Home Working
Illustration by Wilson Joseph

Technology and employee demographic shifts are changing the way work gets done in America. Some of the most compelling evidence can be found within the home-working arena.

When we compare highly utilized telework business process and practices from five years ago—or even three years ago—to today, there is little that remains constant. The following are five critical (and constant) success factors to home working that deserve serious consideration for those organizations that are starting a program or moving to the next level of expansion.

1. Understand what’s possible.

Companies that are just now implementing their home-working programs have an advantage over more mature models. Newcomers have the good fortune of leveraging the latest in technology, and often quickly bring innovative business processes to market that are reflective of their employee and customer preferences, and are more efficient and lower cost. For example, in one-to-one coaching sessions, the responsibility shifts from the coach to the employee. In other words, the employee drives the process, starting with choosing the channel for the meeting and scheduling it (using presence), and leading the performance discussion with a shared view of calls and scorecards.

Organizations should regularly (at minimum, once or twice per annum) network with and benchmark against others within and beyond their business segment. Sending new team members for external education and exposure is also an effective conduit for collecting best practices, and broadens individual and corporate thinking.

2. Online community for employee collaboration and peer recognition.

Cultural connectivity in an office environment is unavoidable, simply through physical locale. To further it, organizations make concerted efforts to project their values and beliefs via face-to-face meetings, town halls, collaboration, recognition and reward, etc.

Home working is a duplicate of the above, except that face-to-face visual access will be more limited. Established, published, two-way virtual meetings—starting with tactical daily huddles and continuing through executive forums—should be consistently and frequently scheduled throughout the contact center as a baseline for establishing cultural connectivity.

Innovative organizations are creating new, highly effective forums for recognition and knowledge transfer in the form of an online virtual help desk—a community comprised of team members (with similar skills and content needs) who log in and share inquiries and knowledge during the course of their shift. Monitored by subject-matter experts, escalated issues are picked up quickly and also are shared with the group.

Peers share knowledge, acknowledge contributions and network with each other, creating a stronger community than the previous brick-and-mortar practice of one-to-one help.

3. Hire the right people.

Whether you hire new people for home-based positions or move in-house employees home, identifying the right fit is critical. Attributes specific to the home-working model include technical aptitude, problem-solving skills and experience working in an isolated environment.

How to assess? Partnering with an established assessment company is a best practice for getting it right. Look for one that has a home-working assessment tool. Extensive job simulation also is a must-have for external applicants who don’t have visibility or understanding of the role.

When moving in-house employees home, a best practice is to post the job with the distinctive competencies you have identified. Next, ask employees who are interested to assess themselves against the criteria. It can be extremely useful to develop a self-assessment tool for employees to self-qualify (or not) before HR begins their process.

4. Train and communicate effectively.

Customer Contact Strategies conducted two surveys around content and scope of communications and training. In both studies, 70% to 75% of organizations reported that employees were regularly time-constrained when it came to daily reading and training updates. So if employees can’t get through regular updates and training, are we surprised that Csat scores are less than what we expected?

Here’s the catch: Off-phone time for training is expensive. It’s shrinkage. It’s the valve that gets turned down first with business downticks.

Today’s technologies automate the delivery of all communications to contact center employees (email, bulletins, training, off-phone work) and organize the content based on business rules that are customized by work group. Integration with the ACD and WFM system improves shrinkage by aggregating small amounts of unproductive time across the network, and redistributing it. Cost of automation is nil against the improvement in productivity—one of the easiest business cases you will ever put together.

5. Prepare your support staff.

Coaching and training in the absence of a face-to-face presence is a requirement, and calls for different competencies. Verbal communication, inviting interactions, measuring engagement and understanding—all shift to alternate platforms in the virtual world.

Core competencies for your support staff include having a strong understanding of the technologies that frontline staff will utilize, along with honed skills in use of technologies that coaches and trainers will be using. Platform skills, operating in a paperless environment, strong multitasking skills also are required.

Many businesses skip this step and assume that support staff will somehow adapt without preparation, but that is a costly mistake. Investing the time on the front end in terms of business process mapping, competency requirements, skills inventory and professional development will drive staff confidence and satisfaction, while mitigating the risks of poorly executed training and support.

Join us at one of the two Advanced At Home Strategies Workshops in 2015 (July 22-23 in Denver, or November 11-12 in Laguna Beach), for deep-dive discussions and best-practice exchanges on home working.