Mark Walton of Sensée discusses how the contact centre team can collaborate and work together, despite working remotely.
What will a typical work day look like in the months ahead? It’s the million dollar question. All we know for sure is that things will change. We won’t be able to cram ourselves onto trains and buses on the commute to work, for example. Treat international air travel in quite the same way. Or work in close proximity to others in densely populated office spaces (like contact centres).
Official advice (at the time of writing) is to work from home if you possibly can, and as a 100% work-from-home company you may think that’s music to our ears. After all, we’ve been evangelising homeworking for over 15 years and at no time have we ever seen anything like the current levels of demand for business advice and work-from-home personnel.
However, that wouldn’t tell the whole story. Of course we’re pleased that companies are coming to realise the ethical, environmental, financial and human benefits that homeworking can deliver. But we’d be the first to admit that homeworking – for all its positives – isn’t easy to operate successfully on a mass scale. And it certainly isn’t for everybody.
In fact, the challenge of operating a homeworking model at scale really starts at square one: discovering who it does suit. What’s the ideal homeworker profile (e.g. age, gender, skills), how relevant is their personal situation, and what are their expectations?
We can only address those questions from our perspective as a work-from-home customer contact services operator. But the first thing we advise clients is that there’s no such thing as a typical homeworker. It maybe someone who is prepared to give up the advantages of office work for the benefits of homeworking, but everyone has their own reasons.
Of our 1000+ employees, 18% have some form of disability, 8% are carers to people with special needs, 32% live in disaffected rural areas, and many are work-from-home mums who balance work with daily childcare duties.
We also know that people who choose homeworking are usually older and more experienced. According to the 2020 UK HomeAgent Survey (of 207 home-based contact centre advisors) completed just before lockdown, 75 percent of homeworkers are aged 35 or over, and 61% have over 10 years’ experience in customer contact roles. Both these stats mirror our own employee profile.
Recruitment is just the start of the homeworking challenge. As organisations the world over have discovered over the difficult last few months, successfully managing a homeworking operation at scale calls for a very different mindset.
A “virtual mindset” that extends from how your organisation recruits and onboards the right people to how you train, communicate with, monitor, manage and, in certain settings, schedule them. Sometimes in-house tools and methodologies can be adapted for remote working, sometimes new solutions are required.
In our own field, that’s particularly true when it comes to creating flexible/split shifts for home-based advisors, enabling support and team communications in a live ‘real time’ environment, and managing infosec and compliance.
The prize for getting these aspects right is potentially huge. According to the 2020 HomeAgent survey, when comparing work-at-home with office-based contact centre operations, 75 percent of organisations said that Attrition is lower, 61 percent say Productivity is better, and 54 percent say Absenteeism is better.
From the contact centre advisor (or HomeAgent) perspective, 74 percent of HomeAgents say that they have a better work-life-balance. 86 percent say they they have no travel-to-work costs, while 81 percent say that they have removed the time wasted travelling to work.
These numbers speak for themselves. Get it right and homeworking can be a win-win for organisations and their employees. You just need to find the right people to make it work.
As for the future, be in no doubt that homeworking is here to stay. An April/May 2020 poll of 156 UK contact centre professionals showed that 86 percent of centres had introduced homeworking in response to the Covid-19 crisis, with 47 percent of these saying that they see homeworking as a long-term business strategy. And this appetite for more home and more flexible working is reflected in the broader business community too.
In 2018, 4.5m people worked from home in the UK, while an additional 1.8 million people said that they would like to work from home but weren’t given the chance.
Most organisations are just starting their homeworking journeys. And if those journeys are anything like our own they will experiences twists and turns along the way – often learning through trial and error. But persevere because the rewards are worth the effort.
Homeworking is a proper job…. a proper career. Indeed, 71 percent of advisors responding to the 2020 HomeAgent Survey said they were ‘happy’, with 88 percent saying that ‘I want to perform well for the sake of my team’ and 54 percent saying ‘I want to reach a higher position in my line of work/organisation’.
This article has been reprinted courtesy of ONE Magazine.