After three attempts to get groceries this week, alas I was successful. The previous three times, though? Shelves were emptied, people were frenzied, and you know the drill… the toilet paper was gone.
And, even when I used my 1 p.m. lunch break in an attempt to avoid the crowds, the place was still packed. Because right now, tons of people aren’t at work. We’re all at home.
Our world is at a standstill, but not every business can stop functioning or serving customers (like my local Kroger).
In times of uncertainty especially, being available to help customers is mission-critical. And right now, so is keeping a distance from coworkers and public offices. For businesses, this means flocking to our homes and working remotely to keep operations up and running.
With the sudden switch to remote work comes predictions for the future, too. Past trends prove that the more flexibility employees get, the less they want to return to their typical office setting. In fact, Buffer’s State of Remote Work in 2020 report found employees who work remotely, almost unanimously, said they want to continue remote work (part-time or more) for the rest of their careers.
(Source: Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work)
And, as more offices empty and teams are forced to connect virtually, the unforeseen benefits of remote work will start to emerge.
Current remote workers say flexible schedules, the ability to work from anywhere, a non-existent commute, and more time with family are the top benefits of working from home.
(Source: Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work)
And the perks aren’t limited to employees. Companies with flexible work policies see massive rewards and upticks in business outcomes, too.
FlexJobs found that companies who allow remote work reported the following benefits:
85% of companies see increased productivity
90% of companies improve employee morale
77% of companies reduce their operating costs
Plus, putting time and resources behind remote work allows for flexibility during times of uncertainty. When your agents aren’t hardwired to their desks and the world calls for flexibility, your team can bend. And your customers can get the help they need.
As we continue to lean into social distancing to keep our communities safe, the way we work will continue to shift. And, it’s even possible these next few months will ignite the shift to a larger remote workforce, permanently.
So, it’s time for contact center leaders and ops leaders to prepare for keeping their teams successful – even at a distance.
There’s tons of talk and resources on how to work from home successfully. Wake up at the same time each day. Get dressed. Take breaks. Don’t stare at your pile of dirty dishes. Create the right environment for productive work.
But, what about leading and managing a team remotely?
Leading remotely comes stocked full with possibilities and problem-solving opportunities your individual contributors aren’t navigating.
So, how do you support work from home call center agents, keep performance on track, and still give your customers the best possible outcomes?
Here are four tips to better manage a remote team. And, the top challenges managers face right now (plus how to overcome them).
Start with the Basics: 4 Tips to Manage a Remote Contact Center Team
1. Set remote agents up with the right resources and network.
As you prep to send agents home (or support those who are already there) get your resources online. To successfully serve customers, agents need access to your cloud contact center platform, knowledgebase, customer files, SOPs, CRM and ticketing system.
Work with your IT leaders to get most-used agent resources online and available to your entire team. And, partner with your vendors to get updated network requirements. What’s needed for agents to handle interactions outside of your office walls?
Give agents the resources they need to feel empowered and work autonomously. They won’t have you and their supervisors a few seats away to snag for fast help. And, while they work, reinforce that customer outcomes take priority over metrics.
Too often, we hear manager complaints about agents who need their hands held through (seemingly) simple tasks. But it’s important to realize – your agents ask for so much help and attention when they fear failure. When one mistake risks getting a pink slip, your agents won’t take calculated risks to help customers. Instead, they’ll reach out for reassurance before making decisions that aren’t perfectly outlined in their handbook. Working remotely means recognizing agents and boosting their confidence to empower them.
2. Set boundaries between work life and home life.
We’re living out an unprecedented situation right now. Millions of workers are at home – during work hours and beyond. That means, your agents are close to their desks and devices at all times. And, it might be tempting for you to reach out for help when things get hectic. Even if your agent is off the clock.
Well, Joe’s shift begins in 45 minutes and we’re slammed. I know he’s home, so maybe he can step in to help. Just this one time, thought Joe’s manager, unintentionally interrupting Joe’s time to help his kids with their elearning.
Set boundaries for your agents (and yourself). When you’re working from home, it’s easy for work life and home life to merge into one. You sit at the same desk all day, and suddenly, you’ve worked hours beyond your scheduled shift. But, many of your agents likely work with hourly pay. Watching their hours is crucial for staying on-budget and planning your workforce management strategies.
And, not letting work bleed (too much) into life at home is how you’ll keep morale and engagement high, too. Just because your agent is near their laptop or phone doesn’t mean they want you pinging them all night with customer questions. Communicate with your agents on a schedule, like you would if they were sitting beside you in an office.
“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.” – Christina Perricone, a marketing manager for HubSpot.
3. Turn your webcam on for team meetings and 1:1s.
There’s no replacement for face-to-face communication with your team. And while it might feel funny to stare at yourself on screen, communicating with a remote team is 10x easier when your team can see your face. Use tools like Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts, to host virtual team meetings. Sit down in front of your webcam and lead the meeting just as you would if you were a room together. (Guest appearances by pets and kids, welcome – we could all use an extra dose of cuteness now, anyway).
Video conferencing tools make it easy to talk to your team while also sharing your screen. You can review key dashboards for your most important agent and customer metrics. And, you can invite your agents to chime in, ask questions, and share their questions and concerns, too. What’s more? Invite your team to turn their webcams on – so everyone can connect and share expressions.
(Source: Sharpen’s Marketing team meeting)
Use video conferencing tools for 1:1s and coaching sessions with each of your team members. Leading psychologists say when we communicate with others, our words, tone of voice, AND body language all matter to our message (and how people perceive it). Showing expressions as you share feedback is important to keeping communication and sentiment clear.
Review performance metrics, develop your agents, and talk through career goals via video.
And, if you need to bring some clarity to a complex coaching or training topic, you can even record a quick video to send to agents. If one piece of feedback is a little hard to explain without spelling it out for your agent in-person, record a 30-second explanatory video. Sum up the details to help your agent improve. Then, you ship it off to your agent for review. Free tools like Soapbox (an extension for your web browser) make this simple. Say sayonara to the barriers of distance.
4. Communicate often (without becoming a micromanager).
Look beyond email and meetings when you’re deciding how to communicate with your team. It’s important to offer up an instant channel, like web chat, where agents can reach out to you if they need fast help.
Typically, agents are a few steps away from their peers and leaders when they need answers for customers. Those who lean on others for help might feel a little lost the first few days at home. Give them a channel where they can communicate quick issues and expect answers equally fast. Knowing they have back up if they need it will empower agents to offer help and make decisions that benefit the customer (within reason). Share out documents from your business continuity plan on what to do (and what not to do) while working remotely. And, bake in some added flexibility to help agents problem solve.
Whatever you do, though, don’t use instant lines of communication to hover over your agents’ shoulders, checking on their every move. Remote work requires a great deal of trust. And constant check-ins for status updates will diminish that trust. Once trust starts to fade, it can quickly spiral into tons of bad business outcomes. (Read: a culture of fear, unproductive agents, and disengaged workers ripe for burnout.)
3 top obstacles to working from home right now (and how to overcome them).
Statistics say collaboration, loneliness, and not being able to unplug are the top challenges remote workers face. We thought up a few more to keep track of during these unsure times.
1. My agents don’t have the right technology to work from home.
How to overcome it:
Partner with IT leaders and HR to send a technology survey to your team. Ask team members if they have a computer, iPad, tablet or phone available to use. And, work with your vendor to manage network requirements. Make sure agents have the connection they need to handle interactions remotely. If they don’t, consider purchasing a few Wi-Fi cards to help. Then, work with IT and the agents who don’t have access to technology. Offer spare monitors or laptops that you have on hand. If your IT closets are empty, let agents check out their desktop computer until they return.
2. Kids (and pets) are big distractions from work.
How to overcome it:
Across the nation, schools are closed. And some districts are in talks of closing down for the rest of the semester. This means for the foreseeable future, your agents have to navigate through two new straights: the Straight of Remote Work, and the sometimes choppy waters in the Straight of My Kids Will be Home for Months.
Yes, it’s hard to be productive with tiny, inquisitive people at your side. But, it’s certainly possible.
Still, while your agents (and, maybe even you!) work through this learning curve, be lenient. If an agent’s little one pops in the room to ask for a snack while you’re in a meeting, show some grace. I promise you; no one is trying to figure this whole “how do I keep my kids occupied” thing alone.
And if you’re in this boat too, remember: breaks are your invisible friend. Spend lunch chatting and enjoying time with your kids (and encourage agents to do the same). This is a rarity for most working parents – when do you get to eat lunch with your kids during the week?! Cherish it. Take 20 minutes to go for a walk outside – fresh air and a little sunshine are good for the soul. Giving kids blocks of undivided attention throughout the day will offer some reassurance, keep them happy, and everyone productive.
Fun fact: we loved this article on 27 ways to keep kids entertained while working from home.
3. Feelings of isolation (mixed with some fear) will creep in.
How to overcome it:
Uncertainty breeds fear. And, there’s nothing quite certain in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic like COVID-19. The one thing we do know, though? Over the next few weeks, we’ll see a lot less of each other. But keeping a physical distance from all your coworkers and friends doesn’t mean you need to suffer in silence. There are tons of ways to interact and have fun. In fact, since commute times are drastically trimmed for lots of Americans (read: zilch) we arguably have an abundance of time on our hands to reach out through available channels and connect.
Lots of creative ideas for connection have been popping up to help workers combat feelings of isolation (and shake those fearful feelings). Here are a few I loved: Remote happy hours at the end of the day to connect with coworkers. Reaching out to coworkers and setting up viral coffee chats (or having a tool like Donut do it for you).
(Source: Sharpen’s inivte to connect with new coworkers)
Scheduling water cooler conversations and inviting teams to meet for casual convos once a day (shout out to Sharpen’s HR team for this one). And, even sending a quick note to your team members to simply say “Good morning!” It’s time to rally together and lean into comradery. It’s important.
Over the next few weeks, Sharpen’s offering up resources (for free!) to help you navigate this new way of work. Head over to our blog to see what’s next.