How to ensure the smooth running of your remote-working customer service team
Best practices to help your service team adapt, survive and thrive in a homeworking environment.
It is believed that approximately 1,722,000 people regularly work from home in the UK. But most organisations, both large and small, are now having to adopt remote working practices in response to coronavirus.
But the reality is that many organisations and their staff - even in the service field - are not particularly experienced or prepared for homeworking.
Global workplace performance firm Leesman surveyed 700,000 workers worldwide to find that 52% have little or no experience working from home. Meanwhile, the research concludes that the UK is one of the world’s ‘least prepared countries to weather a mass home-working strategy’, with 55% of its workers having little/no experience.
With so many customer service staff finding themselves working from home for the first time, businesses are having to work out how to best navigate remote working to ensure that it works best for the employees, the organisation and the customers.
Chris Parke, CEO of Talking Talent, notes: “The only way to survive such unpredictability will be to have solid processes and best practices in place that make flexible working practical and manageable for everyone.”
With that in mind, let’s explore some of the key considerations and best practices to help your customer experience and/or customer service team adapt, survive and thrive in a homeworking environment.
Banish bad attitudes towards flexible working
Whilst businesses have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, there still remains a certain stigma surrounding flexible working practices.
Parke says: “To support employees, and get the most out of them, businesses must start to recognise flexible working as a positive choice. After all, three quarters (77%) of those who work flexibly would agree it helps them work more productively. They are also more likely to be engaged and yield significant advantages for employers – potentially generating 43% more revenue and improving performance by 20%, compared to disengaged employees.”
Be flexible – even with your regular homeworkers
Even the context of those who are regular homeworkers has changed. People’s home contexts are probably different, with people who are not usually in the house during worker hours now heavily present, says Pilar Orti, director of Virtual not Distant.
“Even if nothing has changed visibly, mentally it will,” explains Orti. “ Their mindset will be affected by the current uncertainty. This is not business as usual for anyone. Take that into account.
“For those who have been forced to suddenly work from home, it will take a while to understand how they work best in the new context. They will need some flexibility in their schedule, as they try different things to find a new way of working for them.”
Understand the context in which team members are working
People’s living situations are going to be incredibly different. Some people might live alone; others might be sharing a small space with flatmates; some will have families; others will become the primary carers of a relative; some will live in urban areas; others in more isolated properties. All of this will influence how they approach their work and their communication over the coming weeks, says Orti.
“Negotiating workspace will be something new they have to do with partners; others might have to work when there is other activity going on in the house. Some will struggle not having their closest friends nearby,” she explains.
“Spend time understanding team members’ context and facilitate communication of the different circumstances in your team. Share your own context and set up, so that others understand the circumstances that you are working under too.”
And on that note...
Ensure managers work at home too
Mark Walton, CEO at Sensée, says: “Managers may have to deal with issues relating to isolation and motivation. That is why we believe managers should work-at-home too so that they get a better understanding of what their team members are experiencing. And don’t ignore the crucial role of team managers either. Not just in performing vital duties such as virtual floorwalking but also in regularly engaging with homeworkers via huddles, one-to-ones and other means of communication.”
Encourage the setting of boundaries by your staff
Flexible working patterns can often make workers feel like they need to be switched on 24/7 and this can lead to significant mental burnout of an individual if not addressed and managed.
“For parents, working flexibly means constantly switching roles between care-giver and professional,” says Parke. “ Initially, this may mean that they seem slightly less present. Giving them time to work out and negotiate their needs, and remembering that in the long run, them saying ‘no’ when something isn’t possible, will be more efficient than saying ‘yes’ and burning out.”
Explore new ways to collaborate
Working remotely can be lonely and lead to a feeling of disconnect between employees and their organisation.
Tom Blower, managing director of The Black Isle Group, notes: “A lack of personal conversations and opportunities to build relationships can damage morale as employees do not always feel as if they are part of a team. Also, the perception of distant leaders can quickly deteriorate if employees see them as impersonable and distributors of instruction, rather than inspiring and helpful leaders.
“The key to overcoming this challenge is engineering personal time with employees, diarising this process if necessary. Leaders should set aside time at the start of video conference or phone call to have a personal chat with workers - asking them about the highs and lows in their lives can be an effective opener. This will help leaders understand each team member’s individual needs.”
Parke says: “The use of collaborative messaging and social tools can bring workforces together, even when they are not present in the same room. Virtual tools can be another great way of communicating with co-workers and keeping the line of communication flowing.”
Adopt a homeworking mindset across the organisation
If the current situation lasts for a prolonged period of time, organisations may need to adopt a different mindset to many other aspects of their operations, including recruitment and training.
Mark Walton, CEO at Sensée, says: “As an operator with 15 years experience in contact centre homeworking, we have come to learn - often through trial and error - that to be effective calls for a very different mindset compared with operating a bricks and mortar contact centre.”
Walton suggests that this starts with learning how to recruit the right homeworkers and extends to creating a virtual mindset across everything from training, planning, managing and reporting within a technology ecosystem that is secure, robust and flexible enough to scale up and down with your business needs.
“For contact centre operators, moving to homeworking and doing so with scalability and cost-efficiency is a lot more complex than for many other businesses. And the skills to manage the transition successfully can’t be learnt overnight.”
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Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.