Contact Center Work From Home vs Hybrid Work and the Return to Office Struggle

customer service work from home POC Agent wearing headset working

Contact Center Work From Home vs Hybrid Work and the Return to Office Struggle

There’s a lot of talk around the work from home and return to office debate. What’s fueling it and where it’s happening is part of the discussion. But does this debate apply to the contact center work from home model?

The WFH and Hybrid Work Issue  

It’s true that the pandemic forced a hard work from home model on most businesses and their employees. Now that those employees have had the opportunity to work from home they don’t want to go back to the old in-office model. 

The concept of loss-aversion in behavioral economics indicates that people see losses as far more intense than gains. This appears to be playing out in the resistance to returning to the office. Workers do not want to lose what they have gained. Work-life balance, greater control of environment and schedule, reduced costs of commuting and child-care are examples of what employees would lose.

Surveys have borne this out in the US. Gallup data from summer 2022 shows that of those with ‘remote-capable’ work, 60% want long-term hybrid work, with only 6% wanting to work in office.

 “Doesn’t it seem that traditional management and workplace practices are broken if more than 90% of 70 million employees say they don’t want to come back to the office full time?”

Ben Wigert and Sangeeta Agrawal, “Returning to the Office: The Current, Preferred and Future State of Remote Work”, Gallup

Cultural Divides

It’s worth noting that this shift is not worldwide. Though Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trends Index indicates 38% of workers globally are in hybrid models, there are cultures for which WFH is not practical.

As this BBC article indicates, Japan and France are examples of cultures with reduced WFH and hybrid interest. Countries where space at home is small, like many in Asia, are unlikely to sustain working from home well either.

It looks like this struggle is predominantly in US cities, with smaller communities tending to return to pre-pandemic in-office schedules.  Considering that the US is the world’s largest economy, nearly one quarter of the world’s GDP, and that most of that comes from the cities, it is still an important topic.

WFH and Hybrid Future in Contact Centers

Contact Center Pipeline (with the Work from Home Alliance)  surveyed contact center leaders from various industries in 2022 about hybrid and WFH models. Respondents indicated very positive results, with 96% saying WFH yielded “satisfactory or better results overall”. Also 64% felt WFH was “very good or excellent.” 

As to the future, 62% indicated intent to use a hybrid model for their contact center employees, and 32% will implement full WFH.

As to the executives, according to the report, “Pre-pandemic executive preferences no longer fit in this mix.” In fact 73% of leaders surveyed don’t expect all WFH agents to be able to commute to the closest contact center. Only 7% seek to have supervisors in-office full time. 

SQM Group also had a study including 500 call centers in North America “assessing operational, employee, and customer experience data” pre and post pandemic. They believe the WFH model is here to stay for agents, but the hybrid model is only increasing for managers and other roles. Their findings were that the majority of agents either work completely from home or at a contact center location, and they predict that will continue.

“SQM’s predicts that the call center industry’s post-COVID-19 workforce model will be 60%-80% agents WFH, and 20%-40% agents work in a call center facility-based model.” 

Mike Desmarais MBA, Nader Ghatas MBA, and Sarah Mofffat Ph.D., “Is the Call Center WFH Model Here to Stay After COVID-19?”, SQM Group

The Contact Center Work From Home Model Challenges and Tools

Technology is a necessity for the contact center work from home model. Keeping workers connected in both the job and social aspects of company culture is important to reduce churn and encourage performance

The challenges of digital onboarding and remote training are reduced with advanced planning. Like Zendesk suggests in their “How to successfully onboard a remote customer support team,” onboarding should begin before the new worker starts. Training should start strong with team introductions, mentorship, using video and other engaging training materials, and support for building employee connections.

Automation and gamification for recognizing agent performance, rewards, contests can improve the employee experience which in turn improves the customer experience.

The Zendesk marketplace includes apps that facilitate providing customer service from any location with as little as a mobile phone.  This way businesses are able to provide overflow coverage with ease through their WFH employees rather than outsourcing.  

Agents are able to provide customer service from anywhere, and be trained at home with assistance from apps like CSAT.AI. Their bosses can do QA from home too.  The days of manual oversight, spreadsheets and post contact damage control are a relic of the past. Many of these tasks can be automated, allowing both agents and managers to focus their energies on quality CX for contact center work from home success.