The Onward March to Flexible Working – How Contact Centres Can Benefit
by Jeremy Payne, VP of Product Marketing, Enghouse Interactive
As lives become increasingly hectic and organisations more understanding of the need for a better work/life balance, staff have been allowed greater flexibility in where and when they work. Recent TUC analysis indicates that there are 374,000 more employees working from home today than there were 10 years ago. And a 2018 YouGov survey, in conjunction with Teneo Blue Rubicon and McDonald’s, conducted among over 1,800 UK workers, found just 6% of UK workers now work a traditional 9-5 day.
In the world of the contact centre, there are a range of benefits to be had from allowing people to work in a more agile manner. The latest digital technology has enabled contact centres to move away from the approach where operators had to come into the main office building every weekday and work a regular shift every time. Today the model is much more flexible.
We are also seeing a move away from the low-impact call centre operative to knowledge-based workers and domain experts, who can be brought in to provide help and advice as part of the virtual contact centre. In line with this focus on adaptability, the use of home workers has become increasingly popular – but what is fuelling this fundamental change?
The benefits to the contact centres themselves are key. Contrary to the traditional view that home workers may be more prone to distraction, studies suggest flexible workers are more productive. A Connect Solutions study, for example, found that among those who worked remotely, both part-time and full-time, 77% said they were more productive when working remotely. There are other benefits, of course. Home and flexible working mean that businesses can save money by reducing property assets, for example. It also helps more broadly with staff recruitment, engagement and retention. The nature of the workforce is also changing, with the proportion of millennials growing. Millennials have grown up with technology and want the freedom to work from anywhere. Employers need to consider this when recruiting. Added to this, allowing people to work from home increases the talent pool organisations can tap into. Businesses no longer have to limit themselves to people with the capability to get into the office every day.
Flexible working can also increase staff retention. A 2012 CIPD survey estimated that about 76% of over 2,500 managers surveyed cited retention as one of the more popular employer benefits of flexible working.
There are further operational benefits to contact centres also. With the help of the latest collaboration tools and cloud-based architectures, organisations will have greater flexibility to bring staff on stream to help service the virtual contact centre and then effectively ‘switch them off again’ during quieter periods. That can be key at busy times, during a crisis, or when the weather is bad. To give an example, one of our Housing Association customers had a traditional call centre where agents came to office every day. When snowstorms hit the UK, their agents couldn’t get in. By enabling remote access, agents were able to log in from home keeping the contact centre up and running at a time of peak demand and with minimum disruption to their citizens.
But it’s not just about the employer, it’s also about the benefits it brings to the employees. Workers no longer have to pay for travel or parking which in turn reduces their carbon footprint. It also gives them more flexibility when it comes managing home life such as the school run and family commitments. And it brings new career opportunities for those with disabilities, or those unable to drive, who therefore might not be set up to come into an office.
In summary then, there are potentially far-reaching benefits to be had for businesses and their contact centre teams by bringing in home and flexible working in general – but doing this effectively also means implementing the right technological infrastructure to support it.
As we have referenced, they can do this through cloud-based infrastructure and the latest collaboration tools that effectively extend the office environment into the home. Technologies like video conferencing and instant messaging have simplified the process of working from home still further, bringing additional benefits for both employee and employer.
Also, the flexibility that the cloud delivers, makes it ideally-suited to supporting homeworkers, allowing businesses to benefit from a pool of agents dispersed across a geographic territory that can ‘ramp up’ quickly at busy times.
Gauging the Challenge
Working from home, however, also relies on the commitment of the business concerned to kit people out with the right technology – and beyond that the kind of home environment that the call centre staff have available to work in.
If you are a young call centre worker on a low income in an urban area, for example, homeworking is likely to be a less positive option. In a cramped inner city environment with high levels of rented accommodation, the prospect of working from home may be far less attractive than where workers are drawn from a prosperous rural region where home ownership is high – although even here there may be concerns related to poor broadband access
Today then, there are still some issues around agents working from home which limit the ability of businesses to benefit from the agility that flexible working provides but the direction of travel is clearly to more flexible working. Given the raft of benefits on offer, we see no reason for that trend to change. Moving forwards, we are likely to see more contact centres tapping into the agility that this approach provides. Flexible working is here to stay.
Jeremy Payne is VP of Product Marketing at Enghouse Interactive
Enghouse Interactive delivers technology and expertise to maximize the value of every customer interaction. The company develops a comprehensive portfolio of customer interaction management solutions. Core technologies include contact centre, attendant console, predictive outbound dialler, knowledge management, IVR and call recording solutions that support any telephony environment, on premise or in the cloud. Enghouse Interactive has thousands of customers worldwide, supported by a global network of partners and more than 800 dedicated staff across the company’s international operations.