Published: October 29, 2014 | Comments
Remote workers. Working from home, the local coffee shop or rent-by-the-day business suites. It’s easier than ever to work outside of the office with smart phones, laptops, tablets, cloud computing, video chatting and instant messaging keeping workers connected and productive. Yet the very idea of remote work strikes fear into some employers. How can they be sure people are working when they say they are? How can they maintain a company culture with people spread across the city, state or country? And don’t get started on the complications of maintaining equipment in disparate locations…the headache is starting now!
So many concerns. Some are based on the widely-circulated stories of remote workers taking advantage of their “freedom” and employer. And some of those concerns are based on fear of the unknown—but when you get down to it, they probably aren’t really an issue. People are adults and should earn respect for their talents and capabilities. In doing so, they demonstrate respect for their employer and working arrangement. Remote work really should be a win-win for everyone.
Of course, some businesses and industries are more appropriate for remote work than others. It wouldn’t really work for a salesperson in a brick-and-mortar retail store to work remotely, but in a contact center…yes. Contact centers—and the brands they serve—can experience great benefits from remote workers. Whether taking in-bound calls ordering the latest “As Seen on TV” product, making outbound survey calls or monitoring and engaging on social media to maintain a brand’s stellar reputation, contact centers are busy places.
It takes the right person with the right mindset to succeed in that environment. Many contact centers experience high turnover rates among workers because the fast-paced environment can cause burnout, especially if the worker was unsure what they were signing up for. By offering telecommuting or working from home as an option, brands can vastly increase their talent recruitment pool. Instead of pulling employees from a 20-mile radius (give or take), brands can take advantage of potentially higher educated, highly skilled and experienced workers who desire flexible schedules and are located nearly anywhere. That means their customers are interacting with the cream of the crop—and that has a positive impact on customer satisfaction.
One key technology that makes it possible for contact centers and other businesses to employ remote workers is “the cloud.” There are a multitude of business and productivity tools available and accessible with simply a computer, Internet connection and phone. Employees truly can work nearly anywhere with the right tools. Contact center technologies offered in the cloud are easy to use, offer all of the functionality users need to be productive and—bonus!—require little to no in-house technical support. Another benefit of the cloud is its scalability. Whether a brand needs 25 agents one week and 100 the next, or stays consistently around 35 agents, a contact center based in the cloud can adapt and meet those needs.
Naturally, there are some challenges that accompany remote work. With everyone working from different locations, it can be difficult to establish and maintain relationships. Employees can’t gather in the break room to discuss the developments on last night’s episode of that hot new show while on their break or eating lunch. How can companies ensure their remote workers are engaged and happy?
There are so many ways…from embracing chat capabilities (on your cloud platform) so remote workers can support each other during their shift to encouraging video calls for a face-to-face presence to scheduling an in-person meeting or event at least once a year for people to see and really connect with each other. There can also be benefits from establishing an online community, a virtual break room. Instead of snacks and drinks, stock it with information and ways to interact, such as discussion forums and a blog. Remote workers can give and receive peer coaching, find information to answer their questions and feel like part of the group—not an island unto themselves. Remote workers need to be empowered with real-time coaching, conferencing and other productivity tools to stay effective.
Training can go hand-in-hand with the online community. Social learning and gamification are becoming more widespread because they are effective teaching tools. People often learn better from peers and real experiences, so peer coaching and simulations are helpful. Teach a concept or process and then let the remote user try it out in a simulation before “going live” with a real customer. It will reduce their anxiety and increase confidence. Plus, if there is a leaderboard so they can see how they stack up against their peers, natural internal competitiveness will probably spark…and likely benefit the employer, as the employee will work harder to rise up the leaderboard!
For a remote workforce to be really effective, brands need to make smart use of available technologies. For example, in a contact center, using cloud-based technologies and reporting ensures that supervisors have real-time visibility into agent availability, skills, calls in progress, web chats and other text-based interactions as they are happening. When supervisors can access productivity metrics so they can assist, respond and manage their remote agents more effectively, both customer and agent satisfaction rises.
Overall, the ROI benefits of remote, cloud-based workers are huge. Not only can companies save on costs for physical space (and snacks), greater flexibility benefits both the employer and the employee. Access to a wider candidate pool and the ability to scale up or down the number workers being utilized at any time are important elements to any business. Cloud-based systems make it easier and more cost-effective for businesses to use contact centers and provide their customers with first-rate service. And that is truly a win-win-win.