Whether it’s called remote work, telecommuting, or working from home, the American workforce is craving more flexibility in how they get the job done. According to a recent report by FlexJobs, the amount of remote work has increased by 44% over the last five years. Factor in advances in technology, the rise of the “always on” generation, and the gig economy and it’s clear that remote work is the new “normal.”
Additionally, deploying a remote workforce is extremely beneficial in times of crisis. Fires, floods, pandemics, or even financial crises can put undue stress and constraints on companies, forcing them to pivot their business model to avert lost production. These crises can even cause a complete collapse. Doom and gloom aside, it’s advantageous for contact centers to not only consider a remote workforce, but ultimately build out a strategic plan that includes telecommuting as an option for worst case scenarios.
So, how can contact centers turn force majeure into esprit de corps? Let’s look at some advantages of a remote workforce along with our best tips for a successful deployment.
Increased continuity in the midst of a force majeure event
When disaster strikes a business, maintaining continuity is about as easy as picking the winning lotto numbers. Things are constantly in flux and keeping balance amongst helping employees and servicing customers becomes priority number one in order to keep the lights on. Having the ability to harness the power of a remote workforce can alleviate most, if not all, of the disconnect and keep things “business as usual.” This is especially true in times where local, state, or federal government issues mandatory evacuation orders or lock downs. Service disruptions may only affect your region, but most customers don’t have the foresight or frankly don’t care about a crisis that doesn’t concern them. We’ll dig deeper into best practices on implementing and deploying a remote workforce, but remember that planning and the right platform makes all the difference.
One of the biggest advantages of deploying a remote workforce is the cost savings due to a reduction in operating expenses. Remote teams obviously mean that a central office can either be downsized or possibly eliminated; this equates to huge savings like the $30 million in real estate costs AT&T saved through their telework program. Other CapEx that can be slashed include items like technology (computers, printers, etc.) and office furniture. Expenditures for operations such as insurance, administration overhead, or travel could be trimmed or outright removed.
Increased work-life balance
The average American may work only 34.4 hours per week, but if you consider time to get ready, soul crushing commutes, meetings, conferences, and working lunches, that number can skyrocket leading to employee burnout. Undoubtedly, that’s why 91% of respondents in a 2019 survey by OWL Labs stated that work-life balance was the biggest reason for working remotely. Trading in business casual for comfy clothes and miles of traffic for a 30-second walk to the home office not only increases morale but also can reduce stress by 80%.
Larger talent pool
Finding talented workers is a tough proposition for any HR professional, especially when unemployment is at historic lows. Factor in the geographic constraints of a centralized office, and that shrinking talent pool just became considerably smaller. By deploying a remote workforce, not only can businesses remove physical boundaries for their existing employees, but also attract better talent. In a 2019 study by the International Workplace Group, when faced with two similar job offers, 80% of applicants would turn down the one that didn’t offer flexible working. Furthermore, through a geographically diverse workforce, a company can pivot its business model to add or increase their localization strategy. Not to mention, adding remote agents on a global scale, in multiple time zones, can transform business hours from 9 to 5 into 24/7.
It may seem counterintuitive to think that an agent, donning their pajamas and surrounded by the creature comforts of home, could be more productive than a fast-paced office environment. However, in a 2013 study by Stanford, call center employees who volunteered to work from home saw their productivity increase by 13%. This rise was attributed to working more minutes per hour due to fewer breaks and sick days (9%) and more calls per minute because of a quieter workplace (4%).
Another productivity improvement can occur if remote agents can be managed as one central pool of agents or a “virtual contact center”. A call or interaction coming into a company can be routed to the best resource wherever that agent is, in the central office or home office. If a call or chat comes in requesting help with a TV, that interaction can be routed via skills-based routing to a TV specialist whether that person is in Salt Lake City or a home office in Singapore. All agents can be managed as if they were one central pool from an efficiency standpoint even if they are working remotely.
Additionally, a remote workforce removes most, if not all, of the water cooler gossip and toxic work environments created by office politics. If workers get caught up in the noise of coworker nonsense, it can lead to disengagement, and by some estimates can cost the economy $450 to $500 billion in lost profits.