For many organizations, the move to remote work was a stopgap solution put in place to simply keep the lights on as COVID-19 caused widespread shutdowns. In customer-centric organizations, it meant moving traditionally brick-and-mortar contact center operations to a remote model almost overnight—all while adjusting to new customer behaviors and an explosion in digital channels.
Now, more than a year and a half later, those all-remote models are evolving as contact centers make hybrid work a cornerstone of their reopening plans. As they do, leaders are increasingly realizing that they need a plan to help ensure long-term viability.
The benefits of remote and hybrid work set ups are clear: Contact centers benefit from happier agents who enjoy the work-life balance increased flexibility affords, not to mention reduced overhead and a smaller environmental footprint. Hybrid remote work retains much of that flexibility but adds back in the face-to-face component many workers appreciate.
Many of those same pros can quickly turn into cons, however, if not managed properly—agents who find it hard to create a boundary between their personal and professional lives work more, take less time off and are less productive. Scheduling practices not only affect agents’ effectiveness; they also have a significant impact on their attitudes and well-being. In fact, schedule satisfaction has been shown to positively correlate with work engagement.
In this new post-pandemic environment, workforce management plays an increasingly important role in enabling the balance that’s so critical to keeping these customer-facing employees engaged and productive. Workforce management encompasses all of the tools companies use to increase employee efficiency and productivity, such as software solutions that help managers effectively schedule agents, reforecast as conditions change, and engage agents with schedules that meet their work-life balance requirements and allow them to make last-minute adjustments to their schedules. While workforce management tools are prevalent—a 2019 survey found that 88% of organizations worldwide had adopted some form of time or attendance workforce management application—organizations still face challenges in using them to enable balance and agility in the contact center.
Long-term hybrid work is something that should be approached with deliberation and care, but a few workforce management techniques can help ease the transition. Here’s how leaders across industries are keeping their hybrid contact center workforces productive and engaged.
The traditional nine-to-five workday is no longer the gold standard in today’s diverse workforce: Just as some agents prefer 10-hour shifts over the more traditional 8-hour days, others prefer to work a few hours in the middle of the day, take a break, then work a few more later. Consider offering more flexible schedule options, such as split shifts and shorter intervals that both satisfy employees’ desire for greater control over their work-life balance and meet the contact center’s need, for example by reducing overstaffing when contact volume is lower than usual.
Automate how agents are scheduled
Finding the right staffing levels is a balance: Overstaffing in the contact center eats away at earnings while understaffing can negatively impact CSAT scores—and when CSAT scores tumble, customer churn increases. Retail, for example, is beset by widespread understaffing and inconsistent customer service due to volatile traffic patterns. Proactive staffing, or automated optimization, helps contact centers that rely on set schedules for all or part of their workforce not only ensure that they’re staffed appropriately but also enable work-life balance with automated offers for things like voluntary time off, shift swaps and trades, extra hours and preapproved schedule change opportunities, which have the added benefit of freeing administrators from having to approve requests.
Just as a Fitbit or Apple Watch doles out digital rewards when you meet a step goal, game-design elements and game principles can be used to motivate contact center agents to complete tasks or build skills, and it is surprisingly motivating. Completing work in a fun and captivating way helps agents set aside distractions at home. Gamification increases engagement, which Gallup found leads to a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity.
Leverage technology to help workers manage their performance
Workforce management enables not only more accurate, optimized scheduling but also opportunities for agents to self-correct and self-improve. For example, adherence alerts, or automated KPI monitoring and notifications, can catch red flags that balance may be slipping. Agents benefit from automatic alerts that act as a gentle reminder to be mindful of how they spend their time throughout the day. For managers or supervisors, the alerts can highlight adherence issues like excessive tardiness, reduced productivity or long breaks, as well as potential issues stemming from other KPIs.
As contact centers bring agents back to the office in varying degrees, one thing is for certain: Hybrid work models are here to stay. Workers like working from home—80% of them, in fact, according to research by McKinsey—and they need flexibility to strike the right work-life balance as they do. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, though; your contact center agents are a diverse group, spanning many different age groups, and they have different preferences around how and when they want to work. Workforce management techniques can help you empower agents to create their own work-life balance, in a way that also enables you to deliver great customer service.