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4 Tips to Improve Agent Morale in a Virtual Contact Center

Having finally cracked the logistical code of getting your entire workforce to do their jobs from the kitchen table, contact center leaders are now left with a new challenge: helping agents stave off burnout.

Overall, contact centers navigated the corona-altered environment pretty well. In what was the greatest social experiment on the future of work our generation has ever seen, we’ve proven people can work from pretty much anywhere. A whopping 79% of workers moved home because of COVID-19, and more than half of them reported an uptick in productivity.

But the productivity is happening during arguably the worst-case scenario for remote work. We were forced home, without much choice. We’re buried under the stress of a deadly pandemic as we share workspaces with spouses, partners, dogs, cats, and birds. All the while, some of us are trying to figure out how to educate our kids who’d normally be in school.

Burnout is creeping in. One of our fellow Indy companies, Emplify, recently released how the pandemic is impacting employee engagement. Turns out, we’re all exhausted. And, we’re crippled with guilt for feeling exhausted because, well, we aren’t doing all that much except staying home.

So, what can you do to help prioritize your agent’s morale as remote work trucks on? Here are four tips you can use now to boost morale and set a foundation for the future of work in your contact center.

Prioritize connection

Gallup found people who have friends at work are more engaged (and happy) in their roles.

With a crop of virtual agents, establishing connections and friendships can be hard. Every touchpoint is intentional, and agents don’t have casual conversations in the break room kitchen right now. They also lack desk neighbors to help them laugh off tough customer calls.

 As a leader, to keep agent morale high and your team engaged, you will need to carefully craft a collaborative work environment that encourages meaningful connection. Make connection possible, first. Then, encourage your team to actually reach out to one another.

Set an example and reach out to a few agents each day – just to check on them. Use your workforce management tools to forecast the needs of your customers. Then give agents extra time between interactions. When forecasting demand, you can see the moments when agents can afford time out of their queue to connect with a peer. Alternatively, you can see when your whole team needs some motivation, and you can schedule a debrief together after a hectic shift.

Build in flexibility for your team

We’ve been living in a time warp since March. The world feels frozen, but time keeps moving. Certain aspects of life have been put on hold. As we start to exit the time warp and get back to some of our regular rituals, your agents will have competing priorities.

The moratorium on elective doctor’s appointments is ending, so your agent Julie might need to jump out for an hour or two to get to a long-awaited appointment. And Tim’s kids are going back to school on a staggered schedule, so he has to pick them up after lunch every day. Your agent morale will take a hit if agents feel the added stress of trying to adhere to a totally rigid schedule. Instead, plan for off-the-cuff moments and be flexible with your team.

Keep in close communication with your agents to understand how their needs are changing. Pad schedules with extra time. Offer overtime to those who cover a shift last minute for a peer. Schedule longer lunch breaks to give open windows to duck out. Get creative with agent scheduling, so you can keep your service levels high, and be the manager your team needs – no matter the circumstances.

Recognize your agents’ hard work.

When someone notices and appreciates your hard work, morale skyrockets. Unfortunately, as many as 82% of employed Americans don’t think their supervisors recognize them enough. Another key finding? Some 40% of employed Americans say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more.

For remote teams, intentional recognition is even more important. Your agents aren’t in the office to hear a simple “thank you” when they go above and beyond at work, so put moments of recognition into your daily workflow.

Give daily shoutouts to agents who’ve helped close an outstanding customer case. Work with your marketing or HR teams to have regular newsletters sent out with spotlights on rockstar agents. Or, have a #kudos channel on Slack to post successful customer stories and recognize the employees who made it happen.

Respect boundaries

While some managers fear that employees will slack off without in-person oversight, studies show that’s not true. According to Owl Labs’ 2019 State of Remote Work, remote workers say they work more than 40 hours per week; that’s 43% more than on-site workers who say they do.

When you’re managing a remote team, boundaries are important. If employees get tasks and emails from their employers on Saturday mornings, or late at night, they’ll follow suit and respond.

"Work-life balance can become a distant goal when you start working remotely. Without hard time cut-offs, it's very easy for work to bleed into every area of your life. At best, those lines become blurred. At worst, work becomes your entire life,” writes Christina Perricone, marketing manager for HubSpot Blogs.

This isn’t sustainable for your employees. To maintain positive morale, respect the work hours of your agents. Make sure not to ask for work outside of the typical workweek. Encourage and allow for PTO right now, even if it’s just for a mental health day for an employee. 

Also, take time away for yourself, too. Your agents will feel more comfortable stepping away when they know you do the same.