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Coming Soon in the 2020s: Increased Workplace Flexibility

During the last decade, contact centers have begun to embrace increased workplace flexibility, allowing employees to work remotely. With technology continuing to improve, mixed with more companies going global, there’s been a requirement to stretch support across multiple time zones. While the global perspective has genuinely brought about more remote work, there are still lots of pockets throughout North American-based contact centers where it’s not offered as an option. In the 2020s, get ready, because increased workplace flexibility is going to be an expectation for both agents as well as leaders within the contact center.

4 Elements of Flexible Workplace Cultures

At all levels of a contact center, from agents up to leadership, many are wanting increased workplace flexibility, which includes not just remote work, but flexible schedules, reduced hours, and unlimited vacation policies. While these might seem like a workforce management planner’s worst nightmare, I believe they will begin to become more common in the 2020s for contact centers and other organizations.

  1. Remote Work: Someone employed by a company but can work outside of the traditional office location, whether it’s from home or another area of their choosing.
  2. Flexible Schedules: Allow employees the ability to work schedules that best meet their needs, which might include staggered shifts or start and end times that vary from the norm.
  3. Unlimited Vacation Policies: Allow an employee to take as much time off as they choose as long as their work is done – this method prioritizes results instead of just putting in hours.
  4. Shortened Workweeks: The standard workweek is reduced to fewer than five days, and it could include less than 40-hours worked per week, too!

Embracing Workplace Flexibility

Unfortunately, increased workplace flexibility isn’t for everyone. The fear of the unknown and desire to maintain the status quo are two significant reasons why some leaders and organizations haven’t created enough of a flexible workplace culture. From a contact center perspective, we often focus on having the right people, in the right place, at the right time while also ensuring we see them in their seats. There’s a perception issue with offering increased workplace flexibility in that leaders fear that their employees won’t work if they can’t see them. Trust is essential, combined with having the right technology, collaboration tools, and expectations. Not all businesses will be able to adopt some elements, but there might be enough pressure in terms of demographics, retention, and engagement factors to see the contact center become more flexible. 

Workplace Flexibility and Millennials

As more millennials start to fill leadership positions in many organizations, especially within the contact center space, we’ll begin to see remnants of the traditional workweek fade away. This generation is more focused on workplace flexibility than any other previous generation before them. Many view remote work as a right (not a privilege) and they desire to work when and how they want; bringing those elements into the contact center space more will have a dramatic effect on all industries, especially as Baby Boomers head more into retirement.

Attracting—and, more importantly, retaining—Gen Z is going to come down to offering an ultimate work-life balance that gives individuals the option to choose the hours they work and, more importantly, where they workfrom. With advances in technology, all most contact center employees will need is a laptop. (And don’t worry about having a headset, either: the phone will no longer be a primary channel.)

Get Ready for a Culture Shift

The old model of working 9-to-5 is no longer seen as the most effective way to be effective. Technology is getting better, which allows leaders to monitor employee performance more successfully; these capabilities will continue to evolve in the next decade. Whenever I work from home, I find I can accomplish more in one day than I can in three days combined; by avoiding distractions, ineffective meetings, time spent moving around, I can accomplish more in less time. I may be a leader, but many agents feel the same.

In early November, there was tons of buzz in the news and on social media about Microsoft trialing a four-day work week, with tremendous results. Organizations and even countries around the world have adopted short work weeks (the Netherlands, Sweden, France, and others), but North America, with its always-on culture, lags behind. As one of the most recognizable businesses in the world, Microsoft's success (productivity increased 40%) has raised questions in many businesses. 

With the right structure in place, combined with further advancements in self-service and artificial intelligence, expect to see interaction volumes in many businesses impacted, allowing for more unique scheduling options. Agents may be able to experience flexible schedules and vacation planning efforts that provide them with enough rest and downtime to reduce burn out and mental health-related issues.

Where Workplace Flexibility Is Boldly Going

With employee experience becoming increasingly prioritized in many industries, the contact center must also pivot more to include the agent experience. To combat attrition from the front line to the boardroom, contact centers will need to prioritize offering increased workplace flexibility, enabling staff to work when, where, and how they can be most successful.

Anything worth doing is going to be potentially challenging. But those contact centers that can embrace the changes coming in the 2020s will position themselves for the best productivity, results, and employee engagement, leading to even higher levels of customer satisfaction.