There’s no shortage of good advice about how organisations can make a success of homeworking during the Coronavirus crisis. About how they can engage more effectively with remote workers using messaging, online forums and video conferencing. How managers can use software to monitor the progress of tasks and keep remote workers on track. And about how organisations can share files and more effectively build team-working using the latest cloud collaboration products.
It is, without doubt, valuable information. However, I do wonder whether this pre-occupation with communications technology is obscuring some of the real challenges for organisations looking to transition to homeworking. And amongst those is how organisations can successfully adopt a ‘homeworking mindset’ across everything that they do.
People, process, technology
Moving an organisation with hundreds - or thousands - of people to homeworking is far from easy. And it’s a challenge that’s as much about People and Process as it is about Technology.
Let me illustrate this with reference to contact centre homeworking. As an operator with 15 years experience of contact centre homeworking, we have come to learn - often through trial and error - that to achieve excellence calls for a very different mindset to a bricks and mortar company. It starts with learning how to recruit the right homeworkers and extends to creating a virtual mindset across everything from training, planning, managing and reporting within a technology ecosystem that is secure, robust and flexible enough to scale up and down with your business needs.
These are not skills that can be learnt overnight. Yet the pressure to find quick practical business continuity solutions is greater than ever. For IT managers in many business areas, the solution may indeed be as simple as ensuring all work-at-home staff have a reliable computer, phone and broadband connection.
For contact centre operators, however, moving to homeworking and doing so with scalability and cost-efficiency is lot more complex. A complete 360 degree solution is required - one that provides full visibility, control, engagement, and of course information security for remote workers.
So how homeworker-friendly is your technology? For IT managers looking at contact centre operations that’s a complex question, but will include asking:
- Is our recruitment and onboarding software optimised for homeworking?
- Are peoples’ home offices compliant?
- Does their technology meets specifications?
- Do our customer communication channels/systems have the capability to support homeworkers?
- Do we have the ability to effectively train remote workers?
- Will our quality and performance monitoring software work in a homeworking model?
- Does our security framework support homeworking environments
- Can we provide secure access to business mission-critical applications?
- Are our homeworking solutions compliant with ISO27001, PCI-DSS and GDPR regulations?
- Do our planning and scheduling tools fully support flexible working, where homeworkers can self-select hours and work split shifts?
Ensuring that IT ecosystems are effective, secure and compliant for contact centre homeworkers is a key element of an extremely complicated picture for IT teams in the current climate. So what does a complete contact centre homeworking ecosystem look like?
Remote worker communication
When it comes to communicating effectively with remote workers, no single technology is the complete answer. Products such as Adobe Connect (for webinars, online training, desktop sharing etc.) and Microsoft Teams (for individual and team communication) are incredibly helpful for maintaining regular contact with team members. But social communication too is a very important part of the communication process. Yammer is great for social interactions within customer contact teams, plus at Sensée we’ve created our own virtual workspace where homeworkers collaborate and communicate, helping them build relationships and friendships with colleagues. Once advisors are comfortable with these then communicating with colleagues, and their teams, is very natural and becomes second nature.
Employee lifecycle management
Your technology ecosystem should support the entire Employee Lifecycle - from recruitment and on-boarding to scheduling, training and management - and be fully compliant with UK Employment Law.
In our experience of operating a contact centre with over 700 fully employed homeworkers for over 15 years, we’d recommend that your ecosystem provides dedicated homeworking tools, including:
- A robust multichannel customer contact platform (supporting phone, email, web chat, social media as well as various forms of customer self-service).
- Homeworker selection and on-boarding tools to enable employees to apply for homeworking, validate that their home office is compliant, and confirm their technology meets specifications.
- A Virtual Workplace for collaborating and communicating with homeworkers so that they are engaged and on the business pulse.
- A security framework that locks down homeworkers’ computer workstations and regulates secure access to business mission-critical applications.
- Sophisticated Scheduling and Tracking tools with support for multichannel working, split shifts, bid-swaps, real time SMS alerts etc.
Business continuity planning
Coronavirus has brought into sharp focus the need for effective business continuity planning if a catastrophic event occurs and people can’t get into the office. These events could be:
- ENVIRONMENTAL (Epidemics, snow, rain, high winds, chemical leaks, earthquakes and volcanic ash etc.)
- ECONOMIC (Fluctuations in interest rates, changing currency values and the failure of financial service institutions etc.)
- SOCIAL (Public holidays, social unrest and sporting events for example.)
- TECHNOLOGICAL (Data breaches, internet failure, computer viruses, email phishing, broken power lines and burst pipes for example.)
- LEGAL (Changes to laws and regulations such as GDPR etc.), or
- POLITICAL (Terrorism, election / referenda outcomes and industrial disputes etc.)
In the event of a catastrophic event occurring, no organisation can simply assume that in-house management and training practices, operational processes and technologies will work just as well in a work-at-home environment - especially if you are planning on homeworking over an extended period of time.
Making adequate provision for uninterrupted service is not only a way of minimising lost sales when disaster strikes, but also a great way to differentiate your brand and build trust and loyalty by making sure you can answer enquiries at all times - and especially when customers need you most.
Mark Walton, CEO, Sensée