Award-winning customer service analyst Roy Atkinson shares critical writing on the rapidly evolving landscape of distributed teams in the COVID-disrupted workplace, and curates some tips that can help your workforce pull together and share sustained success in long-haul WFH situations.

by Roy Atkinson
Date Published February 23, 2021 - Last Updated February 19, 2021

This article originally appeared on ICMI.

Since the onset of the current pandemic, working from home has been a frequent topic in the contact center world. At the same time, there has been an increase in demand for customer service; Zendesk estimates that average weekly tickets are up 24% over 2019. Managers with years of experience sitting in the contact center with their teams have sought guidance on the best ways to adjust, forecast, and monitor their teams without being physically present.

While working from home (WFH) and distributed teams—teams working together but not located in one place—are closely related, they are not the same. There are, however, lessons to be learned from each. Here is some informed writing on this rapidly evolving subject:

Get Equipped

Some technologies will likely need to be purchased or upgraded if organizations haven’t already done so, writes Mindsight in a post. The complexities of scheduling and forecasting for the staffing needs of a WFH or distributed workforce environment may require workforce management software, as well as quality management software if your company doesn’t have them. While compliance with organizational policies is still required, “…it is important that especially when work-at-home is not the typical environment for employees, support and training are available. Compassion and empathy should always take the lead.” While the organization has adjusted to rapidly changing conditions, so have employees, and that point should not be missed.

WFH Increases the Talent Pool

Among the reasons for enabling a distributed contact center—pandemic aside—is access to talent: “A distributed contact center allows businesses to hire the best agents, no matter their location. A distributed contact center opens the door to new pools of talent, whether they are retirees, college students, stay-at-home moms, or other professionals who prefer at-home or flexible hours,” writes Business Communication Specialists (BCS) in a blogpost which also suggests:

  • Leverage real-time visibility to simplify management issues.
  • Create training that clearly spells out business processes.
  • Understand the impact on operations, in addition to human resources and IT.
  • Consider privacy regulations.

Ian Jacobs of Forrester writes that “brands need to tackle mandates such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI, and CCPA. Outside of North America and Europe, agents may not have the needed infrastructure, such as reliable telephone and internet service, at home.”

Jacobs goes on to ask the questions that are now on everyone’s lips as restrictions are being lifted: What happens if agents feel they are forced to come into an environment which they feel is not safe? Will they trust the employer, or look for outside opportunities when job prospects improve?

Remember to support your distributed workforce

Veronica Krieg urges companies to give their team the support and resources they need in her post on Customer Think. She includes data from Buffer’s State of Remote report for 2020, which says that 98% of respondents would like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers.

This echoes the Forrester post in asking what happens after the stay-at-home orders are lifted? Data quoted in Krieg’s article indicates that there are distinct advantages to a WFH model beyond the current situation. Companies who allow remote work, she writes, reported the following benefits:

  • 85% of companies see increased productivity
  • 90% of companies improve employee morale
  • 77% of companies reduce their operating costs

Krieg covers both tips for managers and some obstacles that might stand in the way of WFH strategies, including:

  • Your team doesn’t have the right technology to work from home
  • Kids and pets are distractions from work
  • Feelings of isolation

Keeping the communication lines open and using video are recommended for helping both agents and managers cope, according to Krieg.

A Guide for Shifting to WFH:

Also on CustomerThink, Andrew Mort offers a seven-point plan for shift to WFH. Without elaboration, the seven points are:

  • Select your software.
  • Review your workforce to mitigate risk.
  • Establish robust security protocols.
  • Create remote working policies.
  • Schedule webinar learning sessions for agents.
  • Be proactive.
  • Ensure necessary bandwidth.

These points address the People, Process, and Technology aspects of WFH for your contact center and point the way to a successful business continuity plan for now and for later.

When the pandemic hit and stay-at-home orders were issued, many contact centers were scrambling to find good WFH solutions and practices. Now that we are seeing restrictions ease and businesses reopen, will contact centers simply revert to the way things were?

Conversations with various organizations suggest that social distancing protocols and worker sentiment will probably dictate that the near future will bring a mix of return to the workplace and WFH. How that mix will work depends on your industry vertical, the needs of your customers, and the state of your company’s technology.

WFH will not work in every situation, but if our experience during the pandemic has shown that WFH can work, and in some extreme circumstances must work for businesses to remain in operation.

What happens next? No one knows, but we’re hoping these shared insights can help you think through the decisions ahead.

Roy Atkinson serves as CEO and Principal Advisor for Clifton Butterfield, LLC, a business advisory practice, and is one of the top influencers in the service and support industry. In addition to many other lists in 2020, he was named one of “The Top 50 Customer Service Experts of the Decade (2010-2020)” by Nextiva, one of the “Top 150 Global Customer Experience Thought Leaders and Influencers of 2020” by SurveySensum, and one of the “Top Ten CX Contact Center Influencers You Need to Follow” by Shelf.

Tag(s): supportworld, business intelligence, communications skills, people, teamwork, practices and processes, process, productivity


More from Roy Atkinson