Future of Call Centers is a Hybrid Workforce

It’s needless to say that remote work is becoming something more than just a passing trend. However, it doesn’t mean that the office will disappear. Companies still need it. Let’s try to find out how to organize the workflow in the office of the future.

Why the Necessity of Changes Arose

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world of work forever. Many companies have switched to work-from-home mode within days and aren’t going to come back. However, both employers and employees faced many challenges when working remotely. The most severe one is a communication gap. In the office, it takes minutes to have some questions answered or problems handled. In remote mode, you need to text and wait for a reply. 

Another challenge is isolation. It is hard to feel that you are a part of the team when you work remotely. Collaboration tools, video conferencing, and even so-called virtual water coolers - chats where employees can have informal conversations - all these means of communication can’t fully replace real office environments. That’s why company executives aren’t prepared to completely abandon the office space. According to a recent PwC US remote work survey, only 5% of executives think that employees don’t need to be in the office to maintain company culture. Another 29% of respondents think that employees should be in the office at least 3 days a week. 21% of executives don’t believe that a purely remote working setup is possible and speak up for a 5-day workweek. As for employees, they are less eager to return to the office. The survey shows that 55% of them want to be remote at least three days a week once the pandemic recedes.

What about contact centers? The recent survey from Calabrio shows that 9 in 10 contact centers have at least half of working from home agents and 85% are going to continue flexible hours long-term. They try to maintain a hybrid working setup and follow sanitation and hygiene regulations (masks, social distancing, lesser number of people in the office, etc). The pandemic made them review their hiring, onboarding, and engagement policies. On the one hand, remote work has given contact centers access to a larger pool of candidates that makes it easier to hire the agents that are a good fit for them. On the other hand, it makes employers update all job descriptions, implement multi-level interviewing and thorough background checks.

To learn more about hiring, onboarding, and engagement of remote agents, check out our article.

How Does Remote Work Influence Productivity?

As the PwC survey shows, that working from home contact center makes employees more productive. At first glance, it may seem nonsense. Home environments are so relaxing and distracting! How could it be possible to work productively when sitting in a pajama and sipping morning coffee? Or is it real to stay focused on work when your children distract you every three minutes? Well, for someone a remote work isn’t an option. However, it’s still possible to maintain a proper work-life balance. 34% of respondents said they’re more productive than they were before the pandemic (a previous survey in June 2020 showed 28% of such respondents). The number of executives who agree with that has increased as well: from 44 to 52%. 

Remote work requires that businesses should go to great lengths to improve employees’ performance. However, employers and employees grade this support differently. For example, while 81% of executives think that their company is successful in extending benefits for childcare, only 45% of employees think so.

Hybrid workforce vs hybrid employees - two approaches of future

Flexible work schedules, remote team members, and attention to the employee experience are just some of the major trends in modern business.

Hybrid call center, efficiently managed work models allow contact center organization to shape their future to be more flexible, digital, and profitable for employees. This benefits businesses through access to talent regardless of where they live, loyal employees, and innovation.

Here are some statistics that show a growing interest in hybrid work models:

Source: Global workforce survey, 2020, Salesforce

  • 82% of CEOs plan to allow employees to work remotely from time to time (Gartner).

Benefits of the hybrid business model

1. Increased Productivity

Not so long ago, working from home was a source of doubt and fear. No one believed this format made some valued employees more productive. This has proven to be a myth. In fact, remote employees are often more productive than their in-office counterparts.

2. Enhancing Employee Satisfaction

A harmonious work-life balance is one of the most attractive offers you can make to your employees and potential job candidates. The hybrid model gives employees more freedom to choose when and where they can work. This increased autonomy allows employees to adjust to their jobs most effectively and results in higher satisfaction levels, lower employee turnover, and more employees who are committed to helping your business achieve its goals.

3. Reducing the risk of getting infected

In an Envoy survey conducted with Wakefield Research, a majority (66%) of employees said they worry about their health and safety when it comes to returning to work. Fewer people in the workplace make it less likely that a sick employee will infect others. And since in most hybrid models people have the option to work remotely, a sick employee can stay home altogether.

4. Reduced business costs

With increased employee satisfaction, the company saves money on employee turnover and the associated costs required to find a new, qualified candidate for a new position, while increased productivity of existing employees will result in better work done for your customers and increased profits for your company.

5. Ability to hire talent from anywhere in the world

Access to a wider range of talent means you can hire people with specialized skills. This can give your organization a competitive edge, help you expand into new markets, and provide 24/7 productivity.

What Model Is Right for Your Customer Service Teams?

Let's see what business models are popular on the market right now. There are quite a few, but I will go over the most basic ones. You also have to understand that the most successful companies create ecosystems from several business models and niches. I will briefly go over the main types of models and cover the combined business models in more depth:

  • SaaS (software-as-a-service) - the most popular business model in the IT industry today. The basic ideology of such a business is constant payments every year or every month by subscription. These are Salesforce, MailChimp, Shopify, etc.
  • Marketplaces are also a very popular business model that brings two parties together. The seller and the buyer. For example Amazon, Airbnb, Booking, etc. 
  • Advertising business model - we all use these companies. They are usually content projects or companies that give away their product for free and make money by selling leads. These are Facebook, Google, and most games. 
  • Transactional is when you sell some kind of product. For example, you have an online clothing store and you sell dresses. Or you have an educational project and you sell a training course as a product. 
  • Percentage of the transaction - Almost every financial company, like Stripe or PayPal, uses this model.
  • Service Provision - In this model you sell either your time or the time of your employees. Of all the business models, this is the worst and hardest to scale. 99.9999% of businesses in this model are small businesses or self-employed. Very few companies have reached $1 billion in capitalization in this model. A prime example is RedHat. The basis of revenue in these companies is service, not product sales. 

The first thing we used to divide business models into "Scalable Model" and "Not Scalable Model". To understand this, you need to realize what you're selling. If you're selling a product, it's scalable. If you're selling your time, it's not scalable.

Next, I would divide business models into "easily scalable" and "hard to scale". For example, McDonald's or Starbucks is a hard-to-scale business model. It's a 20th-century business, but not a 21st-century one. You have to hire people to open a new outlet. So it scales through new people. It's complicated.

TikTok or Spotify, on the other hand, is an easily scalable model. One functionality fits all, the scaling point is new users. That model can be scaled by marketing costs.

This is why the SaaS model became popular in the early 2000s. 20 programmers could make a product and sell it to the whole world.   

If you need people to scale, that's a bad business model. If you just need to buy more advertising to scale, that's a good business model.

How to Organize the Workflow in the Office of Future 

Now let’s try to outline what you need to pay attention to since 2021 when organizing your workflow.

Define the purpose of your office

Decide what your employees are expected to accomplish when working in the office. Who needs to be there? Who can work remotely without causing any difficulties for your company? It’s also important to keep in mind that employers and employees see the purpose of office differently. When surveyed by PwC, executives chose such options as increasing employee productivity, providing a space to meet with clients, enabling employees to collaborate effectively, and enabling company culture. In contrast, employees put collaboration first. The other chosen options were: collaboration, secure access to equipment or documents, meeting with clients and colleagues, training, and career development. Take this into account when planning the workflow in your office.

For call centers, the main factor that should be considered is security requirements. Some industries simply can’t have remote contact centers because they have to store customers’ data on-premise. If it’s not your case, you are free to decide if you need a fully remote call center or a hybrid workplace model where only a part of the employees works in the office. 

Be prepared for changes in the jobs market

Only 17% of the US executives surveyed by PwC said they want to get back to the office as soon as possible. Other respondents are heading to some form of the hybrid option. What does it mean for you? You can attract talents who want more flexibility in their workflow by offering them working remotely 2-3 days a week. Also, a hybrid workweek may help you to retain such employees if you already have them.

Review your real estate strategy

The overcrowded open spaces became a thing of the past. Now companies need to have more square footage per worker to keep social distancing so you have to design your office space based on the number of employees who will be in the office every day. The new reality has influenced call center office space requirements as well. You need to think out call center room design. It may mean more space between agents’ workplaces, good ventilation, regular sanitation of surfaces, air humidifiers, etc. If your call center has to be on-premise only, it means scheduling more work shifts as well.

How to Manage a Remote Call Center Team 

Whether your call center is fully or partially remote, you need to take some steps to manage those employees who work from home. We’ve tried to outline several steps that will help you to build a successful telesales or customer service team.

Create your ideal agent’s profile

List all skills and personality traits that are a must-have for your potential employees. Specify and update job descriptions, requirements, and policies. It will help your agents to understand your expectations better from the start. 

Formation of culture

Like a broad culture, organizational working culture can refer to the shared values, traditions, customs, and goals of an organization. 

There are sources that explore the relationship between remote work and culture. First, corporate culture affects how many organizations can adopt different degrees of remote working. Second, there is a subsequent feedback loop where the adoption of the remote work experience begins to influence corporate culture. Finally, managers transitioning to working remotely in their organization must think about how to transform the existing corporate culture into a more flexible work model.

Aside from extreme situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic, companies can implement remote working to achieve certain goals. For example, increasing profits and productivity, meeting business needs, or strengthening interpersonal relationships among employees.

Remote working can change a company's core culture as employees have more independence and are less likely to meet face-to-face. There are 3 possible options for evolution that are not mutually exclusive and can operate simultaneously within an organization:

  • formalization of control
  • liberalization

Formalization of control translates into increased oversight of employees by the employer outside the office. Liberalization, on the other hand, is a combination of trust and tools for control, such as cell phones, laptops, webcams, teleconferencing accounts, etc. Employees are given more autonomy, and improved communication facilitates faster decision-making and implementation.

New approaches to leadership

A meta-analysis of 46 academic studies in 2007 shows that employees experience optimal work-life balance when working remotely up to 2.5 days a week. When working remotely more than 2.5 days a week, social connections with co-workers deteriorate. It has also been noted that working remotely can raise supervisors' ratings and reduce employee turnover. However, the results are mixed and depend on the industry, line of work, and complexity of the job. Therefore, for the integrity of the company, managers of any department should know how to build morale in a call center, as well as strengthen communication between employees in the collaboration of the hybrid model. 

Although psychological studies suggest that autonomy increases employee productivity by 5%, management needs to learn how to manage a remote workforce. After all, such a workforce requires a results-oriented management style rather than constant monitoring.

Risk assessment

In this column, we underline some thoughts about risks from one of McKinsey Talks Talent episodes about the need to radically rethink culture to get hybrid. So, we want to share these thoughts with you.

There is a risk that the hybrid business model will create a two-tiered system between remote workers and office workers. There is a great chance of creating a second-class group of remote workers because office workers in the workplace have the advantage of interacting with people in positions of power. In addition, working women and mothers also face a hybrid model of exacerbating gender inequality. Likewise with people of color. 

To avoid such risks, managers need to manage responsibly and intelligently. For example, set standards so that remote employees feel an integral part of the team. For example, organize an individual video screen for everyone in the conference room. In addition, you need to organize messaging app channels to reflect the conversations that took place in the office, and also, managers need to keep track of how remote employees are doing and what their basic needs are.

‘Often, when we talk about returning to the office, we assume there’s one office where all culture and activity, and linkages happen.’ - said one of the talent experts from McKinsey Talks Talent, Bryan Hancock - ‘But most companies have a headquarters plus multiple offices in other places. If organizations shift their thinking from “the” office to “an” office, and to what they’re doing to build connectivity more broadly—that small shift can help equalize the field and headquarters a bit.’

The best way to know if the steps you are taking are working is to listen to your employees. Today you can find performance-based metrics that are linked to time-to-market or productivity. Any management team should look at performance and health metrics, and develop clear metrics that will allow them to move toward success. This will be a multi-year journey as we come back from the pandemic.

Leaders need to understand what they are doing to create value and culture, and why they are doing it. That way, it will help them move forward.

Engaging employees and combating burnout

To cope with burnout, you must first find the causes that led to it. If you understand the cause, it will be easier to cope with the consequence. Once the causes of burnout have been discovered, you need to help the employee return to a `normal state`. The following ways can help here:

  • Changing activities

In any job, monotony, and monotony get boring. If an employee feels bored and unmotivated, it may be time to give him or her a break or to switch to another task.

If the company cannot transfer an employee to another position or department, you can try to bring a sense of novelty to the work, sending employees to workshops, seminars, or offering new tasks.

  • Physical activity

Sports help to relieve brain fatigue and cope with emotional burnout. If an employee has no desire or opportunity to work out in a fitness center, it is possible to make a habit of walking for 20-40 minutes outdoors or walking part of the way to or from work.

  • Incentives

Employees who are `burning` at work should be encouraged from time to time: give bonuses, give nice gifts for a completed complex project. Such bonuses motivate and give specialists an understanding: the management sees my efforts and appreciates them.

  • Rest

Another effective way to deal with burnout is rest. It is necessary to make sure that employees go on vacation in time and do not take on tasks that cause them to work without days off.

To learn more about burnout, read our article Call Center Agent Burnout. What Is It and How to Avoid It

Reorganize your training and coaching process

Even experienced employees need to put more effort to adapt to remote work. That’s why you should deliver more detailed training for newbies. Offering them a 3-month trial period and team-building activities for call center agents can also be a good idea. It will allow them to learn how to use virtual call center software properly and confidently. 

Maintain a sense of community 

A lack of a sense of community and connectivity is one of the most common challenges businesses face when switching from office to work from home. Remote workers may feel disconnected from the team that affects their productivity. Use tools that help them to feel they are not working alone: video conferencing meetings and online team-building activities. 

Leverage technologies (quality assurance and reporting tools)

To set up a remote call center, you need to use cloud-based technologies and digital transformation. It will not only allow you to monitor remote agents’ performance in real-time but also reduces your call center expenses. Our cloud-based call center solution allows your managers to join the live dialogue in three different modes (call center barging, hidden mode, call whispering). Customizable scoring cards enable them to assess the quality of conversation and attach a relevant call recording. It also provides you with comprehensive reporting tools that give you total information on each agent’s performance as well as monitor the change of agent statuses during the day.

Give and receive feedback

In work-from-home mode, feedback is even more important than in the office. Receiving feedback your virtual agent who works from home understands what to improve and feels appreciated. It is important to you as well. When your employees are free to discuss the aspects of their work with you as a leader it gives you a tremendous opportunity to improve business processes in your organization.

Will Hybrid Work Stay For Long?

`I think it’s here to stay. Getting people to accept arriving every day at the same place, at the same time—which may mean 90 minutes in traffic when it should only take 20, and revolving their life around those work hours` - said Bill Schaninger, an expert from McKinsey & Co - `I think those days are pretty much gone, particularly now that we’ve seen that work will not suffer.`

People prefer Hybrid Work, and there is evidence of this. This study has shown that more than half of employees would like their organizations to adopt more flexible hybrid virtual-working models, in which employees are sometimes on-premises and sometimes working remotely. 


Source: Reimagine Work: Employee Survey, 2020-2021, McKinsey&Company

Working remotely has proven to be extremely promising, but offices and other locations provide many benefits that simply cannot be replicated in a home environment. There is no doubt that the hybrid approach will be a step forward for the vast majority of companies. This model offers the flexibility and freedom that employees need and that benefits the business. Companies must now find a way to offer the spaces, tools, and resources they need to help employees succeed.  

To learn more about remote team management, read our article Scattered but Connected: How to Manage a Remote Call Center Team.

Best Tools For A Hybrid Workforce

The next phase of the work requires a holistic approach, which is ideal for helping workplaces adapt to a hybrid model. At this point, there are already technologies and tools that, in combination, allow for quality remote work: video conferencing, software, fast-messaging tools. Here are some of them:

  • Zoom - the service's convenience and reliability have made it a `standard` in business video conferencing. It's a `hot` brand, keeping up with the times. Whereas Skype among the Zoomer generation is considered `a bygone era`.
  • Voiptime Contact Center - is an example of the best cloud contact center technology deployment, flexibility, and mobility, which already ensures the smooth operation of many call centers today.
  • Time Doctor - with this program, you can get detailed reports on how your remote employees use their time and how productive their work is.

Conclusion

The future of contact centers and any business become places of collaboration that allow more flexibility and space for employees. Overcrowded open spaces are gone. Now the office is a place where employees can feel that they are a part of a community that shares strong company culture.

 

Originally published 03/18/2021, updated 09/15/2021

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