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What to consider for a contact center remote working strategy

Colin Taylor suggests 11 areas that a good contact center work-from-home policy should address, including who provides equipment, workforce management, coaching and more.

COVID-19 has taken its toll on society, the individual, the economy and likely on your contact center. As we see the pace of reopening slowing, it is becoming clear that this coronavirus is not going to be a short-term hit -- it is going to change the way we operate and manage our businesses and specifically our contact centers. As a result of the pandemic, your organization has likely deployed agents to work from home (WFH). Based on The Taylor Reach Group's research of the COVID-19 impact on contact centers released in June, 87% of centers have remote agents, up from 15% before the pandemic.

So, what can you do today to help your center recover from COVID-19? Here are 11 areas to consider when creating a remote work strategy for your contact center.

  1. Physical space requirements. Does the agent WFH space need to be in a separate room, does there need to be a door, does the door need to lock? Do they need a desk, an ergonomic chair?
  2. What about equipment? Is your approach BYOD or are laptops/Chromebooks being supplied? Does the BYOD approach increase or reduce security? How is tech support provided? What if the device fails -- then what? What about peripheral equipment -- a second monitor, wireless headset, hotspot? Who provides the internet service, what are the minimum upload and download speeds? If agents are providing the internet, are they compensated for it? What if they have a family at home who stream video and do online gaming? If the company provides internet access, how is this managed, who orders it, who pays for it?
  3. Evidence and audit. What about pictures of the WFH environment, are they required? Is there a webcam on the laptop that you want to use to provide agent support? Do you want to have the right to visit the WFH environment for auditing purposes?
  4. Workforce management. Can you schedule agents outside of their normal shifts? Can you employ 'split shifts'? Do you need their consent to split shifts?
  5. Performance standards. Are the performance standards unchanged when WFH or are they modified. If modified, how?
  6. Training, quality and coaching. How are training, quality reviews and coaching to be completed in a WFH environment?
  7. Is the agent's compensation affected by WFH? If so how?
  8. In the rush to roll out WFH, many organizations cut some corners on their compliance programs. If you have varied your compliance programs, document those changes in the policy. Looks at your PCI, HIPAA and other appropriate compliance areas.
  9. Employee well-being. The CDC found that 1 in 5 Americans reported feeling stressed, anxious or depressed in 2016. Statista found in 2019 that 11% of respondents reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. In May 2020, this figure has increased to 34%. Look at your benefit program. Are there resources that agents can leverage if they feel stressed, anxious or depressed?
  10. Process and procedures. For example, how will an agent escalate a call or ask for assistance? Will they use an internal chat feature, and will this be only to their supervisor or in a team chat?
  11. If an agent has a slip-and-fall accident while working from home, are you and the agent both covered?

What to consider before bringing employees back into call centers

We expect work from home to be with us for the foreseeable future. Until we achieve herd immunity or develop a treatment or vaccine, we should expect to employ physical distancing in our contact centers. If we look at our contact centers, we typically see rows of workstations set up back-to-back with narrow aisles between them.

Managing effective physical distancing in this environment is challenging. Most contact center workstations are four feet wide, though some are five feet or even six feet across. This means that you often can't have a person in any adjacent workstation without violating the six-foot rule of social distancing. In typical row layout with four- or five-foot workstations, each agent is surrounded by five empty workstations in their row and will likely have three empty workstations on the row their back faces to ensure a minimum of six feet of distance.

When we do the math, this equates to 30% to 35% of the contact center seats being usable (depending upon your layout, your actual mileage may vary). But without any other calculation, we can quickly see why WFH is going to be a part of many contact centers' future for some time to come.

Of course, operating your physical center with social distancing will present other challenges, including training rooms and conference rooms. Many offices will become unusable for meetings, lunch and break rooms, washrooms, locker rooms, smoking areas and even the parking lot will all be affected, too. At the end of the day, if you can run your bricks-and-mortar center at 30% of capacity, you are likely doing well.

About the author
Colin Taylor is the CEO of The Taylor Reach Group. Ever since answering his first customer call more than 40 years ago, Taylor has blazed a trail of innovation and success through the Customer Interaction industry, spending almost 20 years in the BPO space before launching Taylor Reach in 2003. Taylor has assisted many Fortune 500 and global brands to improve their customer-facing organizations. Today more than 50,000 agent positions globally operate by employing Taylor Reach-designed contact centers and operational models. Recognized as one of the leading contact/call center pioneers and experts, Taylor has received 30 awards for excellence in contact center management on two continents. Acknowledged as a leader and influencer on the topics or call/contact centers, customer service and customer experience in published rankings on Huffington Post, Call Centre Helper, ICMI and MindShift. Taylor is an author and frequent speaker on customer service, customer experience, call/contact centers, operational innovation, CRM, sales and team building.

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