Guest Blogger

by Mark Hillary

One of the big lessons of the past year has been that working from home (WFH) is about much more than sending your team home with a laptop and then continuing to manage them as if they are still in the office. I can name many different reasons why managers need to plan their WFH strategy carefully, including issues such as:

  • Flexibility: work/life balance has to be juggled even more carefully when there is no barrier between home and work life. Employees need more flexibility from their employer to ensure it is possible to switch off.
  • Communication: managers need to adopt new patterns of communication that reflect the diverse locations of their team.
  • Transparency: managers need to think carefully about the decision-making process. Remote decisions need more transparent justification.
  • Engagement: managers and co-workers need to find new ways to engage and interact, replacing the more traditional interactions in the office.
  • Mental health: managers need to be aware that working alone can lead to isolation, especially for those who prefer working in a physical team – mental health must be more explicitly supported.

With all this in mind, I was interested to see a very recent (March 2021) survey of several hundred contact centre directors, managers, and agents that focused on employee engagement. The survey was titled ‘People Engagement In The Contact Centre’ and was conducted by the South West Contact Centre Forum and Call North West in partnership with Sensée, the work-from-home specialists. This survey set out to find the current level of people engagement in the post-pandemic contact centre environment.

70% of the agents in this survey used to work in contact centres and are now based at home, so this is great snapshot of how the new normal really looks. 81% of the agents said that people engagement is not a problem. 85% either agree or strongly agree that communication between seniors leaders and employees is good. 94% of the agents believe there is a good working relationship in their team.

That’s a positive start, but what about mental health? Last December, McKinsey identified mental health as the biggest concern people had when asked to work from home. This new survey shows that these agents are largely happy with the way they are being supported.

36% of the executives use formal questionnaires to monitor the mental health and wellbeing of their team, 29% have video checks. However, the most common approach is simply to talk. 89% of Directors and Managers cite informal conversations while 71% cite more formal conversations to address mental health concerns.

Again, this is reassuring, but as the McKinsey study shows, we are moving into a modern work environment where companies have a far greater responsibility to support their employees – paying lip service to mental health is no longer enough.

This study is broadly positive about employee engagement in the contact centres covered by the study. Only 47% of these agents believe they will be returning to the office full-time and 53% believe they will embrace a hybrid future where they split time between home and a contact centre.

There are several takeaways from this study, but I believe the most important is that when a contact centre company truly embraces home working and offers genuine support to their team then attrition is reduced and employee satisfaction and engagement is increased.

Working from home requires a change in management style, communications, and engagement and the companies that appreciate this and embrace it will enjoy more success than those that continue planning for a return to the work practices of 2019.

As the final statistics suggested, most agents do not have an expectation that they are returning to the normal of 2019. They either believe that the move into their home is now permanent or there will be a hybrid future where they can work from home most of the time, attending an office for training or meetings. It’s interesting to see this almost universal acceptance from the agents that contact centres have completely changed in such a short period of time.

The message from this survey is that employee engagement is critical to the success of a WFH strategy. You cannot schedule a weekly Zoom call and call this engagement – working practices need to change. The future of employee engagement and satisfaction depends on managers embracing WFH and making it an integral part of how their contact centre functions.

To access a copy of this survey just contact any one of the three organisations listed where it was initially mentioned.

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