Jeff Christofis at KellyConnect outlines the case for a full work-at-home-agent (WAHA) model
As businesses work to find their new, post-Covid-vaccine ‘business as usual’, many brick and mortar call centres are adopting a hub-and-spoke talent distribution model.
A blend of work at home and traditional on-site, the hub-and-spoke model allows employers to provide agents some of the flexibility they desire while maintaining a Covid-safe environment in the office, giving employers the comfort and reassurance that comes with traditional in-person work.
But amid this key transition back to the office, talent attraction and retention challenges greatly impact a call centre’s ability to stay fully staffed.
Today, it’s harder than ever to attract any talent, much less the right talent. Turnover is at a record high as workers seek flexible work that fulfills their personal needs, in the largest wave of job resignation in human history (known as The Great Resignation).
And while hub-and-spoke offers workers some flexibility, it simply isn’t enough to attract and keep them.
Now is the time for call centres to ‘cut the spoke’ and adopt a work-at-home-agent (WAHA) model to attract and retain talent, achieve higher levels of cultural immersion and employee satisfaction, drive profitability, and diversify their workforce.
Once an attractive option for both workers and employers, hub-and-spoke limits the call centre’s talent pool to an ever-shrinking drivable radius, forcing businesses to work short-staffed while trapped in a constant cycle of hiring and backfilling workers.
Shifting to a full WAHA distribution model allows companies to cast a wider geographical net and selectively source candidates from a more diverse talent pool that are aligned to their culture and are a better fit to support and advocate for their brand.
Access Experienced, Specialized Talent
It’s no secret that the shift to a pure WAHA model allows companies access to a much larger talent pool – just by numbers alone. What the virtual model also allows is geotargeting of candidates in areas of specialized call centre talent.
If you run an insurance call centre in South Carolina, you could expand your candidate pool to target areas dense with insurance companies, like metro New York or Omaha, Nebraska.
Not only will the quality of candidates for your insurance call centre be improved, their speed to competency and learning curve will be much shorter. They’ll be more likely to stay employed with your operation, driving down turnover and improving customer satisfaction.
Expand Hours of Operation Without Staff Imposition
With staff distributed across multiple time zones, call centres can provide broader coverage without the typical imposition on agents to work late evenings or early mornings, as with a hub-and-spoke model.
You’re Already More Than Halfway There
The transition to a hub-and-spoke model requires a company to tackle the security challenges that come with remote agents. Technologically speaking, the more difficult security hurdles to ensure compliance with regulations tied to PII, PCI-DSS, HIIPA, and GDPR have already been cleared.
You’ve likely already completed the tedious task of setting guidelines and establishing workspace requirements for working from home, so why limit your talent search to a limited local geo?
Manage One Culture and Environment
Unanticipated by most, the hub-and-spoke model presents unique managerial and cultural challenges associated with maintaining two environments: traditional brick and mortar, and virtual.
Everything done to create and establish community and culture – contests, awards and recognition, events, employee engagement, etc. – all needs to account for agents who are working from home and those who are in the office, whether they are one and the same or separate.
This dual environment can cause agents who work from home to feel left out of office activity, and it requires managers to maintain a traditional ‘call centre floor’, along with all expenses associated with it.
Access Great Candidates Who Require Mobility
WAHA allows contact centres to tap into a skilled group of candidates challenged by a commute to an office or who require mobility with their role – like people with disabilities (26% of the adult US population), and spouses of active military personnel (approximately 600,000 in 2020).
Too often, their need for accessibility and flexibility means they are underemployed (nearly 50% of military spouses fit this category) or leave the workforce altogether. Recent figures put unemployment for people with disabilities and military spouses at 12% and 24% (respectively).
Companies that embrace a WAHA model find themselves in a unique position to tap into a more diverse workforce while ensuring that these candidates have a great place to work.
Going Full WAHA? Here Are Some Considerations
- Team management is different. Trial and error can be a costly activity without experienced leaders. Knowing how to engage and culturally maintain your team is key to a great virtual team environment.
- Human Resources requirements to employing staff in multiple states. From benefits to taxes, HR’s support for the transition will be key.
- Success of an onsite agent in a brick-and-mortar setting is not always a predictor of success in a virtual or WAHA setting. Agents who work well in the office may encounter virtual shock during the transition to a virtual model.
- You’ll need to review your training strategies. Effective virtual training will not mean delivering your in-person curriculum via Zoom or any other distance learning platform. Consider using a more engaging model that breaks content into smaller segments and offers mini-quizzes along the way to keep the audience tuned in. Consider engaging a partner savvy in call centre staffing, like KellyConnect.
- Consistency is key. Even if the company maintains a brick-and-mortar location, it’s important that the virtual WAHA model is honored at every touchpoint, from sourcing and interviewing to onboarding and training, to nesting and transition to production. The way you manage all aspects of your customer services program should maintain a virtual approach.
Is the hub-and-spoke model for call centres a dead end? Not quite, but it is limiting. While we have been familiar with it for a long time, we quickly realized its limitations and the false sense of control that it seems to provide.
The reality is that hub-and-spoke is restrictive at best – and in some cases detrimental – for small and medium-sized businesses challenged with agent attraction and retention.