Tips on How You Can Bridge the Gap Between Remote and In-Office Contact Center Agents Faster With the Right Workforce Management Strategy

Last fall, Global Workplace Analytics told us that the number of people who work from home has increased by 140% since 2005. And as we live and work through a pandemic, that number has only grown.

In the last few months, technology giants like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter have made the move to a fully remote work environment. Remote work isn’t just a trend any more. For many, it’s become our present and our future. And companies are getting creative in how they strategically support virtual work.

Many companies are building remote work strategies around the needs of their workforce. Some employees have children still at home because of daycare and school closings, others have immunocompromised family members. For them, working from home is still incredibly helpful and important. On the other hand, some employees have no space at home to work and are struggling to be productive and happy.

These needs lead to a hybrid approach for the workforce. Companies are investing in co-working spaces or smaller offices to accommodate employees who can’t work from home. Meanwhile, they’re still supporting those who prefer remote work.

As a manager of a call center, you may be panicking a little. How are you supposed to successfully manage employees that are in totally different environments? Are there ways to do this without doubling work? How can you keep them all engaged when some are in your office and others aren’t? Don’t freak out – you’ve got this.

Workforce and engagement management is possible in a hybrid call center.

In fact, you can use the same strategies for managing your employees no matter their location. Let me show you. Let’s consider some ways you can apply workforce management and engagement management techniques in your contact center.

Hold up: Definition time! What is Workforce Management vs. Workforce Engagement Management?

Real quick, before we get too jargon-y, let’s take a definition break. What exactly is workforce management and workforce engagement management? These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they have some distinct differences.

Workforce management is all of the processes that your contact center uses to make sure you have the right staff available to help customers. It’s essentially the strategy and process you use to build an efficient team.

Workforce management includes:

  • Forecasting contact volumes
  • Scheduling your staff around high and low volume contacts
  • Managing the day-to-day flux or absenteeism of your staffing
  • Creating a business continuity plan

Workforce engagement management takes your workforce strategies one step further. Where workforce management is a bit more technical in how you strategize for optimization, workforce engagement management accounts for the human needs of your employees. And, it acknowledges the power of employee engagement on performance and retention. It takes an agent-centric view of management, using tools to support your agents’ success.

Workforce engagement management includes:

  • Recruiting and onboarding new employees
  • Evaluating employees for improvement
  • Accounting for each employees’ availability and PTO
  • Applying the right metrics and recognition
  • Advocating for the voice of the employee

How to Apply Workforce Engagement Management With Remote and Non-Remote Employees

Now with some definitions and ideas in your back pocket, let’s think through what workforce management and engagement management looks like day-to-day. Here are two areas to focus on as you consider how to equally care for the optimization and engagement of both remote and in-office workers

Focus area #1: Manage all your employees with a focus on connection

Gallup found that friendship and personal connection at work influence employee engagement. For example, 63% of women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work report feeling engaged versus only 29% of women who don’t have a friend at work.

When you think about it more, this makes plenty of sense. For most of us, we spend more time at work than we do in our own homes. It’s only natural that we want to build connections with our team members. We want to feel valued and understood at work, and want to be surrounded by trusted confidants and supporters in the workplace.

How does employee connection benefit your company? That same Gallup report shows that a mere two out of 10 U.S. employees strongly agree they have a best friend at work. Yet, by moving that ratio to 6 in 10, organizations could realize:

  • 36% fewer safety incidents
  • 7% more engaged customers
  • 12% higher profit

But, for our remote employees, fewer in-person interactions with coworkers makes establishing those connections and friendships even more crucial. When you’re at home working all day, you miss out on the casual interactions with your coworkers. Relationship building requires a more conscious effort. And, as a manager, it’s vital that you foster an environment for meaningful connection.

So, how can you use workforce engagement and management to help those connections happen? Let’s look at one example — schedule forecasting.

Scheduling can make a huge difference in culture. To bridge the gap between employees who have an in-office experience with those at home, set aside meaningful time in each shift for your remote and in-office workers to connect.

Prioritizing time for connection can be tricky when you have high contact volumes. How can you build culture when employees come and go from their shifts through the day? This is where forecasting is important. Whether your contact center software does the heavy lifting for you, or you take the time to map out volumes and do the math, forecasting the needs of your call center helps you learn where to build in breaks and encourage agents to build peer relationships.

You can see the moments where you can afford for agents to step away from their desks to have a quick call to catch up with one of their remote peers. Or, you can see when you can all take a breather and debrief together after a tiring shift. The more accurate your forecasting, the more you can find windows of down time to connect with, and coach, remote and in-office employees.

Focus area #2: Manage all your employees with a focus on collaboration

Both your in-office employees and your remote workers need to feel a professional connection to your organization through collaboration. Collaboration and a central mission is critical for engagement.

Some collaboration happens in scheduled meetings or formal brainstorming sessions, but much of it comes during organic, casual conversations that spring up outside of formal meetings. Think of how easily your remote employees can be left out of these organic conversations.

When an issue arises and you need to take action immediately, company leaders gather the in-office team together and share the plan. Everyone marches ahead, and gets busy knocking out tasks. But no one tells the remote folks. Either because the team simply forgot or didn’t have the time to reach out and offer a full explanation.

With a hybrid contact center, there’s potential for your team to become siloed. According to a Harvard Business Review study, remote workers are more likely than on-site employees to worry that coworkers are saying bad things about them behind their backs. Remote workers can get concerned that coworkers make changes to projects without telling them in advance, lobbying against them, and not fighting for their priorities.

Use workforce management to fight this in your office by building your team around agent skill sets regardless of location. Splitting your team into skill-based squads or pods makes collaboration accessible to all and increases your service quality.

Use career pathing and professional development reviews to assess your employees’ skills and build pods around those skills. This helps your customers by giving them reliable resources for service and help. Each pod can focus on one area of expertise or a mixture of several.

Use skills-based routing in your IVR and send questions to the perfect group. To fight tribalism and encourage collaboration, include both remote and in-office employees in each pod. They will have to find connection with one another and collaborate to solve problems in spite of physical separation.

Employee engagement and management is still possible when some of your employees are remote. Rethink how you use your workforce management tools currently to be more inclusive. Creativity can build a more collaborative and connected workforce. I told you, no need to freak out! You can do this!

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