The work environment as we knew it before the pandemic feels lightyears away. Many companies have allowed or encouraged staff to return to the office on some level. However, the how and where we work are much different than they were before 2020. This is especially true for the contact center industry, which had to pivot quickly to work-from-home or hybrid models to accommodate increased volume while maintaining good service levels.
Here are ten inside observations from the new contact center workplace.
1. Work-From-Home is Here to Stay
People have continued to work from home past the height of the pandemic. Metrics show that agents and managers have been productive in the call center business, and attendance and employee retention rates have improved. Employers have further benefitted by downsizing their real estate commitments, positively impacting their operating costs. Additionally, many of the stay-at-home challenges people faced during the pandemic, like juggling children learning virtually with their virtual workday, have passed, leaving employees feeling less stressed.
At the height of the pandemic, more than half of the U.S. workforce worked from home, up from 8%, according to market research company IDC. The hybrid work model, where employees split time between a corporate office and a home office, has become more prevalent now that people have had the opportunity of experiencing working from home and opting to do so full time. There are numerous benefits to working from home. Central to this list is how employees can skip their commutes, giving them more flexibility in their work hours – a significant benefit to the BPOs employing them. Employees can also save considerable money, especially with today’s gas prices, by not traveling to and from work. This benefit alone has kept employees from looking for other jobs that otherwise have a lengthy commute. This is a big win for employers and one of the biggest challenges for BPOs who are always looking for ways to retain their best people – not offering the option to work from home is often a dealbreaker now for prospective employees.
2. Flexibility Impacts Productivity
Employees have always desired more flexibility in their work schedules to accommodate family and other life demands, and working from home has provided this flexibility for many.
Studies have shown that people who work from home get more sleep, exercise more often, eat better, and are more involved with their family lives. Being well-rested, adequately fed and hydrated, awake, aware, focused, and in a good mood does wonder for productivity. In a customer service setting, you often hear how a customer can sense a smile or frown on an agent’s face. The flexibility of the work-from-home model has resulted in many more smiles and increased production – an excellent outcome for all.
3. Hybrid Work Options
Remote call center agents must have a quiet home office space which not all homes can offer. Not everyone wants to work from home. Some people like the separation between their personal and professional lives. Certain personalities also prefer to be in a more social setting, something that a home office may not provide.
Since the pandemic, contact centers have been altering their makeup of premise-based and remote call center staff. Today, many contact centers offer both work-from-home and in-office options, so employees can choose the one that fits their preferences.
4. Office Spaces Are Being Used Differently
While many companies have downsized their office footprints, most have not eliminated them entirely. While technology can replicate just about everything virtually, a physical office still has a place but plays a somewhat different role now than before the pandemic.
Office time now is geared more toward collaborative work. Companies still benefit from problem-solving in a physical office, gaining perspectives and insight from associates working on another program or in another department.
Additionally, some clients like to lead training and strategy sessions with call center staff in person. Prospective clients sometimes still prefer to vet potential remote call center partners by visiting their centers, meeting staff, and physically observing agents while assisting customers over the phone.
5. Expect More Technology Solutions
Technology continues to drive efficiencies in call centers. Agents are provided with more tools than they’ve ever had before.
The best call centers have always employed the latest technological solutions, and more effective options continue to surface. Automation of manual tasks continues to expand. Artificial Intelligence is becoming more prominent. Advanced options related to customer self-service save money by reducing the amount of human interaction required in specific applications. Clients have more access to the data on their programs and how and when they want it, allowing for more effective management of initiatives.
The impact of technology has changed the makeup of staff working in the office and the tasks they are responsible for. Web conference solutions have become standard. While they are very effective tools, someone must set up and maintain them. IT department staff sizes have increased in contact centers as more technology solutions require additional personnel to administer them.
6. Communication is More Asynchronous
In an office setting, you can walk right up to your boss or coworker to ask questions or request an impromptu meeting. A home office doesn’t provide that same immediate access. Software developers have focused on making things work a little differently online. Specifically, to enable a remote call center workforce often scattered around the country, they hope to replace a lot of synchronous communication (in-person chats, live video, phone calls) with conversations that can happen at leisure (messages, posts, recorded video).
The intention is to allow people to concentrate better than they could in the office and accommodate the realities of working from home.
Many employees use existing communications software like Ring Central, Slack, and Teams in a very synchronous way. When people message colleagues, they expect a quick response, and they usually get it. These platforms have been adding subtle tweaks to goad people toward asynchronous communication, like putting up “do not disturb notifications” if people connect their calendars and are in a meeting.
Smaller workplace software companies like Volley and Friday have developed platforms that are meant to be inherently asynchronous, with features like pre-recorded video and allocated time for catching up.
The result is a changing landscape, one in which contact centers need to determine what communication options are most effective for their employees and the programs they serve customers on.
7. Productivity is Measured Differently
One criticism of the physical office has been that metrics, like time spent at work, mattered more to management than production in some cases, an approach that benefited the workaholic at best. With less emphasis on the corporate office, the way managers measure employee success has changed.
Production results are more critical now than ever. Results take center stage over how many hours someone works or is willing to work. A BPO must measure both results and hours in a call center setting since these are among the KPIs most important to clients, which are tied together.
8. Culture Must be Created Differently
Some elements of business are indeed more challenging to replicate virtually, and establishing the enterprise culture is one of them. With the proper planning, training, and reinforcement of principals, you can, however, develop the desired culture through virtual means.
Establishing culture begins with employee orientation. A focus on culture during this initial step with a BPO is critical in setting the stage for expectations. Tenured management staff who train and supervise employees should carry forward the cultural elements of the company. Tenured agents who assist new ones can also contribute to the reinforcement of principals and share examples of their experiences consistent with the company’s culture.
9. Employees Seem More Relatable
If you worked through the pandemic, you probably felt a little closer to your coworkers. This closeness results in people feeling more alike than different, fostering relatability on a new level.
In a contact center, staff assigned to a program work towards common goals. Management is tasked with maximizing the production of all team members. Employees must share best practices and lessons learned, collaborating to succeed as one. Having employees feel as though they are more similar than not to their peers is a good thing, making everyone feel more comfortable and inclined to share and support each other.
A Microsoft study found that one in six people reported crying with a coworker during the pandemic. The presence of this primary human emotion shared with coworkers reflects our vulnerability during difficult times and illustrates how a stranger of sorts can quickly become more relatable.
10. More People Are Relocating
Since many people can work from anywhere, more people will. Not being tied to a physical office for work allows employees to live where they want to. Combining that with the low-interest rates available over the last few years, many families moved to new homes. Coworkers you often saw in the office are no longer there. Though still part of your team, collaboration with them will likely be all virtual through video conferences or chat platforms.
The expanded role of remote call center employees has been a blessing for most companies and employees. Telecom, Inc. has many years of experience with work-from-home, in-office, and hybrid models, and we’re happy to expand on details and share how our staffing model can benefit your program. We employ staff across five states and offer nearly 30 years of experience. Contact us today to learn how Telecom can help you achieve your program objectives as a strategic partner.