Perhaps the most dramatic shift of the post-pandemic workplace has been the continued reliance on remote and hybrid models. Half of U.S. employees now work in “remote-capable jobs” that can be done from home, at least part of the time, and half of these remote-capable employees expect and prefer splitting their time between home and the office rather than working full-time in either location.
And if the surveys and predictions are right, remote work isn’t going away anytime soon. Eight in 10 chief human resources officers from Fortune 500 companies surveyed by Gallup report that they have no plans to decrease remote work flexibility in the near term, and another survey found that executives expect remote and hybrid work to increase over the next five years.
But while work-at-home and hybrid working models offer a wide range of benefits to the employee as well as the employer, they also create some challenges for workforce management (WFM). The good news is that a few best practices can help contact centers drive engagement and more effectively forecast and schedule when agents aren’t working on-site full-time.
Best practice #1: Be consistent
Success in a remote or hybrid contact center hinges on a simple premise: All things should be the same as if employees were working in a brick-and-mortar contact center. That includes everything from being able to use critical business solutions, like NICE Workforce Management (WFM) and tools used by the planning team, which needs to plan, schedule, and monitor the business; ensuring that teams have a clear understanding of—and agreement with—business priorities; and continuing to track progress against goals (though your KPIs might change with a move to remote work).
Best practice #2: Keep lines of communication open
While communication is always important, it’s even more critical when employees aren’t working face to face. Because agents no longer have opportunities to ask for advice when they run into teammates or managers on a coffee break, you need to be intentional in ensuring that teams can communicate in the same ways they would if they were working on site with tools such as instant message, Skype, and Microsoft Teams. Formal and information recognition can also go a long way toward making employees feel valued.
Best practice #3: Forecast early and often
Companies often increase their reliance on remote workers in times of crisis, including severe weather, or during periods in which everything is in flux, when call patterns may change rapidly. That makes it imperative to reforecast often to ensure that your forecasts are aligned with your actual staffing needs. Your WFM solution should be able to learn from any new customer demand profile, and having this latest thinking will improve future forecast periods.
Best practice #4: Make better long-term workforce planning decisions
Scenario planning helps contact centers build resilience and flexibility into workforce planning, enabling leaders to follow a “business as usual” scenario while preparing for a wide range of “what ifs.” Tools like NICE WFM Enhanced Strategic Planner (ESP) help contact centers capitalize on their full long-term planning potential by providing the answers and insights needed to make better workforce planning decisions. By leveraging AI forecasting from NICE WFM, ESP considers the needs of staff, channels, and business rules to make precise predictions so leaders can consider all relevant variables when making decisions based on their unique anticipated staffing needs.
Best practice #5: Enable increased flexibility
Working from home or in a hybrid model should allow for more extreme changes to schedules should the need arise. Increasing your ability to respond to extreme changes in scheduling needs will require you to adopt a mindset of flexibility—and the tools and policies to support that mindset. Consider implementing tactics to increase scheduling flexibility, including block and split-shift scheduling, availability points, and seat limits.
Best practice #6: Enable agents to manage their own schedules and performance
Allowing employees the flexibility to adjust their schedules in ways that most benefit their lives outside of work and manage their own performance enables autonomy. In the contact center, employee autonomy is a carefully orchestrated dance best led by an intelligent automation system like NICE Employee Engagement Manager (EEM). With EEM, agents have the power to shape their schedules with pre-approval capabilities that ensure that any changes will benefit net staffing and deliver agent autonomy. Communications are customized by audience type to empower agents to self-improve, regardless of where they and their manager are physically working.
Best practice #7: Use intraday tools to respond to changing conditions in real time
Intuitive intraday change management tools enable supervisors to monitor and proactively respond to changing conditions in real time. Consistency in processes and policies is important: Just as in the physical contact center, individual and team adherence goals should be followed, regardless of location. Ideally, your workforce management solution will monitor all channels (phone, chat, email, etc.) and offer transparency to all service levels and performance.
Remote and hybrid work offer many benefits to both employers and employees. Organizations can give their employees an unsurpassed level of flexibility while reaping rewards that can include reduced real estate costs, lower labor expenses, greater employee retention, or simply compliance with local or national mandates. Learn more about how you can drive engagement and more effectively forecast and schedule with a remote or hybrid workforce in our How to Manage the Remote and Hybrid Workforce eBook.