Call Center Scheduling Feature Article
January 28, 2009
Report: Home Agents Add Flexibility, Productivity, But What About Security?
By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor
Home agents are increasingly being seen by contact centers as a valuable asset, thanks to their increased flexibility and productivity, however concerns still linger regarding remote management, and security.
A new study by ContactBabel
and sponsored by CosmoCom
, "The U.S. Contact Center Operational Review (2nd edition)," reveals that over 71 percent of firms surveyed say that teleworking or ‘homeworking’ adds flexibility and would enable them to be open longer hours. Forty percent disagreed with the negative proposition that home agents would not be as productive as agents based in a central location. Some 21 percent of respondents used some home working.
Yet 61 percent believe that managing home workers effectively would be difficult. Agree and disagree respondents were evenly split whether the risks around home agents i.e. mainly that they would not work unless they had in-person managers would be too high to allow.
“Respondents’ view on the future of homeworking are far more positive than they have been in the past, perhaps as a result of there being some definite successes experienced from businesses which have started using it,” reports the paper.
On the plus side the most attractive advantage of homeworking, flexibility is according to the study is the main advantage of home working, in that travel-to-work time is eliminated, and agents can be requested to log-on for an hour or so to handle spikes. In contrast a typical contact center had to deal with these calls or overflow them to outsourcers, which can be expensive. Also many contact center agents rely on mass transit which may not run well outside core hours, and some are put off by having to wait around and travel in the dark.
“Homeworking also opens the door to the sorts of people might never seek employment in a typical contact center - as the industry does not have a good reputation as a whole - but who would happily work in their own home taking calls,” adds the paper.
A strong minority: 35 of respondents do not expect home workers to be as productive as centralized staff, perhaps as they are not in such a high pressure environment, with supervisors encouraging them, peer pressure and wallboards telling them the state of play.
“To some extent, it depends on the definition of ‘productive’: if it is a matter of call volumes, then not having these cues to hurry up may well have an effect,” said the paper. “However, here is no reason to expect that quality will suffer, probably quite the opposite. The home working model is particularly suitable to moving agents between queues rapidly, which will improve the productivity of the entire operation.”
The ContactBabel/CosmoCom (News
) paper says that concern that homeworkers cannot be managed effectively from a remote location has always been a fundamental objection to this way of working. Isolation can be a problem for both agent and management, and not all roles or agents are suitable for homeworking.
At the same time it is generally considered that new mothers returning to work part-time, or older people who wish to reduce their working hours but who are not yet ready to retire completely are particularly suitable to be considered for homeworking roles, which require experience and maturity in the agent.
“With real-time adherence and call management systems in place, there is no real reason that a virtual contact center made up of home workers is more difficult to manage than a ‘typical’ operation, although the role of the team-leader (being someone to help actively) will have to be re-addressed,” reports the study.
Most of the risks around homeworking are connected with the fear that agents will stop working if the management ‘stops breathing down their necks.’ Yet there are also security issues that have to be managed.
“Real-time monitoring can address the former issue, but it has to be said that only some types of contact center agents, probably the more mature and experienced - would work effectively by themselves,” reports the paper.
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Michelle Robart
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