In March 2020, we closed the doors of our Poly contact centers around the globe and sent staff home to ensure everyone’s safety as shelter in place orders went out worldwide. The atmosphere was surreal. Our personnel didn’t know how long they were going home or when they would be able to physically see their colleagues again. All we knew was that we would continue to strive for ‘business as usual’ in providing best-in-class service to our customers and partners, despite doing our jobs remotely.
Everyone was confident that we would be able to seamlessly make the transition to working from home (WFH), as we already had a flexible working model in place. However, ‘flexible’ typically had meant only working from home a few days a week, and without a full house. Our previous experience didn’t account for partners or roommates all on video calls at once or children needing home schooling.
The additional impact and dynamics brought about by COVID-19 called for increased focus on three key areas in order to ensure the ongoing success of our contact centers. They boiled down to equipment, workspaces, and maintaining camaraderie.
THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
Poly’s contact center agents were in a good position to make to make the shift to full time remote working as we had already supplied the baseline essentials such as a laptop, keyboard and mouse. However, no WFH setup is complete without a high-quality headset and external camera. So naturally, we sent each agent home equipped with an EncorePro HW525 headset and Poly EagleEye Mini USB camera.
Thankfully, many of the intelligent features designed to block out distracting noises in the open office also work great in the home as well. Features such as our a noise-canceling technology which protects against background noise and SoundGuard which safeguards against hearing discomfort and listening fatigue have proven to be valuable to our agents while working remotely. The supplement of quality video is a simple addition that users can easily get up and running in seconds and makes a profound difference in the quality of video interactions. The Poly EagleEye Mini provides robust, high definition 1080p video with electronic pan, tilt, and 4x zoom – allowing those on the video call to feel more connected.
THE RIGHT WORKSPACE
Working from home full-time with the whole family under one roof creates a very different dynamic and new constraints. Now, multiple people may be needing a quiet place to work and there are additional demands on the Internet.
Although we can’t change the physical environment for our staff, we have found the use of virtual backgrounds to block out the personal space invaluable. As for how to divvy up bandwidth and gain access to the quiet part of the house, there’s not much we can do about that either. Here, we recommend staying in communication about when the home will need to be quiet and try coordinating as much as possible around Internet usage.
ESTABLISHING & MAINTAINING VIRTUAL TEAM SPIRIT
People are used to seeing each other in the office and socializing, holding ad hoc meetings, and having brainstorming sessions. We recognized that these needs had to be sustained at a minimum – if not increased while teams are 100% remote to keep people from feeling isolated or overwhelmed. We have worked hard to ensure that the team stays connected virtually through the use of video calls on a regular basis and making time for social interactions. Additionally, we created channels on Microsoft Teams focused on social activities such as virtual coffee breaks and water cooler moments.
PLANNING FOR WHAT’S NEXT IN THE CONTACT CENTER
Now we are looking at the next phase and planning for people to return to the office. This has given me the opportunity to consider what we’ve learned from this experience and what our business model should be moving forward. It’s provided me the chance to stop, think, and talk to the team about how we can best operate and provide the best service to our customers.
My goal is to orientate our staff to the most efficient working configuration based on workforce needs. For the business, introducing a hybrid working model provides the opportunity of expanding talent acquisition with a more dispersed workforce. This creates opportunities for people who hadn’t previously considered working in a contact center due to physical restrictions. Additionally, we’re able to increase our number of agents with native language skills and improve our customer service.
So, what is next? The way I see it, virtual training is key. The on-boarding of new agents, readapting our existing agents to a hybrid working model, as well as creating and sustaining remote teams are all ongoing requirements. To do this, managers will need to hone skills focused on objective outcomes. These will support the model and opportunities for existing personnel to virtually mentor and further develop both themselves and others. The key thing to remember is that physical distance no longer matters, and as new HR and company policies are developed to support such a model, contact centers will flourish. And at Poly, we have the proven technology and systems, people process, and technology in place for this to be a reality.
VIDEO’S ESSENTIAL ROLE IN DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
All of this is achievable with the use of video – and, not simply as means of sustaining the business, but as a medium for enhancing it. There is greater accessibility to people through video than physically. I can meet with all of my teams in one day, everyday while the flow of business continues.
This is just the beginning of a new way of working, and not only in contact centers. For now, video is our great enabler. And, once we are back in the office, people will have become more comfortable with video calls and see the great convenience they afford. I see this bleeding into all areas of interaction and video will be the key for our customer interactions in the future. In Poly contact centers, we use video conferencing internally all the time – it’s second nature to us. Over the last few months we’ve had more video interactions directly with customers helping them resolve technical issues and showing them how to set up their equipment. In fact, I’m proud to report that our Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) has improved during the lockdown period.
I believe that flexibility will be central to the success for contact centers moving forward with blended working being the working model of choice. Companies that offer this will benefit from a more diverse and widespread workforce and agents will benefit from this positive working environment. Furthermore, contact centers will be more resilient with this robust, flexible working model in times of emergency – reducing risk and exposure and being well positioned to provide uninterrupted support to customers. A blended workforce in the contact center provides the flexibility to be successful.