By Greg Hanover and Tricia Yankovich
As we begin to see people shift back into traditional workplaces—be it an office environment or co-working spaces—we should remember the lessons learned from 2020, a year of remote working. In fact, these lessons may be even more immediately actionable as many organizations will have a hybrid work environment with some team members working onsite, others working remotely, and having that mix of people change day-to-day. Forrester recently announced that remote work will rise to three times pre-COVID levels.
Many enterprises managed to work through the logistics of having a remote team, and many even found it to be more productive. As they adapt moving forward, unique challenges persist. How do companies ensure that their teams remain efficient, productive, and satisfied while working from home as well as in the office?
Translating this macro working trend to customer service agents, a McKinsey report found that 50 percent of contact centers rate retention as a key challenge. Retention of agents relates not just to satisfaction but to engagement and meaningful work. An engaged agent is more than a happy agent. They have an emotional investment in their company and their work. As a result, they go beyond basic expectations.
As such, here are five proven methods to building engagement in a hybrid workforce of call center agents:
1. Give Your Agents Time to Adapt
Yes, people have adapted to working from home so much so that working in pajamas has even lost its luster. In this year, many contact centers have changed their recruiting practices, bringing in agents who have the specific capabilities needed but live nowhere near a brick-and-mortar facility. These people will remain remote while others will start working in an office. This will change team dynamics.
In determining who works where and when, it is important to remember that remote work isn’t a one-to-one replacement for an in-office environment, and it is important to identify the right talent that can succeed in a remote environment from the start. Working from home successfully requires agents to be self-motivated, disciplined, and organized. A star performer in the office may have difficulty adapting to working from home.
It’s important to give these agents the training and tools critical to build work-from-home skills, as is communicating the benefits they may see in returning to in-office work. This learning curve may be fluid in the beginning, but as companies understand the skills they need within their teams, this adjustment period will get shorter.
2. Measure Engagement and Productivity
Measuring engagement and productivity is not a one-size-fits-all model. There are many routes to take and many platforms to use. An important piece to integrate is real-time feedback. Engaging with agents on a regular and frequent basis allows you to get a quick check on their productivity and overall sentiment. Quarterly surveys are common. However, they tend to be lagging indicators.
In addition to frequent checks with agents, allow them the ability to provide feedback to managers in real time. This can be done through technology tools or with built-in check-ins. As part of this measurement make sure to not equate happiness with engagement. Agents can be promoters and say they’d recommend their place of work while still feeling disengaged because they don’t have the right tools or support to help them be successful.
3. Equip Agents with the Right Technology
Technology in the remote environment is crucial, yet there is no secret formula for what works for each business. Creating engagement may require several tools, so it’s important that they complement each other to reach your company’s goals.
To help nurture emotional intelligence and prevent potential burnout, building a virtual community allows team members to connect in a remote environment. Private corporate social networks can also act as a hub for agents to interact and access company information, participate in events, and link into gamification challenges.
With technology implementation, it’s important to keep in mind the fatigue that sets in when you lean too heavily on one platform. Zoom fatigue is common after a year of virtual meetings. Be sure to add variety to your tools to create connections without burnout.
4. Provide Professional Development
If agents aren’t growing in their position, they tend to leave. It’s vital to encourage constant professional growth. Effective distance learning helps maintain competencies and upskill in any environment. Having a platform that provides short digestible sessions can really help individual development, particularly programs that give agents the flexibility to learn around their schedules. This should include a mix of instructor-led sessions as well as self-paced content that agents can review on their own and refer to whenever they need.
A shift to virtual or hybrid working intensifies the need for training around emotional intelligence. This includes how to provide feedback to team members, how to manage a distributed team, and how to organize your time when working from home.
5. Create a Virtual Community
Creating a virtual community in a remote world is a challenge many enterprises face since the shift to virtual work. Brick and mortar offices have organic culture and community, where you can roll over to your co-worker and ask them about their day. In a virtual world, you need to have the right tools and technology in place and be intentional about fostering community.
A successful virtual community involves more than having great collaboration software. Hosted events can merge fun with networking, as well as encourage buddy systems within the organization.
The post-COVID call center will look incredibly different from what it once did, but the keys to agent engagement remain the same. Empathy remains an essential character trait for agents and leaders. Agents who are empathetic to their customers perform at higher levels, and leaders who manage with empathy to agents meet their needs and concerns, keeping them engaged and successful in their work. Empathy also helps in understanding which agents are suited for remote work and which thrive in an office environment.
Giving agents the same resources, feedback, and opportunities for collaboration no matter where they work will be critical to succeeding as a hybrid organization, reaping the benefits of both in-person and virtual work.