The ranks of at-home contact centre agents have swelled as centrally located contact centre operations embrace flexible work practices.
While customers are unlikely to notice the shift, agents themselves work in a new world, alone but together, thanks to smart technology and connectivity.
However, while UC systems have effectively enabled the shift to at-home contact centre workers, the longer-term effects of working in physical isolation are now starting to show.
A University of Otago study of people working from home during the pandemic showed that 73 percent were just as productive as when they were in the office. What is more, the majority (89%) want to continue working from home, highlighting the appeal of flexibility, and saving time and money by avoiding the daily commute.
But working from home isn’t all wine and roses. Many respondents struggled to switch off, resented the barrage of video meetings, and often dropped the ball trying to juggle home and workplace responsibilities. Perhaps most damning, only 17 percent said they had all the right resources from their employer to properly do their job.
Working from home is harder than it appears. Research suggests that part of the problem is fatigue created by extra self-control required to stay on the job when working from home.
Whereas office environments are set up for work and to minimise distractions, home environments are not, requiring workers to put extra energy to suppressing thoughts and behaviours likely to disrupt their productivity.
Known as the “strength model” of self-control, the paradigm asserts that just as using a muscle requires physical energy, engaging in self-control consumes mental energy. And the more we are required to exercise control, the faster we reach mental exhaustion and collapse into unhealthy behaviours, such as boozing, snacking, or arguing.
It sounds bad, and it is, considering the current backdrop. People are anxious and stressed – and contact centre agents often bear the brunt of customers’ heightened emotions. Never mind that remote agents are likely to work longer hours compared to agents working in a normal workplace.
Employers need to step in and offer to help their agents with advice and even equipment to set up a workstation that is comfortable and safe, and define a schedule that doesn’t jar with homelife.
Collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, WhatsApp and perennial crowd pleaser Zoom have helped to reduce feelings of isolation experienced by contact centre agents. And video calls, specifically, have presented an opportunity for managers to read face-to-face cues to form a top-line impression of the emotional states of individual team members.
That’s a good start, but providing adequate tools and supporting resources to ensure agents can do their jobs well will go a long way to ensure agents remain happy in their work. On this front, agents also need to know what is expected of them, which is why weekly one-on-one meetings are so important to help retain focus and help reduce energy put to minimising distractions.
Team leaders must also encourage members to present their whole selves – not just their working selves – to support personal interaction and sharing to boost camaraderie. Channels and times dedicated to personal interaction and socialising are key.
Getting the best from at-home agents is mostly about inclusion – making sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute. When it simply isn’t possible to replicate the exact same working experience for everyone, managers must ensure each team member is able to contribute in meaningful ways and do their best work.