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Should contact centres embrace a hybrid working model?

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By Jonathan Allan, CMO at Puzzel

The contact centre is evolving, and it’s time our ways of working changed, too. 

Office, hybrid or remote? It’s the question every contact centre is asking now coronavirus restrictions have eased across the UK.

For some companies, the decision was simple. But for most, it’s still up in the air. Leadership teams and HR departments have been working tirelessly to weigh the pros and cons of productivity versus wellbeing versus collaboration and so on. But it’s my firm belief that the future of the contact centre should be hybrid – and I’ll tell you why.

The world of work has changed

For nearly 100 years, people have been commuting to workplaces, working eight hours a day, five days a week, with little objection. But in that time, the entire working world has changed.

Businesses can now operate and trade around the world, creating a need for 24-hour customer services. Workers have more personal commitments to juggle, including higher education and child care, creating a need for more flexibility. And we’ve learned much more about human behaviour and the diverse ways in which people think and perform, creating a need for more personalisation and strategic resourcing.

Crucially, contact centre technology evolved long ago to facilitate round-the-clock service, flexible working and strategic resourcing. And yet, it wasn’t until the pandemic that these technologies were widely adopted and truly appreciated. In short, our ways of working were severely outdated. And the pandemic was a sharp wake-up call.

Benefits of hybrid working

Gartner defines hybrid working as a strategic working model where employees and managers can ‘flow through’ locations (eg. the office, the home or another location) where it makes the most sense to drive both productivity and engagement. In the contact centre, this means enabling agents to serve customers from home or in the office, where it makes the most sense to provide maximum flexibility for employees and deliver maximum satisfaction for customers.

This has several benefits for contact centres. First, it improves the customer experience, as happier agents make happier customers. Giving agents more control over their schedules and work-life balance leads to higher engagement and better customer service. It also enables agents to work a wider variety of shifts – including micro shifts – making it easier for managers to fill absences and late shifts, use specialist agents more strategically, and scale up and down to meet seasonal demand. Many contact centres also see a drop in absence and sick leave when agents are able to work from home.

Another benefit is the expanded talent pool. With agents able to work remotely, managers can look further afield and attract more diverse talent. And finally, hybrid working is also more inclusive. Some people are more comfortable and productive working from home than in the office, while others prefer the social environment of the office. Hybrid working enables contact centres to offer both.

Challenges of hybrid working

That said, hybrid working also presents some challenges for contact centres. For example, it can be harder to onboard, train and build relationships with new agents when they work remotely. Managing a team, keeping that team motivated, and maintaining a strong company culture can also be difficult, increasing the risk of disengagement and attrition.

Furthermore, offices may need to be redesigned to meet the needs of a more dynamic workforce, for example adding more collaboration spaces and booths with branded backgrounds for video calls. And it can be difficult to ensure company policies are being adhered to and correct procedures are being followed when agents work remotely.

Test, learn and refine! 

To achieve a successful hybrid working model, organisations will have to create new policies and workflows to accommodate a more dynamic and dispersed workforce. The most important thing to remember here is that contact centres can be agile. When the pandemic hit, contact centres had to transition to remote working in just a few days and refine policies and procedures on the fly. Now hybrid working can (and should) be treated in the same way.

According to Gartner, 45% of the global knowledge workforce will be working from home two to three days per week by 2022. Nearly one in five will work remotely all the time. This aligns with the findings from our Evolution of the Contact Centre research initiative with the Call Centre Management Association (CCMA), which found more contact centres will be moving to hybrid working models after the pandemic.

So while change can be challenging, I believe hybrid working is the best way forward for contact centres, agents, and ultimately, customers.

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