Transitioning from an on-premises contact centre to home working

Whether you’re still under a strict lockdown or measures are starting to ease, the COVID-19 pandemic forced contact centres to change. The on-premises contact centre needed to, very quickly, transition to remote working. 

At the start, this was a temporary measure. And there are likely things missed and team members ‘making do’.

Now, it’s clear that the need for the on-premises contact centre to change to remote work isn’t fading anytime soon. As people adapt to life with the novel coronavirus, the shift to home working needs to become more stable.

So, here are the considerations to make while transitioning from an on-premises contact centre to a remote one.  


Equipment

First things first, the transition from an on-premises contact centre to a home-based one means ensuring everyone on your team has the tools and technology that they need.

•       Hardware

The most obvious tools you’ll think of are the hardware. That is, the physical equipment that every team member will need as part of their setup.

Everything happens on computers. But having a computer at home isn’t enough. You need to be sure that your team members have a computer that meets the specifications needed to work efficiently. For example, adequate processor power, the correct operating system, minimum needed RAM, and so on.

For calls, this transition might also prove the best time to swap from landlines to VoIP (voice over internet protocols), if you haven’t already. This means that your team won’t need a landline connection to handle incoming calls.

It’s a good idea to make a list of the tools and specifications that your team needs. If someone doesn’t have the needed equipment already, look for ways to get it to them. Wherever possible, it’s easiest for team members to take their equipment from the office. That way, they’re using the equipment they’re familiar with, with all the specs they need. (And you’re not forking out for an entire new hardware kit.)

•       Internet

A good internet connection is integral to any kind of home working. This is even more so when transitioning from an on-premises contact centre. The internet is the conduit through which customers can contact you.

So, it’s important to ensure that every remote worker has both a fast and stable connection.

Evaluate the minimum speeds that your agents can have. You may need to support a few team members that don’t have a strong connection. This might mean paying the difference for an internet upgrade for them. If a broadband connection is not possible, consider looking for data plans.

•       Software

With your hardware and your internet sorted, there’s the software to consider. There are a few considerations to make when ensuring that your team members have access to the software they need.

First, you need to make sure they have any and all contact channel software and access rights. For example, live chat software, ticketing software, help desk suites, etc. If you have desktop-based software, is it downloaded on their machine? Or, if it’s web-based, do your employees have the necessary links and permissions?

It’s not just contact channels that your team will need. They’ll also need the software that supports their service offering. For instance, your CRM software and access to needed data. If those systems are hosted in-house rather than via the cloud, you should also ensure your employees are able to access the necessary servers remotely and securely. A VPN can help here.

Then, your team will also need extra software tools (ones that you may not necessarily have used heavily before) to enable remote working and collaboration. Think team messaging platforms and video conferencing tools, for example.

Make a checklist of the software programs — and access rights — each team will need. This way, it’s easier for your team to check that they have everything.


Security

There’s also security to consider. Transitioning to home working doesn’t negate your duty to protect and secure customer data. But this can prove more difficult when your employees aren’t working in the same place.

For a start, do the machines your agents are using have the same level of antivirus protection that you’d expect in your on-premises contact centre?  Should your remote teams use a VPN?

You might also consider adding guidelines to help your agents keep their machine — and their access rights — secure. For instance, adding two-factor authentication or creating new password policies. (I.e. changing passwords more often.)

It’s also a good time to review access privileges. Privilege creep can pose a security threat to your systems. So, make sure your agents and supervisors only have access to the programs and data they need to do their jobs effectively.

Where you need to adapt your security practices to accommodate home working, be sure to give your clients their seat at the table. They need to know — and have a say — in how you’re protecting their (and their customer’s) data.

In short, work with your agents, your security team, and your clients to adapt your security practices for home working.


Management

The technical side of transitioning from an on-premises contact centre to home working isn’t the only consideration to make. The way you and your teams work and interact with each other needs to adapt to a remote setting too.

For management, this means finding a balance between performance monitoring and creating a supportive presence.  

•       Monitoring

Your team must know what’s expected of them. So, take some time to outline and communicate clear expectations and guidelines. You’ll need a way to monitor their performance.

Consider what performance metrics you want to measure, and communicate that to your team. Some contact channels, like WhosOn, come with handy features built in to help with this. For instance, with agent activity tracking, sentiment reports and so on.

•       Agent support

In your on-premises contact centre, you can provide a supportive presence in person. If an agent is stuck or struggling, you’re there. This is harder in a remote setting.

In some cases, your contact channels can help you with this. Features like WhosOn’s supervisor intervention and broadcast messages can prove helpful, for example. They allow you to intervene with chats or spread announcements as needed.

In other cases, it’s helpful to designate time for your agents to book one-to-one meetings with you. So, you can help them discuss and work out solutions to any problems they’re facing.


Collaboration

For an effective change, it’s also important that teams have a way to collaborate, socialise and continue to support each other. This is only more important in the current climate of social distancing and loneliness.

As a contact centre, you’ll have plenty of ways for people to communicate. A key part of transitioning to remote workers means leveraging these abilities for your teams, as well as your customers.

A good starting point for this is to recreate daily team catch-ups. Video-based chats and meetings are a popular method for this. These can also help to motivate team members to look after their wellbeing. (You wouldn’t stay in your pyjamas if you have a video call to do.)

Internal chat features are another great way to keep collaboration going. A good practice is to create guidelines for acceptable use of internal chat. For instance, ensuring separate chats for work matters and social chats. This saves important questions getting buried under jokes and general chatter. It also gives your team the ability to mute non-helpful chats at times of focus.


Wellbeing

With an on-premises contact centre, it’s easier to keep track of your team. When home working, however, bad habits can affect mood, and it’s harder to pick up on them. This is a trying time for many people. And stressed teams can find it harder to provide great service. So, another consideration when home working is maintaining individual wellbeing.

For example, agents may benefit from some tips and advice for creating ergonomic office set-ups. I.e. how to position their chair and computer screen to encourage good posture.  

It’s also helpful to look for opportunities to pencil in wellbeing sessions into your weekly schedule. These are spare moments where team building is encouraged. For example, a Friday afternoon group call. Or, for the more adventurous, Wednesday lunchtime yoga sessions. (For instance.)

Transitioning to a home-working scenario can also pose a risk to work-life balances. It’s harder to enforce breaks and agents may find themselves working extra — reading emails outside of work hours, for instance.

So, be sure to emphasise the importance of breaks, as well as performance. And, where possible, ensure that agents have a clear-cut start and finish time.


Advice for remote contact centre agents

It can take time to settle into a home-working routine. So, here is some final advice for agents transitioning from an on-premises contact centre to remote work.

•      Act like you’re going into the office

Routines are your friend. So, start your workdays the same way you would if you were going into the office. Get dressed, have breakfast, brush your hair and teeth. You might be working from home, but being dressed for work can help you get into the working mood.  

•      Have a designated work desk (or room, if you have space)

If possible, have a space in your home designated solely for work. Having a whole room is best, as you can close the door, separating you from distractions. But if that’s not possible, have a desk, or even a specific spot at the table or counter. Then, only sit there to work.

This can help you compartmentalise. That is, you can get into ‘work mode’ easier when you sit at the work desk, table, ironing board… whatever you have as your set up.

•      Engage with team chats and online activities

The sense of team and belonging can break down if you aren’t used to remote work. So, when the opportunity arises, be sure to look after your work camaraderie. Join in with the group chats now and then. Engage with your colleagues during meetings and wellbeing hangouts. This can help boost collaboration alongside your mood.


Leaving the on-premises contact centre

Everything is changing — and for longer than anyone may have originally thought. While the future may seem uncertain, it’s clear that the need to transition from an on-premises contact centre to remote working is more than a stop-gap.

The key to a successful transition is to recognise the unique challenges and opportunities that home-working offers. Promote collaboration, and look after each other as well as your customers.


Useful links

Embracing the omnichannel contact centre

Broadcast messages: a feature dive

Live chat software: the unsung hero in improving employee morale