Getting home agents up and running isn’t always straightforward. Here is some advice on overcoming common problems.
Issue 1: Managing home agents effectively when you have no direct visibility of virtual teams
- Adopt specialist technology tools that provide office-based and virtual managers with real-time visibility of home agent activity across ALL media (via call monitoring, screen capture and webcams) and enable managers to intervene in real time where necessary.
- Recognise that practices that work well in a fixed location contact centre won’t necessarily work for virtual teams. Get your best operational leaders to audit all your contact centre processes (such as Health & Safety guidelines, huddles, and real-time communications) and re-engineer them as necessary for homeworking. Keep an open mind about what face-to-face processes can be virtualised, and identify people who may be resistant to change.
- Ensure managers are home-based (even if only partially). It takes a different mindset to get the best out of a virtual team, and that includes appreciating issues from the perspective of the homeworking agent. Also ensure teams work 100% virtually to maximise efficiency and that your team leaders are the bridge between your contact centre and homeworkers.
Issue 2: Engendering a sense of team spirit when team members never (or rarely) meet
- Virtualise everything you do, including formal and informal communications. Consider how you can use free tools like Yammer or Skype to replicate the social interactions you get in a traditional contact centre – and don’t make homeworkers second-class citizens of the contact centre or, worse, lone workers. Humans are social creatures, and virtual work doesn’t mean no fun.
- Recognise that working from home isn’t for everyone. Ensure that your homeworking agents understand what is expected of them, what the downsides are of working from home, and how they need to control their time. Don’t simply convert full-time office workers to full-time homeworkers, because it rarely works. Many homeworking pilots suffer because companies prioritise their ‘known performers’ over those willing to work flexibly (through multiple daily shifts) in return for working from home.
Issue 3: Overcoming security concerns and ensuring business processes are FSA and PCI compliant
- It’s a common misconception that homeworking is incompatible with FSA and PCI compliance. That’s not the case. While homeworking can create security issues when freelance agents supply their own hardware, these can usually be resolved via an enforceable security policy with desktop locking and security tools. Technology is also key to taking homeworkers out of scope for PCI audits. The latest PCI-compliant technologies allow you to collect card payments over the phone without homeworking agents ever seeing or hearing the numbers entered and without card details being recorded. It’s also important to have a secure technology architecture.
Issue 4: Ensuring business continuity in the event of network and local system failure
- What if several homeworkers in a particular geographical area suffer a simultaneous power cut or telephony/internet outage? Or individual homeworkers in more remote locations suffer the same, or a computer hardware/software malfunction? The simple answer is to create a Business Continuity Plan for each homeworker. This may involve the homeworker working from a neighbour, family or friend’s house, or using an alternative telephony/computer device. The Plan is best displayed as an IF-THEN sheet and printed, laminated and framed as required. It can also contain other procedures, protocols, dos and don’ts and processes that homeworking agents must adhere to. In addition, plans should be placed on the intranet so that they are easily accessible and changes can be made as necessary.
Issue 5: Effectively supporting homeworking agents who are struggling to resolve customer issues
- ‘Remote’ shouldn’t mean ‘isolated’. Just because homeworkers can’t physically pop over to their supervisor’s desk doesn’t mean they can’t get immediate assistance. The key is to have specialist online real-time communications tools that ensure homeworking agents are part of a virtual community.
Issue 6: Developing skills and knowledge without having to ask homeworking agents to attend regular office training
- The virtual community can also be a virtual classroom. Homeworking agents live in a culture where they are totally comfortable being on webcam and communicating online, so there are generally few barriers to online meetings and training. In light of this, you should avoid the temptation of face-to-face meetings, huddles and training, because they are rarely essential. In the virtual classroom environment, managers can also post information on message boards and use live polls to test knowledge.
With thanks to Steve Mosser, CEO at Sensée HomeAgent Network