What Are the Risks of Hiring Home-Based Agents for Your Corporate Call Center?

In a prior post we looked at using a work-at-home model for your corporate call center. The benefits are many. These include being able to tap a new labor market, find employees with superior skills, increase agent retention, realize greater scheduling flexibility, and improve overall call center effectiveness. However, before you rush to embrace this model, do so only after being completely informed of the ramifications. Yes, having home-based agents staff your call center has a few downsides, too. Here are some of the key issues that call center leaders struggle with when they oversee a distributed call center operation. Management Challenges: When staff work from a centralized location, they’re much easier to manage. As a matter of convenience, most managers gravitate toward the management style commonly known as “management by walking around.” They do this because it works. It’s that simple. Management and supervisors are present, they observe what’s happening, and they react. On the positive side, they celebrate successes and commend staff for the things they do with excellence. They can also respond to less-than-ideal situations, quickly offering instruction or correction to staff throughout the day when issues occur. However, this requires that managers and supervisors be present to see what happens. This isn’t possible when staff work from home. Though some remote staff are disciplined, self-directed, and motivated to do well on their own without any day-to-day oversight from their superiors, other employees flounder in such a situation. Without moving beyond a management-by-walking-around style, working with remote staff is a challenge. Lack of Synergy: In most call centers, agents learn from each other, answer questions for coworkers, and provide an effective support system beyond the formal management structure in place. This helps agents work more effectively. Most call center employees flourish in this environment, but when they work at home, they lose all that. Quality may suffer. Lack of Connection: Working side-by-side, call center agents bond with each other and establish a rapport. This not only helps them work more effectively, but more importantly it serves to increase their job satisfaction and can impact their work/life balance. The result is happy employees. Happier employees strive to serve callers with excellence and thereby produce happier customers. Everyone wins. However, when agents work from home they lose this side-by-side connection and fail to establish the benefits that come from working alongside other agents. Staffing Schisms: A big problem most distributed call centers struggle with is the emergence of an “us versus them” mentality. The work-at-home agents mentally band together to become “us.” The managers, supervisors, and staff at the main corporate call center become “them.” A line of division is quickly drawn. The staff that works at home becomes polarized with the staff that works in the main call center. This internal conflict invariably flows over to affect agent interactions with callers. Training Problems: A final consideration is really the first consideration. How can you most effectively train home-based call center agents? While some online training programs do exist and work very well for remote agents, it’s hard to beat the learning environment that comes from classroom instruction and student interaction. As a result many call centers with work-at-home agents require that at least some phases of agent training occur in a classroom setting at the main call center. This is an important consideration to resolve before hiring home-based agents. Conclusion: While these risks of staffing a corporate call center with home-based agents are significant, they can also be overcome. The key is being aware that, left unattended, these issues will surface and often quite quickly. The solution requires being alert to their likely occurrence and taking steps to avoid these problems before they have a chance to arise. This involves taking proactive initiatives to manage remote staff as effectively as on-premise staff. It also entails providing a means to establish synergy, develop connections, and avoid staffing divisions for remote agents. When these issues are appropriately addressed, the risks associated with staffing a corporate call center using home-based agents are largely avoided. And the benefits of having a distributed staff are quickly realized. Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier consultancy for corporate call centers, whose team possesses decades of relevant business and call center experience. Contact Janet at contactus@callcenter-salespro.com or 800-901-7706. Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.