If you're a business owner or any kind of direct manager, you're probably wondering what in the world you can and should expect from your staff that are now working from home. You might be unsure of how to move technical operations from the workplace to home environments, how to juggle the absence of childcare and regular schedules, and especially how to manage your employees effectively and efficiently... from a distance.
Covid-19 has thrust us into a global imbalance, one where we are trying to stay safe and healthy but, at the same time, manage to keep the world moving and shaking. We have no other option, so we are all just doing the best we can. And that's understood.
But there is a lot of practical, insightful advice out there right now about how you can best convert daily operations from work to home. We've culled some of the most honest and straightforward resources specifically for Business Processing Outsourcing management teams, and brought them together for you here. Read on to find out best practices for improving the engagement and productivity of remote workers.
Managing Remote Workers
The first step, according to HBR, is to handle the situation with a great deal of empathy. Employees who are new to working at home likely are dealing with a lot right now, and it's in your best interest as a manager to be compassionate and understanding. Distractions, inability to access information, social isolation, and more are all considered some of the key obstacles that make working from home difficult.
NICE InContact writes, "According to a 2019 analysis by Owl Labs, global employees' top reasons for working remotely are: increased productivity/better focus, to avoid a commute, and to achieve better work life balance. The same report shows that people who work from home at least once a month are 24% more likely to report feeling happier and more productive at their jobs."
Studies like these show that working from home can actually increase productivity and improve mood amongst employees. During your next team Zoom meeting, it might be worthwhile to mention such research-based reasoning that highlights the benefits of working from home. In fact, it could be a great way to get staff on-board and enthusiastic about the change, instead of feeling interrupted, disconnected, or distressed.
It's great for your company if you already have a business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan in place, but the simple fact is that many businesses don't have a plan that addresses the enormity of the Covid-19 crisis, even they even have a plan like this at all. Focus on the practical, controllable elements of the shift from workplace to home space. The contractual and regulatory context may be essential for you to consider before planning next steps, so sit down with your lawyers and ensure that everything happening is occurring by the books.
Then, when you do begin to form a plan for moving forward, take some cues from moves that top BPO leaders and operations management are making. Frost & Sullivan estimates "that there are 6 to 10 (full and part-time) million contact center agents globally," so you'd be wise to take heed of the approaches that the big guys have developed and rolled out to their workforce.
- Proactive outreach to all employees and clients; proposing a plan of action which includes preventative measures, constant communication, and back up; BPOs are encouraging self-identification for anyone feeling unwell
- Health checks and status surveys for employees including adding provisions on-site; ample drinking water, face masks, disinfectants, alcohol, and antibacterial sprays
- Elevating cleaning and sanitizing procedures at delivery sites—ensuring consistent cleaning of all facilities (US domestic, nearshore, and offshore)
- Transitioning agents, lines of business and even entire accounts to a Work-at-Home-Agent (WAHA) model if necessary
- Real-time monitoring of the global situation and daily meetings with executive teams to review status and take immediate actions if necessary to restore critical business functions to normalcy
- Many international site locations typically have clinics staffed by nurses and doctors
Contact Center Trends
The most surprising, and probably most important, trend on this list is the overwhelming demand that is being placed on call centers worldwide. If you're experiencing a significant uptick in volume of calls per day, you're not alone. In fact, Customer Contact Week Digital reports, "Contrary to popular belief, the contact center is experiencing an unprecedented increase in overall call volume, with a particular surge in aggressive (if not fanatic) customer inquiries."
Another vital trend to keep your eye on is the increased demand being placed on -- and delivered by -- customer service. Forbes writes, "Forward-looking businesses are seeing the coronavirus closures as an opportunity to improve customer service." Instead of viewing this catastrophe as only negative, which is how it can feel much of the time, we can also choose to look for the good things that are happening in our corporate landscape. \
Customer service, the communication between client and agent, is a vital component of maintaining long-term relationships with consumers, and if a deadly virus is what has to occur to get us to realize that, then, hey, we've reached that point.
The final trend that we've seen out there surrounding the impact of the coronavirus outbreaks on contact centers is that of digital transformation and efficacy. Web Pro News thinks digital transformation will be the key lever when it comes to BPOs remaining successful throughout the duration of the pandemic. They write, "Now is when your people will expect you to build a culture that enables them to prosper in any working environment," and announce that a new norm has arrived. "Workforces have to be prepared to handle anything. We have to be an all-weather workforce to win."
It is our goal that these practical tips and emerging trends will give you some perspective when it comes to your role in managing shifting company expectations during this tumultuous time. You can't do everything and you can't be everyone at once. But by focusing on delivering solid customer service, initiating proactive outreach to employees and their families, and responding to the overload of demand on call centers, you will be able to get through this challenging period with grace and perseverance.