Managing Worker Productivity at Home as the Coronavirus Spreads


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The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many companies to permit, encourage or ask office workers to work from home. When not managed properly, especially for workers responsible for customer care, this could create a perfect storm for chaos. Because in-office isn’t virtual. Not even remotely.
With the proper mindset and core elements in place, however, a remote customer support operation spread over thousands of miles can offer a viable alternative, if not mainstay solution—when run with effective processes, staffed by skilled professionals and united through always-on communications.
What does it take to develop and operate such a far-flung team? At its core, two things are vital: flexibility and scalability. They enable fluid, fast-flex customer response, backed by:
• Robust technology that’s hardened and adheres to industry standards.
• An integrated network of responsive teams and leaders who bond from afar.
• Nonstop communications that operate in real time as circumstances dictate.
And these days, the coronavirus dictates a lot, coupled with many unknowns and widespread uncertainty. Terra firma is hard to find, which is why fluidity in a virtual workforce, one that’s also well-grounded, is key to keep up with the dynamics of rising customer demand.
Technology – The Tie that Binds
With technology today, a well-equipped, virtual workforce can flourish. Stable connectivity and ample computing are givens.
Individual workers must be armed with standardized equipment and proper bandwidth to perform well, without interruption—whether dealing with pandemics or devastating storms.
While equipped to perform at home, workers must guard against technology that disrupts, such as streaming TV or kids playing computer games in the next room. Such distractions can downgrade the quality of service when trying to hold a video or conference call.
At-home work also requires a rigorous troubleshooting tech team, which can shortstop problems then and there, resolving them in minutes—and not hours. That’s vital to ensure the reliability of the remote-working relationship.
Proven technology provides the foundation from which a virtual workforce can pivot and perform, knowing full well all systems are in place, secure and running.
Creating a Network – Replacing Face-to-Face

An effective, remote team also requires open access and easy ways to exchange ideas and experiences online with colleagues and managers. A must for off-site workers is a portal where business news and developments are posted as they occur, with shared resources at the ready and all hands notified and on deck, if need be.
Such a portal solidifies unity among different teams, encourages shared problem-solving and fosters a sense of community and camaraderie. Distance doesn’t mean having to be detached from coworkers.
And leaders should encourage individuals to develop their own networks within the greater corporate portal. A team chatroom, for instance, could be where workers bond, commiserating with each other since they no longer have the office water cooler. No matter how removed, human connectivity should be steadfast.
As one of our remote workers said: “It’s like my home away from home, even though I work from home. It’s a whole other family.”
Consistent Communications—Taking Care of your Team

To ensure success during times like these, communications must pulsate and course through the entire organization—from the corner office to the at-home worker. Be sure to ask teams to stay in an active state on programs such as Microsoft Teams or Slack. Connectivity at all times is imperative.

If not, workers will make up their own versions of what’s happening when they don’t know what’s really occurring. Because if nature abhors a vacuum, then uninformed workers like it even less.

Fact-based communications then—among company leadership, frontline supervisors and individual performers—must thrive in any situation, at every location. It’s critical when leading workers from home.

Senior management should share updated information about the coronavirus situation, steps being taken by the company now and anticipated future actions. News about the work-at-home activities and processes need to be known and broadcast companywide, as required.

Worker suggestions should be solicited. Everyone is in this predicament together. All perspectives, especially from those where customer-facing work gets done, are welcome and appreciated.

And remember to keep things close and personal when communicating with workers. If possible, pick up a phone, and have a team call or one-on-one talks. Managers might ask for stories from workers about their success with working from home. Knowing is knowledge, and knowledge is power—from which the whole business benefits.

Not New, but Renewed

Working from home isn’t new. Now, because of the coronavirus, it’s seeing renewed emphasis and value. No matter when or where it’s done, though, the fundamentals of sound, remote management and virtual operations still apply.

Is this a different way of working for your business? If so, it’s probably a significant change for many leaders and workers as well. As such, it has to be addressed with empathy, understanding and frequent outreach for feedback, combined with two-way conversations—and not just “talk from the top.”

Well-performing technology, optimized virtual networks and meaningful communications can bond even the most far-flung workforce—especially in troubled times. Taken together, they do make virtual viable and highly effective for responsive customer support and care.

Kim Houlne
Years before the gig economy became of age, Kim Houlne turned the idea of an on-demand workforce into an industry. As Working Solutions founder, she pioneered virtual contact center services across the USA, later expanding operations into Canada. Her company launched its home-based business model in 1996, using a network of independent contractors. A graduate of the University of Georgia, she holds a Bachelor of Arts, with an emphasis in communications and humanities. In 2016, she delivered an alumni keynote address at the Communication Studies graduation.


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