Where Will Contact Centers Land with Hybrid Work?
The pandemic period has proven something really important for contact centers, and that is that Work From Home on scale is a huge win. Separate from the impact that the health emergency itself had on overall service levels and customer experience, all in all the outcome of WFH for contact centers has been extremely positive. So much so that many organizations are now taking a very large stake in permanent work from home as a workplace strategy (see Contact Center Pipeline/WFHAlliance 2022 Benchmarking Survey Results).
The pickup that hybrid work (rotating in office 1-3 days per week) is having on the enterprise side of the business is not getting the same traction in the contact center environment (only 30% of contact center organizations who participated in the survey will utilize hybrid work). The strong employee preference for full WFH is probably driven by the fact that many roles are entry level, income is more limited (compared to many corporate or enterprise roles), coupled with the extremely high effort and output level required of contact center employees. When reps have a couple of minutes for a much-needed break, most would rather step out onto their own patio for some fresh air, or do a few sit-ups, rather than walk down to the office breakroom. Certainly, the idea of some in-person face time sounds terrific, and isolation is a very real thing. But it’s not stacking up against the hassle and cost of commuting - not every week.
It's a tricky balance at the moment. Employers that force contact center reps into the office every week or even monthly will likely lose people to organizations who don’t make that requirement. Some organizations are shifting gears and transforming a portion of their office space to events/entertainment space. Employees are invited onsite for barbecues, coffee talks, executive visits, focus groups, team meetings, professional development sessions, and the occasional in-person one-to-one meeting with the supervisor. Even families are being included on site for some special events like rewards and recognition activities and holiday events. There’s something for everyone, and employees are getting to choose their level of involvement in face-to-face activities, to a large extent. In a way, the menu and level of social engagement that employees prefer is being left to them to build and customize.
If maintaining a material in-office presence is a priority for your organization, a solid solution may be to fill a certain amount of contact center roles with people that want to work FT in office and hire another group of home-based people who prefer that model. New hire training could be a mix of onsite and digital, and a short onsite working period could be required after training until some level of proficiency is met. Mentors who work with new hires could truly be hybrid (2-3 days/week in office), as could leadership and management (based on their preferences). Tech support is on site as needed for equipment support. And everyone (in office and at home), can gather in your event space (or pop-up space) for in-person interactions, largely as much or as little as you want, and as they want.
Creating good reasons for contact center employees to gather face to face, regardless of where their work base is (in office, at home or the new "hybrid") will pay off. The intentionality will likely keep people around a lot longer.