A thorough plan spanning the business case, technology adoption, and training is critical for success.
Contact centers face enormous challenges today. Chief among them are meeting mandates to minimize operational costs while adequately hiring and retaining both agents and supervisory staff.
Utilizing Work at Home (W@H) agents and supervisors, often referred to as “remote staff,” is viewed as an effective means of addressing these two areas. However, many organizations begin offering this arrangement to staff without going through the necessary planning steps to develop an effective W@H program. This has proven to be a serious mistake, and many organizations have failed in this endeavor as a result of improper planning. This article will delineate four critical phases that must be addressed prior to implementing a W@H program:
- Business Planning Phase
- Technology Planning Phase
- Business Process and Workflow Planning Phase
- Onboarding Phase
Business Planning Phase
This phase lays the foundation for the rest of the pre-implementation process. The first step is critical for securing organizational buy-in, and it involves developing a solid business case for implementing a W@H program.
A thorough review of several factors must be included in the business case:
- Potential savings of physical space
- Agent pool restrictions for on-premises workers
- Turnover rate for on-premises workers
- Scheduling requirements for contact center staff
- Business continuity strategy
When creating the business case, it’s important to include input from critical administrative departments, including the legal and human resources departments. You also mustn’t forget to consider training, both for the remote staff and for the management team responsible for supervising at-home workers. The plan itself should include specific methodology for continuous improvement, including a means to evaluate and analyze the program so that timely modifications and enhancements can be made. It’s also a good idea to include in the plan a definition of your organization’s hiring strategy (e.g. remote staff might be utilized for channels other than voice during defined periods of the day/month/year). The hiring strategy should clearly address specifications for offering the W@H arrangement to current premises-based staff.
Once the business case has been reviewed and approved by the appropriate stakeholders, the next step in this phase is to formulate policies for the program. The policies formulated should include at least the following elements:
- Hours of work per day or week
- Tools for monitoring work product and deadlines
- Obligations for remote staff to attend meetings on-premises
- Status of the arrangement (e.g., temporary, permanent, part on-premises/part W@H, option to revert to an on-premises arrangement based on performance, etc.)
- Work space requirements (Note: In developing this section, refer to legal documents such as Canada’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Act and the U.S.’s Occupational Health and Safety Act)
- Measures to ensure preservation of confidential information
- Ownership over information contained on the computer if it’s the employee’s computer
- Requirements for home office insurance, and the provider of that insurance
- Liability issues
- Clarification of ownership of the equipment being used in the employee’s residence
- Responsibility for the maintenance of the equipment, and the return of the equipment at the end of the employment relationship
- Responsibility for expenses and a clear expense-reimbursement policy
Technology Planning Phase
IT must select the right technology that can provide a consistent experience for customers, whether they’re speaking to an agent or supervisor working from the contact center premises or from home.
The formulation of the right technology solution requires careful consideration in the following areas:
- Equipment required in the home
- Telephone instrument for voice applications (softphone, land line, etc.)
- Carrier requirements
- Network connectivity, including the integrity of the information shared via the network
- Recording considerations
It should be noted that once these decisions are made, the elements of the technology solution must become part of the W@H staff job description, as well as the onboarding process. Once the right technology solution has been formulated, the following steps must be taken to ensure the success of the solution:
- Initial Solution Testing – Ensure the integrity of each individual technology component, as well as the solution as a whole
- Individual Remote Agent Testing – Ensure the installation of the solution elements for each W@H staff member
- Negotiation of IT Response Times for W@H Staff Issues – Given the potential issues in a remote environment, there may be special requirements that will need to be negotiated with the IT staff to support the remote agent model
- Development of the Technology Onboarding Process – This process should include tight communication between IT and the business, with specific agreements on required timeframes for onboarding remote staff. Special forms to delineate remote staff technology requirements may need to be developed. This process should be structured and designed to be easily repeatable
Business Process and Workflow Planning Phase
In parallel with the technology planning phase, the business must pay close attention to critical operational considerations. It will be important that all the relevant operational components of a remote worker strategy be in place prior to implementation. Clearly, modifications will be required over time, but having as much in place as possible at inception will be critical to the initial success of the program.
The following operational areas must be addressed:
- Staff training, including managers – Both initial training and on-going training will need to be considered in the training model
- Communication – There must be timely and effective methods of communicating updates and changes in process and procedure, to accommodate the remote staff
- Evaluations and QA – It’s considered best practice to have a higher number of, and more frequent, QA sessions for home-based staff than for on-premises staff
- Coaching and Development – Web conferencing and Skype-like sessions are a good way to enable face-to-face communications, which is critical in this activity
- Involvement in Meetings – Expectations for meeting participation must be built into the remote worker model
- Methods to Secure Assistance during the Workday – This is a critical element to the success and effectiveness of the remote worker
- Provision of Tools for HR – Close coordination with HR in the hiring process will be critical:
- Proper job descriptions for the W@H staff must be provided; evaluation criteria for the staff must be included in these descriptions
- Share the hiring strategy for W@H staff so that HR can effectively recruit
- Apprise HR of policy impacts, Legal ramifications, and the like
- Talk to HR about the best means of conducting interviews with remote candidates
Once the foundational pieces are in place, it is time to bring the remote staff onboard. As you enter this operational phase, remember to dot your I’s and cross your t’s. It’s possible that some existing employee agreement documents will need to be modified to reflect new conditions around this W@H program. You also must make sure that the technology onboarding process is firmly in place prior to onboarding that first user. Implementing a new W@H program may also require your organization to adapt orientation processes for new employees. If you’ve considered all of this, your program is ready for launch.
In summary, when you’re launching a W@H program for your contact center, planning is key to success. Trying to implement a program without pursuing and addressing these steps will more than likely doom the program before it even begins.