More contact center agents than ever are working from home (WFH) right now. And they’re facing more than their fair share of WFH challenges—including sharing home office space with other family members and splitting their focus during work hours between job duties, childcare needs and distance learning demands.
The result? Fractured attention spans, rising exhaustion, and downward-spiraling employee engagement and satisfaction.
According to Brian Kropp, chief of research for the Gartner HR practice, “Most organizations have focused on scenario planning and necessary operational responses to ensure business continuity. However, these plans often do not address, nor impact, employees’ ability to focus on their work.”
Continues Kropp, “The significant impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on employees’ personal and work lives is leading to employee anxiety, frustration and burnout. When left unattended, these feelings can affect employees’ productivity and engagement, leading to poor work quality, errors and eventually influencing an organization’s ability to survive in these difficult times.”1
Yet happy and engaged contact center agents are exactly what your customer experience (CX) so desperately needs, now more than ever.
Here’s how you can help.
According to Thrive Global’s Director of Research, Insights and Measurement Matthew T. Riccio, MA, Ph.D., “Twenty-eight percent of employees report needing, but not currently having, support from their employer around how to manage their current workload.”2
But workload management is a critical tactic for preventing burnout and low morale among contact center agents—especially for those agents rushed into WFH situations due to COVID-19. And clarity is key.
“We are all making decisions incredibly quickly in order to adjust to this new reality,” say Stewart Friedman and Alyssa Westring in a Mar. 18, 2020 World Economic Forum article. “To do so, we rely on our assumptions about what others want and need from us. And we probably haven’t fully communicated what we want and need from them. Given that we’ve never found ourselves in this situation before, it’s quite possible that many of these assumptions are misguided. … So now is the time for clarification.”3
So re-evaluate which contact center projects you can pause for a few months—and which ones you can cancel completely—in order to lighten your agents’ workloads. Then re-prioritize and set new (and reasonable) deadlines for those projects that remain, taking into account the unusual circumstances in which so many agents find themselves working.
It’s important for contact center managers to continually monitor and quickly address problems with agent engagement or morale, and engage their agents in two-way dialogue that seeks to understand.
Gartner’s Kropp says, “Managers need to recognize signs of distress among their people, both directly through conversations and indirectly through observation. … HR should provide managers with guidance on how best to broach sensitive subjects arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, including alternative work models, job security and prospects, impact to staffing, and tension in the workplace.”4
Kropp continues, “Two-way communication with managers and peers provides employees with the information and perspective they need, while allowing them to express and process negative emotions and improve their feelings of control.”5
So be proactive—initiate and encourage ongoing, two-way dialogue to find out how agents are doing day-to-day, and seek to understand how they really feel.
Customer experience author and advisor Adrian Swinscoe suggests paying “particular attention to how you can support your staff after they have taken and dealt with difficult calls and complaints. If you don’t do this well, it will cause problems down the line.”6
Also look for ways to combat agent stress by fostering peer communication and sharing. “[Calabrio] created a working from home best practices channel where those more seasoned at remote working could offer advice to employees new to the arrangement and reassure them that they are not alone,” explains Calabrio CEO Tom Goodmanson in a recent blog.
Thrive Global’s Riccio says failing to establish boundaries between work and personal life—especially right now—can “lead to work-family conflicts, cognitive and emotional irritation, feelings of increased pressure and stress, burnout, and more.”7
That’s why it’s important to encourage your agents to quickly and easily set clear boundaries between their work lives and personal time, and adjust their schedules to fit their own specific needs.
Technology like Calabrio Teleopti WFM can help your agents enjoy this kind of increased scheduling flexibility while continuing to meet the needs of your customers.
For instance, with Calabrio, agents can adjust the timing and length of their breaks or lunches as needed, on a day-to-day basis, through the mobile app. They also can easily change their schedule by requesting time off—or overtime—that’s automatically incorporated into the contact center schedule as long as it meets the guidelines the manager sets beforehand.
None of us ever have faced a situation like the one in which we’re living and working right now. We’re going to make mistakes. And we’re also going to figure out new ways to do things.
It’s up to you, as a leader, to set the tone for your contact center. Will you embrace this time of uncertainty? And will you be kind to agents—and yourself—when things inevitably don’t go as planned?
Laurie Ruettimann, a Raleigh-based author and human-resources consultant, suggests, “offering coworkers ‘grace and the space to make mistakes’ as everyone learns to cope with the new normal.”8
As she told MarketWatch “If we start to accept that in the next 30 to 60 to 90 days we’re in a transition period, and the rules are out the window, I think we’ll calm down and feel better about all the mistakes we’re about to make. We’re going to miss out on important things, the chain of command is going to be disrupted, and we have to be OK with it.”9
And, as authors and management professors Friedman and Westring suggest, “let go of the idea of finding the ‘right’ solution for managing this crisis. Expect that you’ll need to be required to innovate, test and iterate over and over throughout the next few weeks.”10
For more insights on remote work management, visit our Complete Guide to Managing a Remote Workforce.
2,7 Thrive Global, “The Biggest Challenges Facing Work-From-Home Employees During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” April 14, 2020.
3,10 World Economic Forum, “Coronavirus: 5 Ways to Work from Home with Your Kids (and Stay Sane).” March 18, 2020.
6 Forbes, “Customer Service and Support Teams are in for a Long Sprint.” March 27, 2020.
8,9 MarketWatch, “Should you turn on your video during a Zoom call or take Slack breaks? How to keep your sanity while working from home.” March 20, 2020.