The world we live in is demanding a remote workforce. And past trends show, as employees get more flexibility, they never want to give it back. Buffer’s State of Remote Work in 2020 report found that almost every employee who works remotely, a whopping 98%, want to continue remote work (at least part-time) for the rest of their careers.
Not only that, but the benefits of remote work go unmatched.
Remote workers cite flexible schedules, the ability to work from anywhere, no commute, and the ability to spend more time with family as top benefits of working from home.
And the perks aren’t one-sided. In fact, companies with flexible work policies reap pretty hefty rewards. FlexJobs found that of the companies that allow remote work, 85% increased productivity, 90% improved employee morale, and 77% reduced operating costs.
Not to mention, remote work allows for flexibility during times of uncertainty. When your agents aren’t hardwired to their desks and the world calls for flexibility, you can bend.
Right now, companies across the globe are practicing social distancing and keeping employees remote so our communities stay safe.
And as more people flock to their home offices this week, potentially kicking off a trend of more remote work for years to come, we want to help.
There’s tons of talk and resources on how to work from home successfully. Wake up at the same time each day. Get dressed. Take breaks. Create the right environment.
But, what about leading a team remotely?
It looks a bit different than it does for your work from home call center agents.
So how do you, manager, support work from home call center agents while still keeping performance on track and helping your customers?
Here are four tips on managing a remote workforce. And, the top challenges managers like you face when it comes to remote work (plus how to overcome them).
The Basics: 4 Tips to Managing Work from Home Call Center Agents
1. Make sure agents have access to the docs, network, and resources they need.
As you prepare to send agents home (or support ones who are already there) get your resources online. Aside from your cloud contact center platform, agents will need access to your knowledge base, customer files, SOPs, CRM, and ticketing system, too.
Partner with IT to get the most-used resources online and available to your work from home call center agents, first. And, work with your vendor to learn your network requirements and see what it takes for agents to handle interactions from anywhere.
Set your agents up for autonomous work, so they’re empowered to help customers. And while they work, focus on outcomes over metrics. Too often, we see managers who complain that agents need their hands held through seemingly simple tasks. This comes from a fear of failure.
If your agents fear making a mistake, they’ll look for a lifeboat every time they’re unsure about a decision. Even if it benefits the customers. Remote work means less hand-holding, more confidence boosting.
2. Avoid schedule creep.
When you know your agents are at home, it’s easy to ask for help during a busy period, even if your agent is off the clock.
Hmmmm… Sally’s shift begins in 30 minutes and we’re slammed. She’s working from home, so I’m sure she’s around and can step in to help, thought Sally’s manager, tempted to interfere with Sally’s time to unplug.
Set boundaries for your agents (and yourself). Working from home makes it easy to lose track of time and let hours at work bleed into hours at home. But for most agents who work on hourly schedules, you’ll need to be conscientious of the time they’re putting in. It’s how you’ll stay on budget and keep up with accurate workforce management planning.
And, it’s how you’ll keep work-life balance and morale high for your agents. Just because your agent was online and communicating with you from home all day doesn’t mean they want to answer customer emails from their couch at 9 p.m. Follow a schedule for communicating with your team, just as you would if they were sitting in the office.
“Work-life balance can become a distant goal when you start working remotely. Without hard time cut-offs, it’s very easy for work to bleed into every area of your life. At best, those lines become blurred. At worst, work becomes your entire life.”
Christina Perricone, a remote marketing manager for HubSpot.
3. Use video conferencing for coaching sessions and team meetings.
There’s power in face-to-face communication with your team. And, it doesn’t have to be lost with remote work. Use tools like Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts, to host team meetings via webcam. Sit down in front of your webcam and lead the meeting just as you would if you were in a meeting room together.
These conferencing tools make it easy to share your screen so you can review important metrics and dashboards, too. And, they give your agents a two-way street. Agents can chime in and ask questions or share stories via their microphones or chat. You can ask your team to turn their webcams on for that added personal touch.
Hop on a video call for your 1:1 coaching sessions, too. Sometimes, sentiment gets lost over the phone. According to some of the world’s leading psychologists, when we communicate, our words, tone of voice, AND body language all matter to our message.
Being present with your agents and letting them see your expressions as you share feedback is crucial to keeping communication crystal clear. Review performance, talk through development opportunities and even discuss career goals on these video catch-ups.
What’s more? You can even record a quick video and email it to your agent if they need clarity on a coaching or training topic.
Let’s say you reviewed a handful of agent interactions and left feedback in-line on the interactions. To avoid confusion, you record a quick, 30-second video explaining the feedback and giving more detail to help your agent improve. Then, you send the link straight to your agent for review. Free tools like Soapbox (an extension for your web browser) make this simple. Video eliminates the barrier of distance.
4. Keep Communication Steady (without standing over your agents’ shoulders).
Have a primary (and instant) form of communication in addition to your scheduled meetings, calls, and emails. Use a messaging app to keep the lines of communication open to your team, so they know they can reach out for help if they need it.
Your agents are used to having you a few steps away to rely on for help. Not sharing a central office might cause some apprehension for those who lean on you most. Empower your agents to offer help and make decisions in the best interest of the customer (while keeping the company in mind, too). Recirculate documents from your call center business continuity plan on the dos and don’ts of remote work, and bake in some flexibility for your agents.
But don’t use this channel as a tool to hover. Working from home means trusting your agents to do their jobs and help customers. And if you check in with them every half hour to see how things are going, you’re undermining that trust. When you do, it spirals into a ton of other bad outcomes for your business (a culture of fear, low productivity, and ultimately, disengaged agents who leave).
Top Obstacles to Working From Home Right Now (And How to Address Them)
Statistics say collaboration, loneliness, and the inability to unplug are the top challenges facing remote workers. We thought up a few more to keep track of during these unsure times.
1. My agents don’t have access to technology at home.
How to address it:
Work with IT to send a technology survey to your team. Ask if they have access to a computer, iPad, tablet, or phone. And, be sure they have an internet connection, so they can take interactions from your cloud contact center platform. Then, work with IT and the agents who don’t have access to technology. Offer up spare monitors or laptops available in the office. Or, set up a system where agents can check out their desktop computer until they return to the office.
2. Children (and pets) at home distract from work.
How to address it:
School closings are piling up by the minute, with some families facing month-long closures. This means, some of your agents not only have to navigate the newness of working from home, but they also have to figure out how to be productive with tiny, inquisitive people alongside them.
Be lenient with your team. If kids make a swift appearance in your team meeting or your 1:1, show some grace. And if you’re in this boat too, remember that breaks are your friend. Spend lunch conversing and enjoying time with your kids (and encourage agents to do the same).
Take 15 minutes to go for a walk outside – fresh air is good for everyone right now. Giving children bits of undivided attention throughout the day will offer some reassurance, keep them happy, and everyone productive.
3. Feelings of isolation (mixed with a little bit of fear) will quickly creep in.
How to address it:
Let’s pause for a quick reality check: our situation as a community escalated quickly, and there’s tons of uncertainty right now. As we know, uncertainty brews fear. And all this talk of social distancing means in the coming weeks, we’re going to see each other less. But that doesn’t mean we can’t interact often and still have fun. In fact, it means we should make even more of an effort to reach out through available channels and connect.
We’ve seen tons of ideas lately to help combat these feelings of isolation.
Here are a few I loved: Remote happy hours at the end of the day to connect with coworkers and talk through how things are going. If you show up to a video conference early, explain one item from the room you’re in (to those on the line with you). Reaching out to coworkers and setting up virtual coffee chats. Connecting with each of your team members, even with a quick “Hey, how are ya?” message each day. Get creative and encourage comradery. It’s important.
Over the next few weeks, we’re offering up resources (for free!) to help you navigate this new way of work.