Work from home is the most effective form of workplace social distancing, as advised by governments and public health organizations. However, a snap poll conducted during a recent Gartner cohort of over 50 service and support leaders showed that only 15% have been able to move 100% of their staff to working from home. That still leaves a lot of employees on site. The reason why many service organizations cannot transition to work from home for all staff is because of the infrastructure constraints, the physical nature of work itself or union contracts for example.
For those agents that remain on-site, service leaders must institutionalize social distancing to minimize the impact of illness on employees and business operations, in addition to providing government recommended provisions such as masks, sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Gartner recommends service leaders to implement the following measures to help on-site employees practice social distancing on a day-to-day basis:
- Implement a no visitor policy in the office. Allow only authorized employees into the office during this time. Any deliveries, such as food, need to be restricted to the entrance of the facility.
- Greet without physical contact. Encourage employees to avoid handshake and hugs and instead use waving, bowing, head nodding as gestures to interact with colleagues.
- Increase awareness around the six-feet rule. Encourage employees to maintain six feet or two meters (two- to three-arm’s length) distance from colleagues and office staff when possible. Help employees do this by marking six-foot distances with tape in areas where you anticipate congregation or queues such as reception, elevators and break-out areas.
- Flexible work hours or rotational shifts. Allow flexible work hours and rotate employee shifts on a weekly basis so that fewer employees are on location at any given time.
- Staggered shifts. Implement staggered shifts if the work demands a certain number of agents to be present on-site for handling complex customer issues or for other critical tasks to be completed. Allot alternate desks to agents in the staggered shifts to create time between shifts to thoroughly sanitize the workstations.
- Insert partitions to raise cubicle wall heights. If there are low or no cubicle walls, insert dividers to create a higher physical barrier between agents to reduce the spread of infectious droplets due to a sneeze or cough.
- Revisit and revise seating arrangements. Ensure your seating arrangement is such that agents are not sitting very close to one-another. If you have close or congested open workplaces, allow agents to use alternate desks and implement rotational remote work.
- Pooling tasks. If multiple roles perform similar tasks that must be performed on-site, consider pooling those tasks on rotation so some employees can work remotely while one person takes on-site responsibility. Combine pooling with flexible hours to further increase social distancing and reduce the risk of an employee falling ill.
- Virtual meetings. Ensure that employees can shift in-person meetings to virtual meetings or emails whenever possible. You may need to provide them with laptops or other devices, but also provide support on their virtual set-up and online collaboration tools so they get comfortable using the systems and software.
Social distancing might impact an organization’s culture and its employees’ productivity and engagement. To help minimize the impact, service leaders need to take preemptive steps by developing an effective employee communication plan and enabling managers to handle employees’ emotional needs and responses.
To ensure minimal impact to agents’ productivity and engagement caused by continued uncertainty and disruption, managers and supervisors should:
- Recognize signs of distress both directly (through conversations) and indirectly (through observation).
- Engage agents in a two-way dialogue to build understanding of organizational decisions and its implications and always be accessible on collaboration channels.
- Focus on objectives to create clarity amid uncertainty and disruption.
- Model the right behaviors to reduce the likelihood of misconduct.
- Tailor recognition to acknowledge agents’ efforts under challenging circumstances.
- Encourage innovation to drive engagement.
To further reduce and slow down the virus transmission and minimize its impact on employees and business operations, Gartner recommends that service leaders collaborate with senior leadership to implement social distancing measures, and help employees adopt these measures and get the necessary support to tackle their emotional response.