Some days I hit about 4 p.m. and realize I haven’t really talked to anyone all day. Sure, I’ve sent a couple Slack messages and responded to emails. But, when you’re working from home, real human interaction can be hard to find. Especially in our COVID-19 reality, there are days I spend more time talking to my dog than I do any family or friends.
In the haze of self-quarantining, everyone is forgetting what day it is. We’re stuck in a new norm where our weekends blend with our weekdays. The mixture of isolation and blending of time can have a toxic effect on our emotional and mental state as workers. Without daily conversations, comradery, and water cooler talk, your employees likely feel a bit of this loneliness creeping in.
It’s normal. Buffer’s 2020 state of remote work report noted that the two largest pain points for remote workers is collaboration and loneliness. Leaders need measures in place to fix isolation before it damages engagement and performance.
Gallup found that managers have the power to outline strategies that make the biggest difference in team morale. As a call center manager, you can play a major role in building morale on your team, no matter where they’re working.
To boost the morale for your team, try reinforcing these four areas to encourage engagement and connection.
1. Stay Aligned with Company Culture
Culture is the backbone of any company. It lives organically in your team members’ day-to-day interactions. It’s the foundation for why you operate as you do, or what policies you set. And, culture heavily influences how team members behave. But, you don’t need everyone physically together to create a strong culture. The best cultures derive from actions people take.
When you’re a fully remote team, it’s important to be clear about what your culture is. Culture plays a vital role in employee retention and satisfaction, whether remote or not. Keep the company’s vision and message clear at all times. Having a culture deck, a slideshow that breaks down your company’s culture, core values, and mission, gives your team a standard of expectations.
But, living the culture you aspire to have is more important. Self-quarantining as a call center team forces you to evaluate how you live your culture when you’re apart. To help your call center agents feel more engaged, be intentional to keep your actions in line with your existing company culture.
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Even though working remotely changes team interactions, you can still make sure the little things you did in the office continue. This might include sending funny GIFs over Slack, text or email. Or, having designated places to chat about sports or your family, to share photos of your kids and pets, or anything else you would normally do by the water cooler.
Be creative with how to take culture and connection virtual. Volunteer together through an online charity project instead of an in-person event. Have lunch and learn sessions for employees to hop on a Google Hangout to share interests or best practices. Throw wellness challenges, like a step challenge or a competition around how much water you all drink in a day, to encourage healthy habits. These little things help reduce feelings of isolation and anxiety.
To build morale in a work at home call center, you have to keep reminding employees of how their work feeds into the bigger picture. Work is more than the tasks your agents do day-to-day. Stay transparent in how your company is still living their values through the COVID pandemic. Culture helps your agents feel engaged even from home.
2. Recognition is Key
When you’re in your call center together, think of how often you naturally share customer wins or work together through a customer’s problem. Those conversations flow naturally. Your agents get affirmation and recognition for their hard work even in passing.
But sometimes, working remotely feels like your work just goes into a void. When you aren’t physically with your team, it’s harder to share wins or accomplishments. You don’t have someone to vent to or to share a problem that you just solved.
When someone notices and appreciates your hard work, it’s a great boost for morale. The company OGO (O Great One!) found that as many as 82% of employed Americans don’t feel that their supervisors recognize them. That lack of recognition takes a terrible toll on morale, productivity, and, ultimately, profitability.
Another key finding: 40% of employed Americans say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often.
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Recognition is even more essential when you’re working remotely. When you’re not there to receive a simple thanks in person, it can feel like your efforts go unnoticed. To help your team feel appreciated and connected, go out of your way to show recognition.
Never miss an opportunity to recognize your staff when they’ve done a good job. Public praise is incredibly motivating. And, telling your agents about how their work fits into the bigger picture of the business gives your employees a sense of their value.
Get creative in how you share praise. Work with your marketing or HR teams to have weekly or monthly newsletters sent to your employees. Have agent shout outs in this newsletter. Or, have a #kudos channel on Slack to post successful customer stories and recognize the employees who made it happen.
Recognition and appreciation will always build call center morale – no matter where you’re working – but with work at home teams, it’s a much-needed boost.
3. Respect Boundaries
As a manager, you might fear that employees will slack off without physical, in-person oversight. But, in fact, the opposite tends to be the reality. Remote workers are more likely to overwork. When your personal life and work are both under the same roof, it’s harder to switch off. And, workers often do more to prove their productivity.
Work is infinite. There is always another problem to solve or one more customer to help. And, when you have an office routine, it’s easier to leave what you do at the workplace. When you work from home, your office is where you live. It’s so hard to shut off. And, it’s easy to get burnt out and overworked.
According to data from Owl Labs’ 2019 State of Remote Work report, remote workers say they work more than 40 hours per week 43% more than on-site workers do. When you’re managing a remote team, and you yourself are remote, you may struggle to set boundaries. You set the example for boundaries around working. When employees get tasks and emails from their employers on Saturday mornings, or late at night, they’ll follow suit and respond.
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This kind of behavior as a manager isn’t sustainable for your employees. To maintain positive morale, respect the typical work hours of your agents. Make sure not to ask for work outside of the 40-hour work week.
This time is stressful enough without getting work emails on the weekend. Some employees may have a partner who’s lost their job. Or, a COVID-positive family member. The anxiety of a pandemic needs to be taken into account when you’re asking for the time and energy of your employees. Give them space to care for their families (and themselves) during this time. Encourage and allow for PTO right now, even if it’s just for a mental health day for an employee.
Self-care is important right now. Do your part to respect the boundaries of your employees.
4. Use Video, Even if it’s Uncomfortable for You
It’s surprising what a little face-to-face interaction does for morale when you’re working remotely. Video conferencing may be your only way to meet with employees and get on the same page. It’s helpful to turn your video camera on in these circumstances, even if it can feel a little awkward.
Using video technology helps keep your team engaged and makes things feel a little more normal. It’s more intentional and human to converse when you can see each other’s facial reactions, smiles, and visual signals.
Human interaction, especially if remote work is new for you, can make all the difference in your productivity and your mental and emotional well-being. It might be the little bit of connection needed to boost your call center agent’s mood and build morale while agents work at home. (Pro tip: When you’re speaking, look up at the camera on your computer — not at the screen — so people can see your eyes!)
Plus, video calling keeps accountability. Who knows, maybe a video chat on camera is the motivation you need to get out of your pajamas to dress for success.