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The coronavirus crisis has forced many call centers to implement work-from-home procedures. Some programs are existing and others are brand new. From a short-term perspective, moving agents from an office environment to their homes provides a solution to the current crisis. But the bigger challenge is ensuring that the work-at-home program is sustainable in the long term.
There are a number of current practices that businesses need to change to support a sustainable remote call center program, and technology is a key enabler to ensuring success.
The following are some key practices that call centers must alter and tips to support a long-term sustainable remote work-at-home program:
For agents to successfully work from home they must be comfortable working in a level of isolation where they cannot turn around to chat with another agent or supervisor at a nearby desk. Remote agents must also have the motivation and discipline to stay focused when distractions occur or temptations arise, such as the refrigerator calling their name or a pet that wants to play.
Job descriptions must outline the expectations of the position and be clear regarding the expectations of the individual, ensuring that they are comfortable and have the discipline to work in a remote environment.
The interview process must include an assessment to determine whether a candidate has the ability to work alone, to follow the guidelines of the job with remote supervision and is comfortable using a variety of communication techniques -- such as email, voice, video and workplace collaboration tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams.
In the case of moving agents from an in-office to remote call center environment -- not during times of crisis -- a trial period should be put into place to ensure agents are comfortable in the new environment. If they are not successful or happy, they should have the opportunity to return to an office environment.
To successfully train remote agents, there must be a movement from an in-classroom instructor-led process to a combination of training techniques using new technologies, including instructor-led video, self-paced learning, peer collaboration and role playing that supports remote workers.
Businesses should also bring trainees together on a periodic basis so they can share their experiences with each other and promote teamwork among new hires. This can either be done in person or using video conferencing apps such as Zoom and Skype.
Supervising a remote workforce is different than supervising a workforce located in an office. Supervisors cannot just look up from their workstation to see what is going on or stop by an agent's desk if they just completed a difficult phone call.
Supervisors must be excited to work with remote agents, taking a continuous proactive approach to communicating with each member of their team, while understanding the varying needs of different agents. They must also be comfortable using a variety of communication techniques.
Remote workers can often feel isolated and not part of the department or company, so continuous communication is critical to drive employee engagement. This ensures that employees receive critical communications and feel like part of the team.
Communication must take place on both group and individual levels and in a variety of formats -- including email, phone calls and video chat -- to address both different employee needs and also the goal of the communication.
Another tip is to establish an effective remote call center work environment to support the success of work-at-home agents.
For at-home representatives working in a distraction-free secure environment, the supporting technology must ensure that they can provide resolution to customer issues, while delivering an exceptional customer experience.
Key technology requirements include functioning hardware -- laptop, external mouse and keyboard -- multiple monitors, access to a cloud CRM system, effective system response time and top-notch phone call voice quality. The work-at-home technology must be of the same standard as the in-office technology.