, in a much more logical way,” says Nadia Harris, an HR Expert at remoteworkadvocate.com.
Address Who Homeworking Is for and Their Responsibilities
Highlight the scope of the homeworking policy. Is it only relevant for one of your contact centres or is it expected to cover your entire contact centre network?
There is also the matter of which roles are suited to remote work. Maybe it is just advisors? This must also be specified.
Which roles are suited to remote work? Maybe it is just advisors? This must also be specified.
However, if your advisor team is working 100% from home, it is advisable to look at whether their team manager should work from home too.
Then highlight the responsibilities of each role when working from home.
For example, some of the responsibilities of an advisor may include:
- Advisors will ensure their manager always knows when and where they are working (although technology can help managers and advisors with this).
- Advisors will take good care of work computer equipment – including laptops and headsets (if provided to them via the company).
- Advisors will comply with all data protection requirements, as well as company standards, security and health and safety requirements.
Also, it can be worthwhile highlighting the role of the HR team in keeping the policy in line with employment legislation, providing advice to advisors and managers on the application of the policy and also updating the document as time passes.
Introduce the Application Process
If your model is built upon switching office workers to remote working, highlighting the formal process for how the employee can apply for homeworking is important – whether it’s on an occasional, regular or permanent basis.
This section of the report should pinpoint the steps that they would have to take.
While there may be more, this application process is typically divided into three stages:
- Completing a form that highlights who is eligible for remote working
- Having a home assessment, so the company can see if the working environment is practical
- Signing a homeworking agreement
These stages need to be briefly outlined in your homeworking policy, as well as a clear onboarding and induction process, which is equally as robust as you would have in a bricks and mortar set-up.
Stipulate What Is Expected of the Homeworking Environment
Before they start remote work, the team member needs to know what is acceptable and what is not.
While you will have noted that employees need to go through a home assessment before they start remote work, the team member needs to know what is acceptable and what is not. This is particularly important if you are providing the advisor with equipment.
A bullet point list may well be enough again here, with criteria that answer questions like:
- What equipment does the employee need?
- How fast must their internet be?
- Is their office space quiet enough and does it meet the organization’s health and safety requirements?
To check that the remote advisor’s workspace meets these criteria, you will likely want to schedule visits to see them. So you should also highlight how the visiting process will work.
Yet, as Pam Molyneux – an HR Business Partner at Sensée – recommends: “Emphasize that an element of trust is going to be exercised but that if that trust is broken, it may be difficult to get it back.”
Create an Attendance Policy
This section of your policy may be very simple. You might just need to specify that staff are expected to work their contracted days unless they are taking an authorized form of leave. It all depends on your work-from-home model.
But there may be other areas to consider, such as:
- Are staff expected to come into the office on a work-from-home day, if the need arises?
- How should staff sign in and out, to indicate their availability across the day?
- How would a potential systems failure impact how the employee’s attendance is recorded?
Remember, guidance should be given to managers, as well as advisors, for each of the situations highlighted above.
Cover Key Contact Centre Working Processes
There are processes that are potentially much harder to navigate at home than in the contact centre. While these should be coached, having it in the policy is another great way to guide everyone involved.
One key example is call escalations. When working in the office, it is fairly straightforward to call a manager over if the caller requests to speak to a manager. But when the agent is remote this can be much harder – if you don’t have the right business processes and technology solutions in place.
So make sure you specify what is expected from everyone involved when it comes to this and other working practices like kit maintenance, taking breaks and signing on/off.
Just remember, as Pam says: “When it comes to setting management, people engagement, escalation, well-being and other homeworking policies, a great deal of clarity and practicality are required. Indeed, more than one might expect to see in similar policies within a fixed-location setting. It’s important to be crystal clear about what your expectations are.”
Also, you need to consider mobility. Organizations need to ask: do we want our contact handling personnel moving about?
Working from different locations can work if organized effectively. But do you want remote agents answering their front door if a delivery driver rings the bell?
Then there is communication around how advisors should inform their manager if they wish to work from a different location – i.e. a friend’s or family member’s home.
For more advice on dealing with call escalations, read our article: “I’d Like to Speak to a Manager” – 7 Ways to Deal With Difficult Customers
Set Expectations for Communication
It is important that homeworking agents are readily contactable via phone and email during the hours that they work. A statement like this should be built into your homeworking policy.
But there’s much more to it than that.
“Regular touchpoints between personnel at all levels need to take place, as does the review of performance data. Discussing issues in this way will help drive and shape the communications,” says Pam.
Regular touchpoints between personnel at all levels need to take place, as does the review of performance data.
You may also want to specify that homeworking agents must be available for virtual huddles or that they must contribute to your company’s internal communications systems – e.g. Slack.
“Create rules around the use of these tools,” says Nadia. “When do you use what and for which purpose? And also think about how often. Setting clear expectations is the key here.”
Discuss the Provision of Equipment
Will you encourage advisors to use their own laptops and headsets or will the company supply these free of charge?
Then there is installation. What is the employee expected to do and what is the IT team expected to do?
“If equipment/connectivity is provided by the employee, it needs to be built into the comms that the maintenance of these items is the employee’s responsibility,” adds Pam.
These are just some of the considerations you’ll have to make, and your response may vary in regard to part-time and full-time workers.
For example, with full-time workers you may be more willing to provide them with certain desks, ergonomic chairs, printers, stationery and maybe even a filing cabinet.
Cover Insurance and Liability
Start this section by asking employees to use the equipment given to them responsibly and appropriately, while ensuring that precautions are taken to avoid damage or theft.
If damage or theft occurs, that should be reported to the employee’s leader or manager, as soon as possible.
When staff are working from home, it is advisable to ask the employee to check their home insurance.
Finally, when staff are working from home, it is advisable to ask the employee to check their home insurance.
Also, if you allow remote workers to work in co-working groups – with “meetings” occurring within the household – you will also need to think about liability insurance.
So consider: are staff covered by liability insurance, be that public or private? If so, let them know! But note that this will only be the case if they have followed the advice highlighted in the first two paragraphs of this section.
Add in Your Health and Safety Advice
Health and safety legislation puts responsibilities on employers to ensure that remote employees receive the same protection as office-based staff.
So you may want to create a health and safety self-assessment checklist for employees to fill out before they start working from home. Agents and managers should sign it.
Your policy should highlight where this checklist can be found and what should be done with it, once filled in.
Another approach would be to arrange visits with the homeworker, to ensure their environment is up to code or, more simply, do an inspection via webcam.
Don’t Forget Data Security
Again, this is such a big topic that it needs its own documentation. At its heart, these documents should cover the fact that non-authorized people should not be allowed access to customer data.
Non-authorized people should not be allowed access to customer data.
Your policy must indicate where these documents can be found, as well as who needs to fill them in.
Just make sure that you cover what happens if there’s a remote-working security breach, as Nadia reminds us.
Nadia says: “What is the process if something goes wrong? What happens if there is a data leakage? What happens if the account gets hacked?”
Factor in Expenses
When working from home, employees will incur more costs in terms of electricity, heating, water, etc. You need to note down what employees can claim back for – which will vary depending on which working-from-home model has been employed.
If your organization is unwilling to pay for any of that, give a fair reason. One may be that employees will save a lot of money and time by reducing the work commute, which counteracts any homeworking costs on their behalf.
One final expense to consider is car mileage. If you call remote workers into the office, you will also need to consider whether you pay for car mileage or public transport expenses.
While that might depend on the situation and whether or not the remote worker is full-time or part-time, this should be addressed.
Explain the Termination Process
A homeworking agreement can be terminated, and having this process set out in your homeworking policy can make the process much easier for the homeworker and their manager.
Note that both parties can terminate the agreement but specify how long a notice period needs to be given.
Once the notice period is over, highlight that the employee is expected to return to the workplace to work in the office full-time.
End With an Employee Declaration
At the end of the homeworking policy, it can be good practice to ask the employee to sign a declaration that they have read and understood everything.
This declaration can also be used to emphasize key points that you really want to stress. These may include:
- “I agree to allow the management team access – with prior warning – to assess my homeworking environment.”
- “I understand that homeworking is not a reasonable substitute for childcare and other caring responsibilities.”
- “I understand that the homeworking agreement can be terminated at any point by either myself or my employer.”
Adding a bullet point list of statements like these can work well to reinforce your key messages.
3 Mistakes to Avoid in a Homeworking Policy
Creating a homeworking policy can be a long process and there are many pitfalls that you may fall into along the way.
Nadia Harris has seen many of these pitfalls and below presents her top three mistakes to avoid when creating a homeworking policy.
1. Only Thinking From an Operational Standpoint
Policies often turn into instruction guides for how an employee is to set up at home. Some of this is undoubtedly important, but we also need to be setting expectations for homeworkers.
There needs to be clear expectations around lots of key areas, particularly:
- How often should employees be in communication with managers?
- What should the employee do if they come across a problem?
- What measures should advisors take to protect customer data?
Having these expectations is important, so that advisors feel comfortable in the knowledge that they are doing the right things.
It also ensures that expectations of homeworking employees don’t change from one line manager to the next.
2. Failing to Specify Who Is in Charge of What
Your homeworking policy should be a result of mutual understanding. Everybody should participate in putting the policy together and there should especially be collaboration between the contact centre and the HR department.
Your homeworking policy should be a result of mutual understanding. Everybody should participate in putting the policy together…
By working together, the departments can establish roles for homeworking advisors, managers and the HR team throughout the policy, while creating a mutual understanding for how the policy will be used.
Too often policies are created without input from the contact centre and advisors get different expectations for how they should perform, as there is conflict between what managers and HR expect.
3. Making the Homeworking Policy Too “High Level”
The language used in HR policies – like a homeworking policy – can often cause problems, especially when there is lots of jargon that advisors struggle with.
To work to its best effect, the homeworking policy should be easy to read, and advisors should be able to find what they are looking for easily.
So chunk up your policy into clear sections, simplify your language and make expectations clear for everyone involved. Otherwise the policy becomes just another HR initiative.
Examples of Homeworking Policies
Many organizations have published their homeworking policies online, and taking a look through them is a great way to understand how these documents may be formatted.
While these homeworking policies are not necessarily unique to the contact centre, they provide a great resource to those looking for more insights into how to put together a homeworking policy.
You may also find some vital areas to cover which have not been included in our summary.
- Eden District Council’s Homeworking Policy
- East of England Ambulance Services’ Homeworking Policy
- Housing Ombudsman’s Homeworking Policy
For more guidance on getting homeworking right in the contact centre, read our articles: