Contact center labor markets are tight. Employees are re-imagining and re-engineering their lifestyles, their perspectives, and their prospects for shaping their careers. It’s a pretty exciting time for them.
In turn, many employers have responded with much-needed pay adjustments and more flexible work arrangements: including hybrid work and full-time work-from-home (WFH).
And while sourcing applicants seems to be improving, it’s still really challenging, based on the many leaders I interact with on a pretty regular basis. In my view, some companies are making it harder on themselves than it needs to be, because they’ve not really embraced flexibility—fully.
Flexibility (now) means offering part-time schedules, split shifts, micro-shifts, and seasonal schedules (e.g., three months on, three months off), in addition to regular fixed and full-time schedules. Flexibility means empowering employees to build some or all of their work schedules from available blocks of time (still produced from workforce management (WFM) forecasts and requirements).
Finally, flexibility means ditching the antiquated “shift bidding” process and replacing it with open shift building tools that employees are invited to put together themselves, either for part or all of their regular work schedules. But implementing this form of flexibility requires rethinking how requirements are produced and relinquishing some of the control over approval.
However, by automating it and making it clear and accessible on the front end versus requiring “approvals,” you are empowering employees, as opposed to restricting or disappointing them. Not everyone gets the entire schedule they may have wanted, but you will satisfy many more with self-scheduling than you do with “shift approval” or bidding.
Tapping Mobility-Challenged Individuals
Even so, some companies I’ve talked to about implementing more schedule flexibility respond with “we surveyed our current employees and we don’t have anyone really interested in split shifts.”
And that may be very true. For your current employee base.
But when you go to market to hire new employees in this post-COVID-19 pandemic period, you will likely find that there are many highly skilled workers who are interested in greater schedule flexibility: including people with disabilities and mobility issues. They would jump at the chance to work split shifts.
What’s in it for you? Increased applicant flow and loyal employees.
Pre-pandemic, many people with disabilities found meaningful work in contact centers. But not enough. There were still too many people with mobility issues who found it extremely challenging or impossible to regularly commute to an office. So, when only on-site positions were being offered, there were many talented people who unfortunately were left out of the labor market.
This is a large labor pool. To provide you with some idea, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that just under 30% of the population of individuals with disabilities between 16 and 64, the prime working ages, were employed in 2020. In contrast, 70% of the population of those without a disability and who were in that same age bracket had employment.
However, 23 months into the pandemic, things have changed for people with disabilities. Most contact center organizations have realized the value and the benefits of offering permanent full-time and part-time home-based positions.
Organizations learned that productivity and attendance with home-based staff was just as positive (if not better) than on-site performance, and employee satisfaction was higher. Companies also learned with WFH that split shifts, micro-shifts, and on-demand last minute schedule pickups were desired by many who work from home, while delivering great staffing efficiencies to their businesses.
So, here’s one of the few silver linings of the pandemic: explosive growth of remote work in tandem with flexibility: a win-win for disabled people with mobility issues.
The doors have swung open for permanent part-time WFH positions. Innovative companies are leveraging these talent pools, while crafting new work schedules that work really well for businesses and which cater to this largely untapped labor segment.
How to Get Moving
If your company is still struggling to define and energize workplace flexibility, or is ineffective at hiring people with disabilities for your home-based positions, here are some tips to get you going in the right direction.
1. Create new shifts during your need times that are two-three hours in duration, three to five days per week. Break some of your existing shifts up, take a fresh look at your peaks and valleys during the day, and produce some fresh blocks.
2. Offer more part-time positions and shifts. Not for your existing employees, necessarily (they weren’t hired for that and probably won’t be interested), but for the new talent pools you want to attract. Identify how more part-time people can positively impact your business.
3. Think about part-time leadership roles and test them as your part-time employee base expands.
4. Prominently display the fact that you are now hiring for permanent WFH positions, whether they be full-time or part-time. Your applicant flow (compared to hiring for in-office positions that are temporarily home-based) should immediately increase.
5. Contact NTI (National Telecommuting Institute), Kate Brouse, [email protected]. They specialize in hiring and training people with disabilities for customer service positions.
6. Reach out to the local health and human services government in the markets where you are hiring. They have resources, talent pools, and the networking within the disabled communities.
7. If you need more help getting your heads around the full embracement of flexible scheduling, contact me and let’s talk about it.