Rethinking Hiring in the WFH Era
There’s not been many silver linings coming from COVID-19, and frankly we are all still way too close to it to really recognize what some of these things may be. But there’s one that we can acknowledge and embrace now. And that is that for contact centers, WFH proved to be very successful during the health emergency.
For the past decade, contact centers have had terrific technology in place that enables us to have clear visibility of employee production, regardless of where people sit. Certainly there were challenges during the pandemic in terms of stabilization and managing service levels, but we never lost visibility of output, and for the most part, our employees loved working from home.
Coming out the other side, contact center organizations have put a stake in the ground. Many are choosing to capitalize on the success gained during Covid-19 by cutting loose of expensive real estate, and building a long-range vision of WFH and hybrid for their teams. This is a smart move, considering that the labor shortage we’ve been experiencing over the past few years is not going to improve any time soon, and it’s a safe move, based on the operational track record of WFH contact centers can point to during the pandemic.
But – going back to my earlier point - the staffing challenges we’ve been facing are not going to get better any time soon, so bumping up our performance in sourcing, hiring, onboarding and retaining remote and hybrid employees needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.
Change the offerings:
- Enrich your job postings (vs. using lengthy job descriptions). Job postings are brief, succinct, appealing and attractive. Think of the job posting as an ad to attract talent. Embedding videos of employee testimonials into job postings drives applicant flow incrementally.
- Offer as many options as you can in terms of where and how work gets done. 100% WFH, hybrid, 100% in office, pop-up offices; give people as many choices as you can, and make it easy for them to make changes on where they work.
- Offer full time positions, seasonal and temporary positions, and part-time positions. Does it cost more to hire someone for only 10-20 hours per week? Yes, of course it does, but the talent in these labor pools is vast (particularly when offering WFH positions), your company appeals with each option you add, and retention rates rise through heightened employee satisfaction.
- Offer flexible scheduling, meaning fixed schedules for people that want them, adjustable schedules for people that want to make changes every month, split shifts, and also self-scheduling for at least part of the work schedule. Empowering your people by giving them more control over their work schedules will heighten ESAT and ultimately improve retention.
- Offer great benefits, and a short waiting period. Offering a variety of insurance and self-care options will broaden your company’s appeal. Survey your employees for benefits most important to them.
- Offer additional unpaid time off. Every company has slower periods; offer your employees additional unpaid (approved in advance) time off that works for your business flow. You can structure it any way you want (minimum 2 days at a time or five days at a time) and offer it to top performers first, or offer it to people who pick up high need shifts for you at other times of the year (e.g. people that pick up evening and weekend hours get considered for additional unpaid time off first).
For most companies, job boards are by far the primary source for generating applicant flow. Our most recent WFH Alliance 2023 Benchmarking Survey conducted in March of this year revealed that 75% of responding companies said job boards were dominant, by far, with no close seconds.
Job boards aren’t working well. Ghosting rates are spiking during the application process (very expensive and time consuming to manage). Abandon rates after offers are skyrocketing, and churn in early days of training is on the rise. Why? People are clicking one button on a job board and simultaneously applying for 10 jobs at the same time. The thorough job review (by many) has gone by the wayside, and has been replaced with “bundled” or aggregated job apply functions. Here are some alternatives that need to be in the sourcing toolkit:
- Beef up, rebrand and reboot your employee referral program. Many employees have massive social channels and reach. They have an established connection with your brand and with your company. They can show applicants and new hires the ropes better than any other hiring utility that you have. They want your money, and they will wait to get paid (I recommend paying out 100% of the referral bonus at 90 days). And – the best ROI: you won’t have to pay them anything for new hires that don’t make the 90-day mark! Where can you find returns like that? Not on your current job boards, no way! Brand it, market it, put some real teeth into it ($$$) and watch it change your hiring climate forever! Your minimum payout should be a minimum of $1,000 per new hire, which is about one-third of your cost per hire through a job board.
- Source people with disabilities. There are so many people with mobility limitations and other health challenges that are now accessible to us with WFH positions. Experience and loyalty run deep in this labor pool, and when you can offer part-time positions, short shifts, split shifts and self-scheduling, you will tap into a talent base that you have not previously had access to. If you need help, I recommend NTI (National Telecommuting Institute). They qualify and train customer service people with disabilities for a nominal fee. Contact Kate Brouse via LinkedIn.
Hiring and Onboarding:
- Leverage the first one-to-one opportunity your company has to connect with a new employee during the job offer process. Use this face-to-face time to begin the culture connection and start the process of onboarding.
- Use a tight window between offer and orientation. The time between the job offer/confirmed and orientation or new hire training should be a maximum of 14 days. Calendared, frequent communications for the run-up to onboarding, and live orientation should be frequent. Onboarding should start nearly immediately after the offer is accepted (with self-directed activities).
- Use a drip approach for onboarding. Much of the onboarding activities are self-directed (e.g. paperwork, insurance, I-9’s, review of schedule and plans for the next four to six weeks.) Onboarding can work really well in a remote environment. It’s your time to get the mundane activities out of the way and start to get people excited about upcoming orientation and training. Companies are spreading out onboarding activities over 3-4 days, maybe 2-3 hours of activities per day. New hires can learn so much by watching videos of existing employees describe functions and experiences like how payroll works, how scheduling works, how people communicate on various channels, what the expectations are for showing up and contributing digitally, how teams share knowledge and experiences, how people socialize, how recogni9tion and reward works, etc. New hires will connect much more richly by watching videos of peers, vs. drowning in a sea of words. And, by using a number of different existing employees in these videos, you can convey culture messaging in each and every one of them.
This is the time to show off your exciting, robust, entertaining onboarding and training program!
- Use lots of ice breakers so that new hires can get to know their colleagues, your leadership, and more about your culture.
- Invite a host of live guest speakers both inside and outside of your business unit. This is where the culture messaging continues along with whatever logistical information you are sharing.
- Break into PODS, where 2-3 new hires split off to work on activities, hold discussions, report back to the larger group. This is your opportunity to start forcing some early day connections (e.g. put people together with similar schedules, same roles, on the same team). Connections when people are co-located in contact centers come easy; we need to be much more intentional about the early day connections when remote. PODS is a terrific solution.
- Initiate equipment shipment and licenses. Due to the effort and cost of shipping equipment, many companies are restructuring onboarding to delay shipment until first day of orientation. In earlier days (onboarding) companies are asking employees to use their own equipment.
- Fun times! People are nervous and can tend to feel overwhelmed very quickly during the orientation process, particularly when remote. Make sure live orientation and training are packed with just as many fun times as learning times!
- Give your employees a seat at the table. And that means every As you re-engineer your workflows, contests and recognition programs, social and learning activities, carve out new work groups that are cross functional and include your frontline employees. And then change these contributors a couple of times per year to keep things fresh. Invite them to rethink how career development will work. Invite them to sort out how hybrid can work best, and how hiring and training part-time people can work in a large remote or hybrid environment.
Financially there’s a lot of money that is being saved with WFH and hybrid through reduction of real estate footprints. And there is also some incremental spend that is required to make hybrid and WFH work really well (e.g. additional technology licensing, part-time hiring and training, increased cost of engagement). The net play financially is still a big win. And more importantly, the major upgrade you will be giving your operation by level-setting the workflows, business processes, guidelines to be geo-neutral (e.g. it doesn’t matter where people sit to get work done, they have generally the same experience), is going to drive your appeal, your ESAT and ultimately your retention rates.