COVID-19 has changed workplaces permanently, and the call centre is no exception. Across Asia, where the technology and security allowed, call centre employees were sent home to work remotely. When work-from-home hasn’t been possible there have been some devastating consequences, such as the virus spreading rapidly if a single employee becomes infected, such as the outbreak at a call centre in South Korea in March 2020.
At the same time many call centres have been under more pressure than ever before. Most sectors experienced a sharp surge in demand when the lockdowns hit. This was partially due to closure of physical stores and partially due to additional traffic seeking help. Zendesk saw an overall 20% increase in global tickets for the first three weeks of March 2020, with the highest spikes in support requests seen by remote work and learning companies (216%), airlines (199%) and grocery brands (39%).
This pandemic has forced companies to be agile with entire companies having to manage work remotely and be productive. Organisations that were previously reluctant to trial work-from-home had no choice: offices closed overnight, often before remote working technology could be set up, employees trained, and/or hardware provided. Staff and managers were forced into a sharp learning curve, unprecedented transitions in technology were made, and processes set up that would have previously taken years to roll out.
Despite being thrown in at the deep end, the experience of most organisations has been positive. A University of Otago study found that 66% of employees in New Zealand found it easy or somewhat easy to work remotely from home and that 73% of employees believe that they were equally or more productive working from home. In Australia, Citrix research found that 70% of workers reported that their productivity at home is the same or even higher than in the office.
Unsurprisingly, many workers hope to continue working part or full-time from home. In Australia, an Indeed survey found 80% of employees would likely stay longer with an employer who provides flexible working arrangements. Two in five employees are actively searching for a new job in companies with remote working policies. One in four people are willing to earn 5% less for significant work flexibility, according to McCrindle. And a Gartner CFO survey reveals that 74% of CFOs plan to permanently move some staff to work-from-home.
The future for call centres is moving more towards cloud which not only allows hybrid working environment with a mix of remote and office based workforce, also allows company to burst their call centres capacity easily. Cloud bases call centres also encourage companies to improve their overall customer service securely. Some companies might prefer to go back to the “old way” though this will never be exactly the same as before.
Higher hygiene standards
For physical call centres, hygiene policies will need to be far stricter, with a “low touch” approach. This includes less sharing of equipment and potentially more BYO devices. Employees will want certainty that any company devices and facilities they use are regularly cleaned and disinfected. Governments are providing advice on how office environments, including call centres, can reopen as lockdowns ease.
Better collaboration platforms
Call centres continuing with remote working will need to address some issues that have arisen, with 57% of companies struggling with remote employee management according to a Nemertes survey. Just over 15% said they lacked analytics to measure remote agent success. On the employee side, Asana identifies that 80% of Australian workers are missing in-person interaction with their colleagues on a daily basis. 31% believe that having opportunities to interact with colleagues is an important driver of productivity according to Citrix.
More training and technology
For employees, inadequate training and equipment have been pain points. A remote teams survey by Asana found that globally, over 50% of employees lack a dedicated desk, PC/laptop or reliable internet connection to smoothly work from home. High quality videoconferencing equipment, such as webcams and headsets, is needed. 71% of employees prefer to have the camera on during video conferencing meetings.
During the lockdown security has been the top concern for contact centres, according to Nemertes, with 64% citing problems. This comes amid a rise in COVID-related scams and cyber-attacks. Many devices used by remote employees, from laptops to the home router, present potential risk. Contact centres staff working from home should be required to use VPNs and have strong passwords to access company networks remotely.
One of the issues with the “new normal” is how fragile it may be. Already several places that started easing and reopening have had to return to lockdown again, such as Melbourne. Business will need to remain agile and prepared to flip back into remote working at a moment’s notice. Those that haven’t yet invested in the best technology for remote working still need to do so.