Breaking the Myths behind Managing a Virtual Workforce
October 26, 2011
By TMCnet Special Guest
, VP Workforce Management, Alpine Access,
Analysts, media, and companies of all sizes agree the home-based, virtual model can deliver compelling cost savings benefits to businesses across most industries. According to a Forrester (News - Alert) Research survey on customer care outsourcing, 39 percent of respondents already have instituted some-type of home-based program and another 21 percent plan to roll one out in the near future (April 2009). Yet, there are still companies reluctant to embrace the at home model either as an in-house or outsourced solution. These companies are afraid they’ll lose control if all employees are not working from a single, centralized location (Forrester, April 2009).
Creating an effective virtual workforce is more complicated than simply sending employees home with a laptop and telephone line. On the other hand, with the right people, processes and technologies, it is possible to know more about the performance and behaviors of a work at-home agent than one sitting down the hall. Below are three common misperceptions about managing a virtual workforce and the true facts behind them.
Myth # 1: Mismatched Call Volumes and Staffing Levels are Just “Part of the Business.”Truth: While forecasting can be an inexact science, a virtual workforce can help compensate for unplanned volume patterns, thereby minimizing the corresponding Service Level impact.
Traditional brick-and-mortar (B&M) centers continue to struggle with maintaining appropriate levels of staffing because:
a. They are forced to schedule employees for long, continuous blocks of time.
b. They have little opportunity to make real-time adjustments when actual call volumes differ from forecasts.
In contrast, companies using a virtual workforce not only start with the ability to match staffing to the requirements due to scheduling flexibility, but they have the unique ability to adjust staffing levels in real-time, allowing them to achieve maximum efficiency. To do this, dedicated virtual workforce management teams begin with call volume forecasts based on client projections, historical trends and experiential data. Staffing requirements are then generated based on these forecasted call arrival patterns, and schedules are created in 15 minute increments using a blend of full time and part time employees. But it’s when actual call volumes deviate from the forecasts that companies experience the significant cost-saving benefits of a virtual workforce.
Sophisticated electronic systems identify and notify managers when call volumes are:
- Higher than anticipated, creating long hold times or
- Lower than anticipated, creating idle agent time.
When more staffing is needed, managers post a request in pre-established chat rooms or “waiting rooms.” Agents dedicated to that client who are available but not scheduled to work (often called ‘jumpers’) can immediately log-on and begin taking calls, allowing them to pick up additional hours and giving the program the needed manpower. Likewise, when too many agents are scheduled, managers can ask them to log off until they are needed. This almost instant ability to flex staffing 10-15 percent is only possible in a virtual workforce because employees aren’t dealing with commutes to an office, and are more willing to work in smaller shift segments.
Myth #2: Work-from-Home Agents Are Less Reliable. Truth: At-home staff, especially when hired as employees, exhibit less attrition and more dedication.
While it may be true that brick-and-mortar call centers experience above average attrition, the opposite often is found in the virtual equivalent. This is because most employees value the work/life balance and scheduling control afforded by at-home positions.
In a virtual call center, a blend of full time and part time shifts usually is available to give employees great options for work/life balance. From there, employees can select the shift that best aligns with their personal schedule. For example, a full time student may choose an 8-hour split shift so he or she can work before and after class, or a parent may select a late evening or early morning part time shift. In this way, virtual centers are able to blend an agent’s desire for flexibility with a client’s specific staffing needs.
Should a conflict arise that affects an agent’s ability to work the agreed upon schedule, technology solutions exist that allow agents to exchange schedules with each other or pick up additional hours. This process reduces absenteeism, while also helping agents avoid lost income.
Myth #3 – You Must See Employees to Know What They Are Doing.
FALSE: Technology provides comprehensive, real-time monitoring capabilities.
Think an employee must be sitting in the same room for managers to accurately monitor performance? Think again. Sophisticated virtual tools and technology systems provide a window into employee behavior, actions and activities unequalled in the B&M environment.
Using an operation control center (OCC), virtual centers link together systems in a way that replicates a physical call center, yet adds an additional layer of technology for quality and security. At Alpine Access, for example, the OCC monitors employee activity, using real time applications that continuously review and report on agents actual versus scheduled phone states. Even a manager at the next desk, can’t do that. Real-time monitoring also includes the ability for managers and clients to listen to calls undetected at anytime for insight into agent performance.
In conclusion, there are definite challenges to managing a virtual workforce, especially for companies trying to do it themselves. Without the proper resources, hiring, training and managing a virtual team can be time consuming and expensive. In those cases, it may make sense to partner with an experienced virtual call center provider. However, a fear of losing control over staffing or performance should never be a reason to avoid the at-home model. With the right people, processes and technology, a virtual workforce can reduce costs and increase service quality, all while giving managers and clients micro-level insight into team performance.
Alpine Access is the leading provider of employee-based virtual contact center solutions and services. Recently named the best contact center and CRM outsourcer for client satisfaction by Datamonitor’s Black Book of Outsourcing, Alpine Access’ clients include ten of the Fortune 100 companies in the financial services, communications, technology, healthcare, retail, travel and hospitality sectors.TMCnet publishes expert commentary on various telecommunications, IT, call center, CRM and other technology-related topics. Are you an expert in one of these fields, and interested in having your perspective published on a site that gets several million unique visitors each month? Get in touch.
Edited by Rich Steeves