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Agent wellbeing: Flexibility is about more than where an agent works

The pandemic made workplace flexibility a key strategy for leaders looking to preserve — even strengthen — customer satisfaction and contact center operations during a time of great upheaval. Agents benefited, too, with most enjoying the freedom and improved work-life balance remote work provided them. They enjoyed it so much, in fact, that organizations now face what’s termed “The Great Resignation” if leaders try to force agents to return to working within centralized, physical contact centers.

To make matters more complex, workplace flexibility now is about much more than simply where an agent works. After all, the option to work remotely is a given now — it’s table stakes.

Today, workplace flexibility also means being flexible about how agents work and when they work. It’s the only way to retain the employees you have — and attract the ones you need.

Here’s how to go about it.

  1. Implement a cloud-based contact center technology infrastructure (if you haven’t already).
    First, move contact center operations to the cloud. The benefits from this move are two-fold:

    1. Your agents will feel more supported and be able to access the tools they need to do their jobs from anywhere, at any time
    2. Your contact center managers will have the autonomy to effectively manage agents they no longer see in person. Using cloud-based tools like screen recording, desktop analytics, speech analytics and call recording, managers will be empowered to coach and support remote agents who might work unusual schedules.
  2. Incorporate the concept of flexibility as a new, required management style.
    Your entire management team needs to wholeheartedly embrace flexibility. That might be easier for younger managers who may already prioritize employee wellbeing and actively advocate for workplace flexibility. But these managers probably don’t comprise all — or even a majority — of your entire management team. You’ll need to lead by example and guide the rest to step out of their comfort zones, constantly rethinking what flexibility means to your agents. You’ll need to empower managers, for instance, to constantly ask questions like, “Are we accommodating our employees?” and “Are we giving our agents the benefit of the doubt when it comes to problematic scenarios — i.e., does it make more sense in this scenario to fire the customer instead of the agent?”
  3. Make agent schedules even more flexible.
    When you ask agents what their favorite schedule looks like, the answers vary widely according to each agent’s lifestyle, family dynamic and other personal factors. Fortunately, aside from labor laws, there aren’t any rules regarding what you can and cannot do when it comes to contact center scheduling. So let them select their own schedules, swap shifts, schedule their own breaks, have flexible start times, sign up for overtime, sign off early or take voluntary time off. Let them sign up for split shifts — an idea gaining popularity during the pandemic — or even micro-shifts, where agents choose to work in 30-minute increments. And let them do all of it online in a very easy, intuitive, self-service manner.
  4. Schedule mandatory respite time.
    Contact center employees face more pressure than ever right now, with tired agents serving tired consumers. Agent attrition is surging. And the contact center talent pool is dwindling. That’s why scheduling mandatory respite time for agents is critical.
  5. Make break profiles more holistic.
    In the past, a coffee break in the office was the traditional way an agent spent time away from the phone. But in today’s new, work-from-home model, a break could represent time spent exercising, caring for children, or even meditating.
  6. Use channel shift to support flexible scheduling.
    When you do face a shortage of contact center staff for any given shift, temporarily shift your customer service to one or more other communications channels (chat, email, SMS, etc.) to bridge the gap.

Find out more about improving agent well-being and retention — read our new report, “Health of the Contact Center 2021: Agent Wellbeing & the Great Resignation.

Dave Hoekstra has spent his entire professional career in customer service, but it wasn’t until he found WFM that he found his true passion. With over 20 years in WFM, Dave has gained insight into the real world challenges of working in today’s customer service. He is one of the few people who truly gets excited when someone wants to talk about Real Time Adherence or Net Staffing reports.
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