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What has to change for Virtual/Hybrid working?

Hybrid working and more especially home working has been the subject of numerous opinions and statements over recent months. People in high places ranging from Elon Musk to Jacob Rees Mogg have illustrated their thoughts about homeworking in quite dramatic style. However, pre covid, some organisations succesfully operated a virtual/hybrid model with homeworking being popular for some. Of course covid changed a lot and the adoption of cloud based technology has made a real difference to the way that many organisations operate.

So now we are operating in a more steady state, there are many reasons to consider homeworking or operating a hybrid model. In this series of articles, we examine some of the issues associated with homeworking and suggest some possible solutions.

The first issue to be examined relates to performance management and specifically, supporting the remote worker.

Anybody who has ever worked in a contact centre will have experienced that moment when somebody is taking a difficult call. The call handler is under strain and the rest of the team sense that there is a problem and offer peer support through knowing looks and glances. This is often supported by a Team Leader or Supervisor who will move closer to the call handler and possibly even start listening to the call. There are many opportunities for colleagues to show physical support to one of their own who is having a hard time. This support, it is tangible and it makes difference.

On completion of the call, there will often be the encouragement to take a break or step away from the screen to recover and reset. Some experiences require a few moments to calm down or put things in perspective.

But how does this work in a virtual environment?

There are a number of things that can be done. Team Leaders need to listen to more calls in a live environment and make more wellbeing checks when people are working in a place without physical supervision. When considering the above example of dealing with a difficult call or customer then it is obvious that there needs to be a reduced ratio of Team Leaders to Adviosrs and greater effort made. Typically we would recommend the ratio for Team Leaders to vary between 1:8 and 1:15 depending on the role of the Team Leader and the structure around them. There is a definite need to review this with remote working to ensure that Advisors get the support that they need when they need it. It is too easy to suggest that Advisors should raise their hands when they need help; some don’t even realise they need this help.

Amongst the benefits of having a virtual workforce, one of the major advantages is the reduction in office space required for a large team such as a contact centre. This has encouraged many organisations to develop a remote working operation that enables them to reduce costs through reducing office accommodation. The down side to this is the lack of engagement with team members who are working in remote environments. Maybe some of the cost savings should be used to increase supervisory ratios?

Floorwalking is recognised as an excellent way of supporting Advisors. However, many remote contact centres have Team Leaders who focus on what they can see; if they can’t see their team they don’t think about tyhem as much. When their team are working remotely they concern themselves with hands off activities such as reporting or quality reviews. Just because somebody is working at home does not mean they don’t need floorwalking support. Having regular contact with Advisors and listening into live calls can provide the insight required to identify an issue that nobody would have picked up on. It is important that Team Leaders have clear objectives that include hands on time with all remote workers and that they understand the benefits that this will bring. Many believe that a hybrid service allows Team Leaders more time to support people when they are in the office when in fact the opposite is true. Colleagues will provide the peer support in the office, a more robust approach is required for homeworkers.

Finally, there should always be a route of escalation for Advisors who have an issue, a problem or just need somebody to talk with. Talking to customers and representing the company can be a lonely job and one that sometimes is more difficult because they are working remotely and in apparent isolation.

So to summarise, to provide an effective service with homeworkers requires enhanced supervisory support with an increased ratio of Team Leaders who have clear objectives to provide the support required and clear routes of escalation.

Please feel free to contact us to discuss how you could ensure that you have the right structure in place to support homeworking.

In the next feature we examine some of the physical considerations with managing homeworkers.