Home working and the contact centre
Work your way home
There’s no place like home
The word “centre” in contact centre is increasingly optional. More and more companies are realising the benefits of a smarter, flexible working policy—enabling employees to work in locations that suit them best.
For contact centres, working from locations such as cafés, customer premises, airports, or hotels would not be acceptable. So the best environment that accrues the benefits of flexible working is the employee’s home.
Reduced operating costs, quickly scalable, and inexpensive.
One factor that’s driving this trend is financial. By utilising agents working from home, companies can limit the new space required during periods of expansion or to meet real estate reduction needs.
Home working also offers the flexibility to scale up the capacity of your contact centre during periods with unexpectedly high levels of demand, as agents who work from their home can be brought online more quickly.
If companies are located in tight job markets, or where there’s competition for experienced contact centre agents, home working enables them to recruit outside their geographic area.
Retention and satisfaction
Home working employees can save themselves cost and time. Studies show that by eliminating commuting, effective take-home pay is increased by up to 17%,1 and 50–60 hours per month are returned to employees’ personal lives.2 Those who are disabled also have new opportunities.
The environmental benefits can be added to a company’s corporate social responsibility statement. By reducing the amount of commuting that employees do to get to work, the overall CO2 emissions for an organisation can be significantly reduced.
Employee satisfaction has been shown to increase by 4–10 points, and overall operating expenses to drop by as much as 10–30%, as a result of improved retention.
The floor plan of home working.
Hub and Spoke
In a “hub and spoke” model, agents are within reasonable distance of a physical centre, the “hub” of which serves as a mother ship for training, team building, and maintaining culture.
This allows for a measure of flexibility. For instance, in the event of a power outage at home, a home-based contact agent would be able to go on premises to fulfill their shift obligations.
Many agents in this model might start on-site and either “earn” the right to work from home as top performers or be required to move home to minimise on-site space requirements.
At the other extreme, there is the establishing of an agent pool hired to work remotely from the outset. With no geographic constraints, it becomes possible to draw from new labour pools and skill sets.
Establishing and maintaining a sense of team and culture become new challenges. But webinars can help enable training and team huddles, while IM can empower regular, necessary interaction with peers.
Flexible scheduling has its benefits
With the overhead of travel removed, split shifts and part-time work become practical and attractive to agent and employer alike:
The length of a “shift” no longer has to be eight hours; it can be as few as one.
Modern workforce management systems enable agents to bid on shifts ahead of time.
Similarly, an employer with a sudden demand spike can rapidly mobilise off-site resources.
Home improvement—environment and equipment.
People’s homes vary considerably, and it is important to ensure a suitable environment for contact centre work.
Best practices call for the workspace to:
• Be separate from the rest of the household, with a closable door
• Be reasonably quiet (don’t count on noise- cancelling technology to negate all ambient noise)
• Be comfortably equipped and without distractions
• Be an unshared space
• Use unshared equipment, including phone line and data connection
On one end of the spectrum, companies might physically provide everything — desk, chair, screens, computer, desk phone, and headset — giving complete control and perceived minimisation of liability issues.
More common is that the critical technology items (whether supplied by agent or employer) be specifically called out and the agent’s own furniture and layout be individually assessed for suitability, either by visit or by video tour.
Home connections—understanding your technology choices.
Love your IT department
Maintaining reliability and quality is an overriding imperative. There is no particular mystery about the technology required to enable home working. However, it must be implemented in a manner that ensures the same level of availability and audio that you insist on within a bricks-and-mortar environment.
Your IT department is a critical partner, since you rely on them to resolve issues and keep your home agents’ availability at a maximum. Support desks might refuse or simply be unable to resolve issues where non-standard equipment or a substandard data connection is involved. So have IT define the minimum requirements and ensure that each home agent’s environment can meet them.
Hearing the customer
There are three main options for delivering the customer’s voice to the home agent:
1. Analog desk phone with headset, using standard PSTN landline
2. IP desk phone with headset, using broadband data connection
3. PC softphone with headset, using broadband data connection
In every case, the agent experience is unchanged from that inside a physical call centre: The screen application is used to manage customer interaction and call flow, and the ACD delivers calls to the audio device used.
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