Get Used To It
By Colin Taylor
We won’t go back to the “before times.” It is a simple as that. Wanting the world to be as you think it should be, rather than as it is, is the textbook definition of neurotic. So buckle up and get ready for the new world.
“Hybrid work” is a new and fancy term being thrown around by pundits on cable news and in the press. Hybrid work is often defined as an environment where the staff works a mix of remote and in-office. If this looks a lot like virtual agents in the contact center space, that is because it is. The pandemic forced virtually every organization to a remote employee model and many found benefits here: increased productivity, improved attendance, improved work/life balance for employees, reduced time spent commuting, etc. But, as time passed, many saw negatives that offset some of the positives; notably isolation, especially in those who are single and/or live alone. Perhaps the increase in productivity was due in part to the elimination of typical, casual in-office communications: acknowledgments in the hallway, chats at the water-cooler, kibitzing with your neighbor. The absence of all of these increases the sense of distance and isolation from co-workers.
This distance and isolation can also increase apprehension and a reduction in employee engagement as the support systems that the agents were used to in the office are now largely absent in the work-from-home environment. The agent can no longer lean over to their neighbor and ask about a shortcut key, if the price promotion is still on, and if the new process for refunds was on the shared drive. In place of this quick and informal assistance, there is now a group chat. In the office, you would determine fairly quickly if your neighbor on the right’s guidance could be trusted or if you should seek assistance from the neighbor on your left. It is a longer and more time-consuming process to manually vet responses in the group chat, as typically you will find both correct and incorrect and/or incomplete guidance posted there.
Both in the office and WFH the agent has other options for securing assistance: they could call or message the escalation desk, message their Team Leader or Supervisor, raise their arm, turn on a light, place the caller on hold, and walk over to ask their Team Leader of Supervisor. Some of these options do exist in WFH; we can still message folks (Supervisors, Team Leaders, the escalation team, etc.) for help beyond the group chat, but this is often the last resort as no one wants to appear too needy, poorly-trained or ill-informed.
The lack of or feeling a lack of support can reduce confidence and engagement and increase feelings of isolation and apprehension. All of these feelings can lead to turnover and attrition.
Culture also has taken a knock during the pandemic. Every organization has a culture whether they actively promote or try to influence it or not. It was much easier to promote and support the desired culture within the office with signs, banners, contests, and in meetings and conversations. All of this become much more difficult in a WFH environment.
The speed with which organizations pivoted from in the office to WFH was quite amazing. Many organizations sent agents home one day and they were working remotely the next. There were technical issues and hurdles with internet bandwidth, VPNs, connectivity, and systems access, but these technology factors were typically sorted out within days.
The human factors cited above were not evident as early or as transparently as the technical issues. Instead, they grew and manifested over time.
Today, many centers are reporting increased absenteeism, an erosion of culture, and increased levels of isolation and lack of engagement which is driving up absenteeism, attrition and turnover with staff working from home.
The pandemic began more than 18 months ago, but many centers are just now recognizing the above-cited challenges and are now moving to try to address these. The corrective actions we at Taylor Reach have seen and/or assisted with include revising workflows and processes to recognize the nature and limitations of WFH, developing WFH policies, providing training for agents on WFH and for Supervisors to lead WFH agents, meditation and headspace apps, regular check-ins with agents each day, video calls with cameras to improve connectedness, remote lunch and learns, virtual watercoolers, and happy hours.
Working from home and hybrid work is likely to be the new normal, so we had better get used to the idea. Beyond getting comfortable with the concept we need to re-cast how we work, how we lead, and how we communicate and collaborate to reflect the ”new work.” In a nutshell, this means that we need to revise our business processes and practices to better support staff working independently and remotely while also providing support to our staff in dealing with isolation, disconnection, loneliness, and feelings of not being a part of a team.
If you would like to hear more about how Taylor Reach has assisted other organizations or how we could assist yours, please contact us.
If you have a great story to share about how you overcame these issues and challenges we would love to hear about it.
Follow Taylor Reach and Colin Taylor on Twitter at @Taylor_Reach and @colinsataylor.
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