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The Role of the Agent in the Gig Economy Is More Important Than Ever

May 01, 2021, By Legacy Post

The Gig Economy was once demonized by some as a way for companies to avoid payroll taxes - but in the era of remote work, flexible scheduling, and the "always on" mentality, contact center agents are finding it provides them more control.

Gig Economy (or “on-demand economy” or “access economy”) describes the now-common mode of employment popularized by companies like Uber and Lyft, where temporary positions dominate the landscape and organizations utilize independent contractors for short term engagements. 

In the contact center, you could think of the ACD and other contact center software as creating gigs or jobs for contact center agents, just like the Uber app creates them for Uber drivers. Historically, most contact center agents have been employed as regular 40 hour/week full-time employees, even though their schedules might be erratic as call volumes rise and fall throughout the week. However, that history was shattered in many different directions after the remote model exploded last year and the hybrid model is pointing to a very different future for a sizable percentage of the agent population.

Consider the following: 

Cost Savings – Using part-time workers and independent contractors, in the contact center or any other type of business, can reduce the cost of employees in the range of 30% because the employer is not required to pay benefits such as payroll taxes, worker’s comp insurance, unemployment insurance, vacation time or health benefits. If the employee’s average working time is less than 30 hours per week (i.e., “part-time”), the employer can avoid this cost. For better or worse, this will greatly impact contact center workers as this is a sizable percentage of their annual salary — one which many employers would like to avoid paying. 

Work from Home and Hybrid Precedent – The gig economy was already in full swing in some segments of the contact center industry by the time COVID hit. The 25% annual growth of work from home agents was poised to drive the future of the contact center industry. Never mind the fact that it is a bit ironic that we ask agents to come to work in a central location, so they can immediately be isolated from their co-workers by cubicle dividers and enter a virtual world created by their workstation and headset. WFH now creates and allows part-time work for a whole segment of the population with physical disabilities, childcare issues or poor commuting options. With more part-time workers, contact centers also have a more agile workforce that can ramp up and down quickly, matching contact center staffing to call volumes. Of course, the success of remote agents is highly dependent upon excellent interaction management and WFO software WFH has huge momentum right now, and its continued growth will help make part-time contact center work commonplace. 

The Continued Growth of Self-Service – In the past few years, technology finally advanced to the point where it is a good substitute for a human conversation. And since 81% of customers prefer self-service to agent assisted service, the simpler work will certainly go to automated self-service, and only the more complex tasks will go to agents. Studies show that 95% of agents are only willing to drive up to 30 minutes to work. For these specialized skills, contact centers may need to reach out beyond that current geographic boundary, further stimulating the need for part-time work-at-home agents. 

The Millennial Agent – Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, and contact centers are rife with them. It’s well known that Millennials dearly value their work-life balance, and that means that they want to easily flex their work schedules around their personal lives. Many value complete control over their work schedule above a higher income and/or benefits, and that’s the perfect profile of an Uber driver or part-time contact center agent. In order to empower agents with this flexibility and control while still meeting the needs of the business, the contact center needs to continue to adopt and adapt new WFO tools, training, infrastructure, recruiting and management practices. 

Millennials are also “always on”. They literally sleep with their cell phones, and the need to be always connected makes them perfectly accessible for notifications about unpredictable contact center gigs when volumes spike. The contact center can reach out to them anytime concerning a few hours of potential work with a good chance that the receiving Millennial got the message on his or her cell phone and read it. 

The Gig Economy remains the best opportunity for workers to control their own destinies. Once demonized and denounced by some as a way for companies to avoid payroll taxes, we fully expect to see much more use of part-time and gig-oriented workers, as contact center software providers like Alvaria adapt their WFO software for a much more virtualized and part-time labor force. 

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