The Ups and (Potential) Downs of Virtual Working
October 10, 2012
By Robbie Pleasant
, TMCnet Contributor
I’ve often mentioned how working remotely can be beneficial to employees by providing them with more flexibility, improved productivity, and savings on gas and travel time; however, there are some factors that need to be taken into account in order to make your virtual call center worker and environment the best that it can be.
Virtual call centers are being heavily implemented across a variety of businesses today, and the proof is in the statistics. As of 2009, 34 million Americans worked at home at least on occasion – and that was with broadband only available to 56 percent of U.S. homes. As we go full speed ahead, the U.S. is predicted to host about 63 million American virtual workers – nearly doubling in effect.
For starters, there’s the obvious saved space; less workers in the office means more room for everyone else. There’s no need for rows upon rows of desks lined up with employees filling them, as everyone is remaining just as productive, merely in a different location.
For seasonal work or other jobs that aren’t full-time, it also provides access to a wider range of employees. If one can work from home for the “Thanksgiving hotline,” (yes, this is a real thing), then the experts in their respective fields (whether it’s cooking turkey or mashed potatoes) can be brought onboard without having to leave the comfort of their homes. They’ll ultimately enjoy a better schedule flexibility, which means they can work at times that work best for them and their customers.
Of course, all the employee benefits mentioned here can translate into employer benefits as well. Less travel expenses means less to reimburse – not to mention that happy, productive employees tend to do more and better work. Customers will also benefit from being able to reach representatives from any place at any time, which also helps the business and leaves plenty of room for customer satisfaction to skyrocket.
Looking at call centers, for example, we’ve seen companies like 8x8 (News - Alert) focusing on virtual call center software – such as the 8x8 Virtual Office – which allows customers to contact representatives from their homes and over the Web with outstandingly affordable and advanced business phone service over a user’s Internet connection.
This kind of robust software proves beneficial for both employees and customers alike, who no longer have to find a mutual meeting place, but rather just a time they’re both comfortable with. Tax prep company H&R Block also provides a “Block Live” service for reaching professionals, overcoming many of their logistical and cost problems. Companies everywhere increasingly understand that the virtual working trend is booming right now – and capitalizing on it quick.
This Businessweek article from earlier this year strongly suggests ditching the suit and cubicle and going remote. Apparently, despite rumors about remote workers complicating business affairs, “a highly distributed workplace has too many potential advantages to dismiss.”
Not only can a business embracing remote works gain a competitive edge in recruiting, as it broadens the entire scope of potential employees, but it also accommodates lifestyle concerns and uncontrollable aspects in one’s life which normally are impossible to take into account during the hiring process. Furthermore, Businessweek proposes that businesses can save up to $8000 a year for each employee who telecommutes. “Office costs drop with fewer people on-site, while salaries may be lower for employees in the hinterlands,” they say. “Moreover, many employees focus better and product more without the distractions of an office.”
However, we can’t say that there aren’t at least some drawbacks to a virtual work environment. The technology is unfortunately not perfected yet, so a video conference can be ruined by a bad connection or an untimely power outage. Hiring managers must also seriously take into consideration the extreme importance of hiring the right professional for the virtual job. Some individuals may claim they work better alone while at home, but it can oftentimes be too distracting or tempting of an environment for those who simply aren’t built for the responsibility.
In other words, make sure you don’t hire hastily. These “downsides” can be easily perceived as mere challenges in the process of making critical decisions, and without challenges, a company would not remain a healthy competitor in the industry.
As such, it’s up to each company to measure the benefits and downsides of virtual workers, as well as determine the policies that work best for them.
Edited by Allison Boccamazzo