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How to Empower Agents with Flexible Scheduling

According to an August 18, 2017, article by The Undercover Recruiter, one of the seven most wanted work benefits for millennials (who, as we know, make up a large portion of our contact centers) is flexible working hours. At the heart of that desire is a high value on work/life balance. Now, every contact center has different hours of operation. Some are open 24 hours. Some are more limited. Some centers have hundreds of agents. Some have less than 50 (or even less than 10). Each arrangement brings about different scheduling challenges and opportunities. However, regardless of the number of agents and the hours of operation, giving your agents a say in their schedules can bring loyalty, along with increased engagement and job satisfaction.

What are some ways that you can empower your agents through scheduling?

Flexible Schedule

Shift Pattern Preferences

How can a 40-hour work week be scheduled in your environment? Do all agents need to work 5x8s? What if you opened up different shift patterns that would still keep your center staffed appropriately and, at the same time, give your agents greater control?

In our center, agents can select the standard 5x8 shift pattern, but they can also indicate to our Workforce Optimization (WFO) team that they'd be willing to work something else. And they can change their shift pattern preferences weekly. Perhaps they would like to do a 4x10, gaining an extra day off during the week. What a great benefit! Or perhaps for one week, they'd like to do a 10, 10, 8, 8, 4, gaining a half day off during the week instead of needing to use vacation time. Or maybe they'd be willing to do any combination of 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10-hour shifts. Wouldn't your WFO group love the flexibility this provides? Take a look at your business needs and then get creative. Your business can benefit as much as your agents.

Flexible Availability

How can you partner with your staff to let them know that you value their need for work/life balance? You can let them put in weekly availability. Let's say that an agent is taking a class on Tuesday nights for the next eight weeks. They can work every other night until 7 p.m. but need to be out by 5 p.m. on Tuesdays. By allowing that agent to put in a specific stop time on Tuesday nights, he'll feel confident that he can get to his class in time and know that you support his education and respect his time outside of work.

Maybe the agent has a doctor appointment scheduled at 8 a.m. two weeks from now and would prefer not to use sick time to cover it. Instead, she'd like to make sure that her start time is no earlier than 9:30 a.m. Allowing her to submit an availability that indicates she is not available before 9:30 a.m. on that date not only gives your center greater coverage (getting a full day of work instead of a partial), but it also signals to the agent that you are willing to work with her scheduling needs.

In our center, agents can put in availability requests for a week at a time, but as far into the future as they want. Our WFO group reviews the availability request, and as long as our forecast allows us to accommodate it, we will approve it. Agents very much appreciate that we want to work with them to provide the work/life balance they desire.


What has worked in the past for scheduling might not always be working right now, but how do you know unless you ask your agents what they think of the current methodology? Giving your agents the opportunity to provide feedback on what they think of the various scheduling items such as the existing release day for schedules, deadlines for submitting time off requests, as well as their relationship with your WFO group,  can provide insight into any need for changes.

Last year, we were curious if the staff was happy with our scheduling protocol. Our schedules were being released on Wednesday for the following week, which meant that all off-phone requests needed to be in by Tuesday afternoon. We wanted to see if there would be interest in getting schedules two weeks in advance (to help with the work/life balance equation) if doing so would also mean that time-off requests would need to be in at least two weeks in advance. We didn't want to assume that this would be a desired change, and it's a good thing we solicited feedback because the overwhelming majority of staff didn't want to get their schedules more in advance if it restricted their flexibility in submitting time off requests.

By empowering your agents, giving them a voice and allowing them greater flexibility in their schedules - keeping in mind your business needs - you can help your employees feel valued, meet their requirements for work/life balance, and help your business out all at the same time. For our team, it's been a win-win situation for everyone involved!

Amber's team at U.S. Bancorp Fund Services won a 2018 ICMI Global Contact Center Award for Best Small Contact Center. Do you think your team has what it takes to bring home the trophy in 2019? We're now accepting applications!