Remote work skyrocketed in popularity over the last several years. Once a fringe idea, it’s now seen as a viable alternative to old, office-based models of work that are becoming outdated. Predictions show that the growth of remote work is likely to continue with the COVID-19 pandemic only accelerating these changes.
Contact centers are no strangers to remote work. According to a study by Nemertes Research, 59% of contact centers around the world let at least some of their staff work from a home office pre-COVID-19. That figure now rose to 74.1% as coronavirus lockdowns forced companies to close offices and transition into virtual contact centers. Once authorities lift these restrictions, 70.7% of businesses are likely to continue allowing agents to work from home (WFH) in some capacity.
This decision comes as no surprise as there are many reasons for letting your agents work remotely. There are some challenges on that road as well. But the cloud technologies can make the transition to the WFH model seamless and ensure that your business thrives in the post-COVID-19 period.
Contact centers are likely to embrace remote work even more is the fact that WFH arrangements improve employees’ quality of life. Agents no longer have to spend time and money on commuting. They can also take care of their family commitments, childcare, and elderly care, and even volunteer in local NGOs. And when employees have control over their schedule and don’t have to ignore their life needs because of a job, they are satisfied and will become more loyal to your company.
More loyalty translates into reduced agent turnover. Frost & Sullivan says that the retention rate for at-home agents is 80% versus 25% for in-house. Agents no longer see their jobs as primarily transitory ones and a step toward better roles, but rather as a fulfilling, long-term option. As you get to keep your employees around for longer, you’ll also have to spend less effort on replacing agents and training new hires.
A distributed workforce also makes companies more resilient to future disasters. Agents are scattered across different locations and can continue helping customers despite lockdowns or travel restrictions. They also have their own computers and use cloud platforms and don’t necessarily depend on the company’s IT infrastructure. And even if a contact center isn’t fully remote, knowing how to transition into WFH settings will enable the company to adapt quickly should any adverse event strike again.
Not all contact centers, however, plan on allowing agents to continue working from home after the pandemic. Security concerns, in particular, are seen as an obstacle to remote work. IT managers are concerned that, for instance, home Wi-Fi security comes with weak protocols that hackers can easily bypass to access the network’s traffic. Also, our homes are full of smart devices that can be hacked. Cyber-criminals are well-aware of these facts and are eager to exploit them. A rapid transition to remote work in the last few months has also made some employees emotionally distressed and hackers have increased phishing scams and spam attacks to exploit these circumstances.
Besides security issues, some managers also face difficulties in managing teams remotely. Talking to an employee in an office is as easy as walking to a desk and some managers find it difficult to change this habit and use digital communication. Also, they find it hard to measure success, coordinate work time, or schedule meetings with agents that live in vastly different time zones. And without frequent face-to-face interactions, managers might feel as if their teams lack feelings of trust and bonding.
Some contact centers will require agents to head back into offices post-COVID-19 because technology didn’t work as well as expected. In some cases, poor internet connectivity and network infrastructure couldn’t deliver needed capacity. Moreover, contact centers faced difficulty training agents and accessing applications, while some couldn’t deliver IT equipment to people.
These challenges notwithstanding, there are many reasons why you should let agents continue working from home. Take, for example, the cost savings that come with remote work. Call centers allocate over 70 percent of their operating budgets on resource-related expenses, but the WFH model means that you no longer have to pay rent, utilities, on-premise hardware, furniture, and maintenance. A 500-agent contact center, for example, can save over $2 million in real estate cost per year by allowing agents to work from home. And Frost & Sullivan noted that an on-site agent costs the company $31 per hour, compared to $21 for an at-home agent.
Remote employees are also happier than on-site employees. Happy agents stay with the company longer, which results in reduced turnover, increased productivity, and a substantial improvement in customer ratings. Employees with several years of experience can better help customers than junior colleagues who are just getting started in their careers.
Another benefit of a remote workforce is its flexibility. Employees can run split shifts that enable them to take care of personal needs. Also, remote agents from different time zones can fill in if an incident takes place in a certain location or if a business is swamped with customer inquiries. And contact centers can also be more flexible with hiring. No longer restricted to hire only in areas close to their offices, companies can access a wider talent pool that spans across different regions and countries.
The COVID-19 outbreak might have limited your physical presence but that doesn’t mean that your customer service should suffer. To help you and others who are impacted by the current events overcome the crisis, we’re giving RingCentral’s customer engagement solution free of charge. Take advantage of this free offer we’re running right now and enable agents to serve customers and stay connected with their peers while working from home.