Contact centers are increasingly using remote agents for staffing means. International Data Corporation (IDC) reported more than 300,000 home-based agents working in the United States as of last year, compared to 112,000 in 2007. While using work-at-home agents has the potential to produce many benefits including better recruiting, increased employee retention, better attendance, increased employee satisfaction and increased agent productivity, the proper implementation and management of virtual staff is essential in making it an effective approach.
In a recent blog post on Intradiem's website, call center expert Greg Levin offered contact centers four ways to ensure success using remote employees.
The first thing that Levin advises contact centers to do is not skimp on the home agent selection process. This means that managers shouldn't base virtual hiring decisions solely on seniority but on other factors as well, such as the candidate’s proven ability to work independently, whether or not they possess strong time-management skills, if they are highly self-motivated and they are able to meet or exceed key performance objectives.
In line with the recruitment process, contact centers should also consider the home environment of each candidate since a potential agent may meet all the requirements to be a successful employee but their home location isn't ideal to handle business.
The second initiative that Levin proposes is developing a formal home agent work agreement that outlines the requirements, policies and procedures that home agents must follow. This will not only help agents know how to thrive in a virtual workplace but it will also protect contact centers from any legal issues that might come up.
The third key in obtaining success with home-based agents is frequent communication. Levin explains that while email is great, contact centers should opt for chat/IM and video since it provides for a real-time and connected interaction with its employees.
"The best virtual contact centers use chat/IM and video substantially for: training and coaching (as well as for real-time support during customer interactions); providing work-related news/updates; fostering camaraderie and connectedness; and making sure agents haven’t paid their neighbor to fill in for them while they nap," Levin wrote in the blog.
The fourth thing that Levin suggests contact centers should do is provide home agents with rewards and recognition if the agents' performance is deemed to warrant it.
"Too many contact centers overlook remote staff when it comes to rewards & recognition initiatives, feeling that the opportunity to work from home is reward enough," Levin wrote. "If you want to keep home agents fully engaged and achieving peak performance, be sure to include them in all the incentives, contests, career path opportunities, and recognition efforts that are carried out onsite."
Additionally, virtual agents should be invited to participate in onsite team-building exercises, celebrations and offsite social activities.