Many contact centers have embraced a work-at-home model for a variety of reasons. A work-at-home program is developed to either primarily benefit the employee, or the company, and the choice will affect engagement strategies. A program benefiting the employee will have a work-at-home designation used as a reward, for example by hitting goals on key metrics for a six month period. The company will promote such a program as a reward, and use words such as responsibility and empowerment. The employee will feel a sense of joint ownership of the program and its objectives, and hence will experience a higher level of engagement. This is very positive at face value. However, the leadership team must consider the potential unintended consequences and be prepared to deal with them appropriately. One major consequence is that what remains on site in the contact center is the lower performing, actively disengaged staff. Supervision and coaching or counseling is therefore directed at what management can see, and too much organizational resource is spent on the least desirable employees. The leadership team must recognize this possibility when designing a program and be prepared to address the potential. One way of doing so is to have the work-at-home employee spend a period of time in the contact center on a monthly or quarterly basis, perhaps a week every month or every other month. Another tactic is to explicitly provide scheduled, over-the-phone coaching time for the employee and supervisor.
A program primarily benefiting the contact center usually falls under the overcrowding or facilities overhead savings. The employee is sent home to work not as a reward, but as a necessity. The obvious consequence here is that if your center is currently in the 1.83:1 category and employees are sent to work from home at random out of necessity, you will have 30% of your workforce, out of the sight of supervision, that is actively disengaged. Being out of sight allows your actively disengaged to exhibit much of the actively-disengaging behavior virtually unrestricted unless leadership is actively paying attention, though even the definition of “actively paying attention” is difficult to elucidate. Supervisors will have little or no control over what actively disengaged employees are doing at home, posting negative comments on external social media sites, instant-messaging using external tools with other like-minded actively disengaged employees, and participating in other potentially negative behaviors to push their disengaged agenda. A recommendation I would likely make to a contact center leader that is currently in this state, and simply does not have the facilities to have all staff onsite would be one of two alternatives; either only have engaged employees work at home, or find an outsource provider.
Regardless of the primary driver behind the work-at-home program, the considerations and recommendations in the previous section are all valid. Work-at-home employees still need to feel valued, still need to know their voice is heard, and still need to have the right tools and knowledge for the job. Communications channels will need to be augmented so as to be inclusive of work-at-home employees. They need to participate in department meetings, area meetings, need to participate in the innovation program, need to be at roundtables either on the phone or when they are on the periodic back-in-the-office week. They need to have their coaching, mentoring, and career discussions. To net, work-at-home employees need to be managed and receive communications as if they were onsite.