After months of wide-spread lockdowns in response to the novel Coronavirus, many countries and companies are beginning to lift restrictions. 

As this process begins, it’s clear that many things will look different than before the pandemic. This is especially true for the workplace, where many people are expected to work from home indefinitely. In a call center environment where employees work in tight spaces using shared equipment, the need to facilitate a new normal will be especially noteworthy. 

Research into the implications for call center employees produced grim results, prompting Paul Stockford, research director for the National Association of Call Centers, to implore call centers to “get your agents home immediately.”

In response, up to 40% of staff are already working remotely. However, for this trend to continue indefinitely, companies will need to update their strategy to produce a sustainable work environment that accounts for the realities of a long-term remote work arrangement. 

For call center leaders, here’s where to start. 

#1 Make a plan for measuring productivity & wellness.   

It’s estimated that the average company allocates between 30-50% of its gross revenue to payroll, making employees the most significant investment for many organizations. 

Consequently, companies are concerned about their employees’ productivity while they work remotely. Without the ability to oversee the office, workers might be less engaged, leaders often fear. This concern inspired a surge in employee monitoring software to identify employee activity throughout the workday. This is a good start, but it’s just the beginning. 

The reality is complicated. Many employees are working more hours than ever, while understandably experiencing higher stress levels than before the pandemic. 

In a study on remote work and its impact on employees, PwC recommends companies “consider tools to help gauge employees’ needs and manage workloads.” Since stress costs companies billions each year, balancing productivity concerns with meaningful worker insights is a critical combination. To achieve both, consider: 

  • Communicating expectations with all stakeholders. 
  • Adopting a product-driven approach to productivity. 
  • Monitoring employee engagement while assessing for pain points, bottlenecks, and overwork. 

#2 Measure customer satisfaction. 

In most cases, call center productivity is predicated on customer satisfaction. When a struggling economy is pinching businesses, ensuring that your customers are well-supported could be the difference between survival and irrelevance. 

As a result, remote work can’t be an excuse for failing to account for customer experience.

Instead, monitor and assess customer interactions, which allows you to identify emerging concerns, communicate successful strategies, and eradicate holistic pain points. 

At the same time, ensure that your agents have the digital resources that they need. Everything from ticketing systems to document access needs to be provided and optimized for a hybrid workforce that includes on-site, remote, and distributed workers. 

#3 Account for cybersecurity. 

Regardless of industry, cybersecurity is a serious concern when managing remote workers, which is especially noteworthy in a post-COVID-19 environment. 

For instance, the number of phishing scams, malicious messages that coax employees to compromise company or customer data, have surged. What’s more, remote work creates and facilitates new insider threats, meaning call centers need to account for both as part of a holistic cybersecurity strategy. 

Across the board, bad actors and accidental insiders are creating incredible risk to sensitive data. In response, companies need to:

  • Create and communicate a data management policy that’s unique to remote workers. 
  • Train and equip employees to defend against cyber threats. 
  • Monitor data movement to prevent data exfiltration. 
  • Limit access to sensitive data as much as possible. 
  • Deploy remote-specific cybersecurity solutions. 

#4 Ensure regulatory compliance. 

From industry-specific compliance standards to emerging state and national privacy regulations, call centers need to account for compliance while adopting a long-term remote work strategy. 

Compliance requires regular agent training in best practices and compliance initiatives. In a report on compliance, the telemarketing firm Ameridial highlights the requirements to attain customer consent for recording, avoid “debt collection” tactics, and limit or eliminate information sharing. 

To support these efforts, it’s recommended that call centers track all agents with access to sensitive information, while also providing the necessary security features, like two-factor authentication and access to a VPN service, to ensure regulatory compliance. 

Closing Thought 

Keeping call centers active and engaged is a mission-critical component for any company right now. Increased and expanded opportunities for remote work are one way to do so safely and effectively. A COVID-19 on-site outbreak could have significant health ramifications for employees as well as meaningful productivity concerns for companies that rely on these services. 

To be successful, call centers need a plan to tackle the right priorities. Beginning with these priorities is a good start.