Mark Walton, CEO of Sensee, discusses whether the Government’s advice on homeworking goes far enough to support employers and employees in these unnerving times
“Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others” said Boris Johnson on Monday (16th March) “and to stop all unnecessary travel. We need people to start working from home where they possibly can…. and avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues.” On 18th March, it was announced that all UK schools would be closed ‘until further notice’.
We are in dangerous and uncertain times and few would argue with the logic of the Prime Minister’s statement. However, there’s a lot more to homeworking than simply picking up a laptop and a phone from the office and setting up from home.
If you google ‘flexible working tips’ or ‘homeworking tips’ or even ‘Coronavirus work-from-home tips’ you’ll find plenty of helpful advice.
On 11th March, for example, The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development issued a factsheet to help businesses support their operations and workforce https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/emp-law/health-safety/coronavirus-factsheet. ACAS too offers plenty of useful advice https://archive.acas.org.uk/homeworking, drilling down into much finer detail about what Employers should consider before embarking on their homeworking journey.
Both organisations are communicating a very similar message: that you need to plan for homeworking. In a section within its factsheet entitled “Develop flexible resourcing plans” the CIPD recommends developing “strategies to maximise the amount of home working to prevent the spread of infection”.
Similarly in the ACAS guidance, the author sounds a note of caution: “One of the first steps for an employer is to consider whether the job is suitable for homeworking or teleworking. Many roles may be, but others may not” and “while homeworking can be seen as an attractive option, it will not suit everyone. A homeworker needs to be able to cope with working on their own with little supervision.”
So having a homeworking strategy is essential. When considering whether a job is suitable for homeworking, ACAS asks Employers to consider whether the role needs: “team working, face-to-face supervision, equipment (installed in the home) or equipment (which can only be in the organisation’s central base). And it suggests homeworkers ideally need to be: “able to spend long periods on their own, confident working without supervision, self-disciplined and self-motivated, and able to separate work from home life.”
Is this overkill when all we’re talking about here is people working at home for a few weeks until the Coronavirus sombrero is squashed? Absolutely not!
For certain job roles and functions, switching to homeworking and doing so with scalability and cost-efficiency is highly complex.
Front and back-office functions
Take back or front-office functions, such as your customer contact centre. It’s highly unlikely that your office-based contact centre agents can just up sticks with a computer and a phone, set up from home and carry on business-as-usual.
The demands of contact centre working means that a complete 360-degree solution is required that provides full visibility, control, engagement, and of course information security. And if an organisation is looking to operate a 100% homeworking model in the longer term, it will need to master an even broader range of skills: from recruiting the right homeworkers, to adapting a virtual mindset when it comes to training, management, scheduling, security, communication and technology. These are not skills that can be learnt overnight.
If used as a short-term measure in the contact centre, organisations won’t have the luxury of trialling concepts and refining their work-at-home model over time. They may have time to turn to an experienced outsourcer that uses a home-based model, adopt some specialist technology tools, or seek the advice of a homeworking consultant – but any medium or long term planning really won’t be feasible.
In the absence of ‘official’ advice, here are six things to consider if you are thinking of introducing contact centre homeworking in response to Coronavirus:
- Communications: Pay attention to all aspects of communication. Not just company announcements but communication within teams, and real-time support for advisors that may be experiencing difficulties (using virtual technologies, instant messaging etc.).
- Team Managers: Don’t ignore the crucial role they play in providing support and guidance. If possible, use technology to enable and deploy a system of virtual floorwalkers.
- Technology Support: If homeworkers are using company equipment (computers, phones), ensure you can support this equipment effectively.
- Appropriate Office Space: Ensure homeworkers can work from a suitable office in the home. Working and making calls from the living room with kids playing in the background, or dogs barking, just isn’t acceptable!
- Scheduling: Add greater flexibility into your planning schedules – such as split shifts and micro-shifts. This will enable homeworkers to fit work in around their other daily priorities (such as taking the kids to school or caring for a relative) while helping your organisation better match resources to daily peaks and troughs.
- Security: Consider adding extra security measures – such as restricting homeworker access to certain customer data. Also ensure you are not breaching your obligations under FCA, GDPR and other regulations. And ensure company equipment is adequately insured for home use.
If the Government is strongly suggesting that people work from home then it would be good to see advice on how organisations can do so most effectively – and avoid the pitfalls. With the expertise available, and specialist technology tools that now exist, that advice could make all the difference.
As a response to the current crisis, homeworking can deliver a more dispersed workforce with a lower single point of failure, and hence a lower risk of cross-infection. This will enable contact centres to operate as normal even if other business functions need to close down.