Contact centers have been hiring increasing numbers of work-at-home agents in recent years and it looks like this trend is expected to grow. According to the National Association of Call Centers, over 50% of contact centers in the United States tout that at least some of their agents are now working from home.
Remote employment affords many benefits to both agents and employers. Agents save time and money by not having to commute to the office. They often work more flexible hours than those who work on-site. This can diminish stress levels and enhance work-life balance.
For employers, a home-based agent model for at least a portion of their contact center staff results in a larger pool of candidates as they are no longer restricted by location. In addition, it further opens up the pool to those who want to work but whose life circumstances make it difficult or impossible for them to come into an office every day. They may be taking care of an elderly parent, have a disabled spouse, or have their own mobility issues.
A work-at-home agent model allows contact centers to attract more experienced workers. Studies indicate that the average age of at-home agents is 38 versus 23 for those working on-site. At-home agents add a wealth of experience to the team along with a strong work ethic and professionalism that leads to higher levels of productivity and performance and better employee and customer satisfaction. These factors contribute to lower attrition rates in an industry fraught with high levels of turnover. In fact, the at-home agent retention rate is 80%, whereas the rate for in-house agents is 25%.
Improving agent retention also lowers hiring and training costs. Another area of savings comes from the consolidation of office space and the need for less furniture, reduced utilities and other related expenses. According to a recent study by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, at-home workers typically save businesses $11,000/per person per year.
Although an at-home agent model offers many benefits to both employees and employers, it is not without its challenges. Perhaps the biggest being — how to motivate, drive optimal performance and engage a remote workforce? Sustainable engagement is what is required to ensure agents remain happy, want to stay with the company and are motivated to do more and do better.
Gamification, which uses game mechanics such as points, badges, leaderboards, rewards and recognition, is an enabling technology that has gained popularity in recent years in contact centers. It is ideal for motivating desired behaviors and improving business outcomes, not just for on-site employees, but for at-home agents as well. It also provides a long-term solution for initiating and sustaining engagement. Gamification can help right from the start.
Leverage gamification for at-home agent onboarding
Typically, immersing at-home call center agents into the corporate culture can be a bit of a challenge. Not the case with gamification. During the pre-join period between acceptance of the job offer and the day an agent starts, a gamification platform can provide links to company newsletters, welcome videos and other new employee assets. The system can also track viewership and award points or badges to at-home agents that take the initiative to broaden their knowledge of the company, even before their first official day. As work-at-home agents become more familiar with the company culture they also begin to build a sense of community.
Once new at-home agents officially start, you can continue to leverage gamification to get them up to speed, fast. From product and service modules to security and ethics training, gamification lets you track and reward early achievements. This raises the work-at-home agent’s level of confidence and motivates them to become fully productive in record time. Gamification can even be used to reward at-home agents for aptitude and usage of sales tools such as workforce management software and customer relationship management systems. There are benefits to companies as well. According to ERG, companies that have gamified the onboarding process have enjoyed a 48% boost in engagement as well as a 36% improvement in employee turnover.
Drive continuous improvement by gamifying training and perpetual learning
Gamification can continue to motivate at-home agents and keep them engaged beyond on-boarding and initial training. Gamifying perpetual learning and displaying results on the remote agent’s home page encourages friendly competition and helps them achieve continuous improvement in many areas – from agent quality and increased productivity to better compliance adherence and revenue generation.
6 tips for keeping remote agents engaged
Sustainable agent engagement is a challenge in the best of circumstances. It can require an even more concerted effort to keep remote agents engaged.
Here are some tips to consider.
- Keep the lines of communication open. It’s easy to feel isolated when working remotely. Be sure to keep at-home agents in the loop about what is happening in the company. Daily messages posted on each agent’s home page can make a world of difference. It is also important to schedule regular calls with your team so that everyone gets to know each other. Use several channels of communication to stay in contact with remote workers. Chat, social sharing and ideation help at-home agents collaborate with team members. Gamification can track and reward adoption and usage. It can also deliver continuous feedback in a fun and compelling way.
- Be clear about expectations. It is just as essential for at-home agents as it is for on-site agents to clearly understand what you expect from them. Be sure to have a discussion about performance expectations and individual, team and corporate goals. Having a sense of the big picture and how the work that they are being asked to do will contribute to the overall success of the company is critically important.
- Leverage video conferencing. In addition to daily feedback and communication through gamification, it is important to schedule face-to-face meetings with remote agents. Video conferencing is a great tool for one-on-one calls and for team calls. You might even consider hosting training sessions via video conferencing when you need to use visual aids to reinforce important information or you need participants to be more interactive.
- Include at-home agents in team traditions. If acknowledging work anniversaries and employee birthdays are part of your company’s traditions, be sure to include at-home agents. If you have a “Meet the Team” feature in your monthly newsletter, highlight an at-home agent from time to time. Inclusion in these types of traditions makes remote workers feel like they are truly part of the company culture and community.
- Recognize remote agents. Digital recognition can help level the playing field for remote agents. Through gamification, at-home agents can be rewarded with virtual badges for their efforts and achievements. In addition, gamification can help encourage peer recognition by rewarding agents for giving kudos to others. Everyone likes to be recognized. It keeps agents motivated and engaged and always wanting to do more for their co-workers and the company.
- Offer growth opportunities. Just because remote agents are not on-site, doesn’t mean that they do not have ambitions for advancement. Ensure that they understand what their opportunities for development and advancement are from the beginning and what it will take to get there.
Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ recommends having a conversation with at-home agents to help ensure they are continuing to grow. He suggests discussing the following.
- What things the agent would like to improve in the next month. (This shows what they think needs to be improved. You may or may not be in sync.)
- What you think they have improved in the last month. (This helps the agent know what you think about their development. They may be developing in areas they aren’t even aware of.)
- What they regard as their best moments during the last month. (This information will help you better understand their motivation.)
- What they regard as their worst moments during the last month. (This signals areas they consider to be energy zapping or demotivating.)
Gamification is a powerful motivator for at-home agents
Embracing remote agent solutions for part or all of your contact center workforce offers great benefits to both employees and employers. Advanced technologies have made it possible to hire great talent, no matter where they reside. And with the help of gamification, companies can provide fun and compelling initial and ongoing training, keep the lines of communication open and ensure that remote agents truly feel part of the team and stay motivated and engaged in the corporate culture.
What have you done to ensure that at-home agents are fully immersed in your culture and engaged and happy at work?