When it comes to the modern workplace, more and more companies are opting to do away with the traditional office and moving online, leveraging high-speed internet and powerful applications to connect employees and get work done. The benefits are there, and it’s especially helpful when trying to setup a new business startup without investing a lot into an office infrastructure.
How can you leverage the benefits of a remote office with the all-important duties of a contact center while avoiding the pitfalls?
In a Stanford University study, researchers found that allowing employees to work remotely could save as much as $2,000 per head, just by keeping them out of the office and letting them do their thing in the comfort of their own homes or co-working spaces of choice.
But before you dive head into the hiring process, you need to take a look at your hiring methods.
The first thing to remember when hiring remote employees is that you can’t treat it the same way as hiring regular employees. It may look the same on the surface, but there are some very important distinctions. Making sure you hire the right people will make your contact center workforce management much simpler. Sara Sutton Fell, the CEO of FlexJobs, identified four traits that are crucial to the successful remote employee.
High Degree of Independence
It goes without saying that you won’t have your eye on a remote worker all the time. The employee needs to be a self-starter who gets work done with minimal supervision. If the new hire needs hand-holding and specific instructions each step of the way, they probably won’t work well in your company.
For remote contact center employees who need to be on call throughout their shift without you always there to support them, it’s vital they can operate with as little input from you as possible.
Receptive to Feedback
Going hand in hand with independence, the employee needs to be able to take feedback positively and apply it to their performance. With little face time with their managers, a remote employee must be quick on the uptake and value continuous learning.
Strong Written Communication Skills
The majority of your time working remotely will be spent looking at your computer screen, and most of your contact with your co-workers comes through there as well. It’s absolutely vital that you hire someone who is able to articulate and express themselves through the written word.
Varied Interests Outside of Work
Without the trappings of an office and all the people to hang out with and otherwise provide coffee break and water cooler talk, it’s very easy for an employee to get stuck in their work and get burned out. It’s essential that they have interests outside of work to help them switch over to relaxation mode and re-energize.
Once you have your remote workforce assembled, you can finally begin the task of managing them. Managing employees is a very fine art, and one that is made even more challenging in the virtual office. You can’t just rely on someone’s physical presence to tell if they’re doing a good job. Leaders who are good at inspiring people in person will need to translate that skillset to online application.
However, by and large, it’s important to note that managers still need to use the same interpersonal skills they would in a regular office setting.
According to research from the INSEAD Business School, the biggest misconception in managing remote teams is thinking that they require a completely different skillset. Instead of overcompensating in your approach, you should still think of remote teams in the same fundamental way you would a traditional office team.
Setting expectations is the bread and butter of all managers, but it’s doubly important in remote management. You need to set clear ground rules for how people will interact, the accountabilities of each individual, and set clear monthly, quarterly and yearly performance goals. In some cases, you may need to set daily goals, depending on the type of work done, and in a contact center setting this is more than likely to be necessary.
Check Progress and Milestones
Once expectations are set, it’s also imperative to check progress regularly, and communicate feedback often, while reminding everyone that the same metrics are applied to everyone. People need to know that nobody is treated differently in a virtual workplace.
Contaqt can help immensely in tracking all the metrics you need, and is specifically designed for contact centers to track each person’s activity and performance. Both managers, supervisors and remote agents will find Contaqt very easy to use. Plus, it serves as a great dashboard that saves managers time and effort.
Visit Your Employees Regularly (if Possible)
It’s important to have some face-to-face visits, especially at the start. Having some face time gives people a sense of comfort and allows you to set the kind of tone you want them to be working in, something that is impossible through written communication.
If actual site visits are not possible, video chats or conference calls are a viable, if not optimal, alternative.
It’s important to get people talking and communicating with each other. It’s very easy to feel isolated in a remote office, and that quickly leads to a lack of engagement. You need to set the cadence of communication: how soon to expect replies to an email, how quick to do follow-ups, how quick to send in deliverables
Creating open communication channels is vital in remote management and using tools for online collaboration will help bring people together.
Be Familiar With Your People
Like any good manager, you will need to build a relationship of trust and familiarity with your workers, and you can’t cultivate that without getting to know your people on a personal level. When on conference calls you ideally should spend some time just talking about the things you would talk about at a traditional office during coffee breaks, like plans for the weekend, their family, their hobbies and things they do for fun. Social bonding is what creates camaraderie and it’s just as important for virtual teams as it is in the traditional office.
With the increasing popularity of remote workplaces, you need to have the correct plans and tools to leverage the advantages of this new way to work for your business. Running a remote contact center can be a challenging task, but it becomes much easier if you follow the advice of experts who have gone through it before, and use tools like Contaqt which are specifically designed to facilitate remote contact center operations.