How to Keep Your Call Center Agents Productive While Working from Home
One of the greatest challenges to working from home is staying productive. Without set routines, daily practices, and resources at arms-length in our offices, even the best of us can drift out of the right headspace when working remotely.
But as you decide whether to bring your agents back, keep them at home, or adopt a hybrid work model, it’s crucial that you know how to keep your team engaged and productive – no matter where they’re working. You still have quotas to meet and KPIs to uphold as you navigate the new way of work.
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You want your at-home folks to have the same experience as your in-office agents. And you want both groups to be equally productive. So, how do you help your agents stay as productive working remotely as you do when you’re with them in the office every day?
Let’s walk through tips and resources you can share with your agents to help them be productive working from home.
1. Pay close attention to your team’s mental health
Maintaining mental health while working remotely is vital to staying productive. Many employees now sit at the brink of burnout after an arduous 18 months. Last year alone, the risk for employee burnout rose by 33%.
It can be easy for remote employees to think, “now I can stay in my PJs all day.” (And some days, this might be the key to productivity). Without a commute, it can get comfortable for you and your team to sleep in longer than you normally would, to skip breakfast and maybe even lunch, or to stress snack on Cool Ranch Doritos from bed all day. But this kind of response won’t help your team better serve customers.
Now, I’m not here to knock remote work or tell you that it will cause burnout. In fact, last year proved it works really well. Employees can stay productive. They can deliver results. And many of them feel more comfortable working from home (which will improve their results). All this means your employees now expect remote work as an option. And if they can’t get that kind of flexibility in your contact center, they can somewhere else.
As a leader though, you still have to keep an eye on your team to help them maintain the level of productivity we saw last year. Feelings of isolation and disconnection can creep in and take a toll on your agent’s health and their performance. So keeping mental health (and burnout) top-of-mind is step one to keeping your team productive working from home.
2. Encourage your agents to get started early
It can be tempting for employees to slack off at the beginning of the workday when they aren’t forced to commute to the office. That jump from laying in bed to the to-do list can be very jolting for those working the first shift. And, when your second-shifters have to ditch family to start taking interactions, it can feel impossible. But, encouraging your agents to get started on time, and prepare for the day early, will help them stay successful and better help customers.
When the snooze button rules the morning, it’s not long before your agents find themselves close to lunchtime, wondering why they’re still sluggish on customer calls. One way you can help your at-home agents start their day on time is to set a scheduled daily standup at the start of each shift.
How to hold your agents accountable:
Have all your agents, even those in the office, call into a video conference with their supervisors at the beginning of their shift. They can use the time to go over priorities for the day and to check in with their peers. This holds agents accountable at the start of their day and will keep your teams connected no matter where they’re working.
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3. Talk with agents about setting up a designated workspace
One of the strangest parts of working from home every day is the inability to separate the rest of your life from your work day. It’s hard for your team to plug into work and it’s even harder to end the workday when their computers are just sitting there, next to their bed or by their couch. Part of making it feel like your agents are really at work is to set aside an “office space” (that if possible, doesn’t include their bed).
When your agents work from home, it helps to still feel like they’re going to the office. Not to mention, it’s better for your customer experience, too. A while back, we surveyed customer experience experts on the top challenges of work from home call centers. One of the biggest challenges they all echoed was work from home infrastructure. They’ve seen everything from terrible internet speeds to dogs barking in the background of customer calls.
Here are the top 5 issues experts cited with remote workspaces:
- Poor call quality and screen delays
- Slow internet
- No privacy or dedicated working space
- Too many distractions
- Lots of background noise
To keep your agents productive at home, you have to help them remedy these challenges.
How to help your agents create the best at-home workspace:
Encourage your agents to structure their day around a spot in their house that holds their work-related responsibilities. Maybe it’s a dining room table or a desk set up in their guest room. I’ve even heard of people turning closets into mini offices. It’s important to have a place separated from distractions so they can “check-in” to the work mindset every day.
Have your agents create a home office in a place they can feel productive. Encourage them to reduce clutter, find a space that’s quiet, and set it up with good lighting. And, get your IT team and leaders on board with upgrading at-home equipment. Use surveys to see what’s dragging your agents down, so you can fix it for them (and for your customers).
4. Remind your agents to take breaks
We all worry about being unproductive when working from home. There’s pressure to be online, proving you’re getting stuff done at all times. But, think for a moment about the downtime your agents need to recharge.
We know your agents on the call center floor aren’t holding office olympics (hopefully) like in an episode of The Office. But, in any workplace with peers, chunks of the day are, on paper, unproductive. Your agents spend time in conversation with one another, building relationships, joking around, walking to get a snack or refill their water bottle at the cooler.
At home, your agents don’t have this kind of comradery. Sometimes, we hit walls when we’re alone all day working from home.This doesn’t mean your team isn’t productive.
They just miss out on the organic distractions and breaks that come with working in an office – many of which are healthy breaks from the stress of daily interactions. Your agents need this downtime to keep performance high.
“Communication with peers and leaders is a top challenge – The old was easy to turn and ask your peer or stand up and talk to your supervisor, even with a customer on the line. Now they are relying on different models of communication which don’t always offer the easiest dialog or quickest response.”
– Heather Bass of Netcomm Partners
How to help your agents find connection:
It’s important to let your agents take breaks when they need them. It can be easy to hit a mental wall when you’re stuck at home all day. It’s ok for your team members to get up and take a brief walk outside (fresh air is life-changing). And it’s okay for your team members to ask to work a split shift if they need to run to an appointment mid-afternoon. Some agents may need to hop offline to help their kid with schoolwork or help their partner with the dog.
Let your agents know it’s okay to ask for flexibility. And then, give them that flexibility. It encourages your agents to find balance, so they can be available and focused for your customers when they need to be.
We originally wrote this post on March 31, 2020, and we updated it for new insight on July 29, 2021.