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  • Working from Home: How Blurred Boundaries Affect the Contact Center

    960 640 Adam Aftergut

    Part three of a three-part series by Adam Aftergut, Product Marketing Manager at NICE, on the root causes of work-from-home challenges faced by contact center agents and their employers…

    As we detailed earlier in this series on work-from-home challenges, changing boundaries are having an impact on staffing and performance in the contact center. In addition to a new separation between the employee and the workplace, there’s also a blurring of boundaries in the employee’s workday: With many agents now working from home, the boundaries between work and home life have gotten a lot fuzzier.

    While many agents enjoy the ability to work from home, it nevertheless creates new challenges. Living spaces have been converted into makeshift offices and interruptions are unavoidable, making it difficult or impossible to truly focus. Over time, distractions and a lack of structure can affect productivity – in fact, 78% of business leaders think hybrid and home-working models have a negative impact on productivity. Over the long term, a lack of boundaries can hamper work-life balance and ultimately also increase burnout, which has a detrimental effect on employee engagement.

    Overcoming the challenges this blurring of boundaries causes for agents also overcomes them for the contact center, and vice versa, ensuring that operations run smoothly. Here’s how.

    Employers need staffing agility; employees need flexibility

    With many families working and learning from home simultaneously, call volumes are less predictable and don’t conform to previous contact patterns, which means that employers need to be very agile in their workforce management capabilities, tools and policies. At the same time, agents working from home need greater scheduling flexibility to deal with unexpected interruptions and obligations in the home environment – but they can also have an easier time pivoting from free time to work time in order to cover unconventional shifts. A failure to recognize these changes runs the risk of greater staffing gaps for the operation and increased employee frustration.

    How technology can help you solve this challenge: Contact center leaders can leverage Intelligent Intraday Automation® for more elastic staffing. A solution that continuously analyzes fluctuating staffing needs, identifies shift change opportunities and communicates them to agents can help contact centers prevent overstaffing and understaffing. The agent can interact with such a solution in multiple ways, including through a portal for automated self-service schedule changes and automated “push” offers of preapproved schedule change opportunities sent via text message, email, in-app messaging or displayed as alert popups on the agent’s desktop.   

    Employers need occupancy; employees need to avoid distractions and interruptions

    Contact centers need to maintain occupancy levels, a key metric that shows the percentage of time employees are occupied, performing call center activities.  However, remote employees are more easily interrupted or distracted at home.

    A University of California Irvine study found that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to a task following an interruption. This means that home-office distractions can lead to lower agent productivity, effectiveness and service quality. Agents are then unable to meet performance goals, and customer experience suffers.

    How technology can help you solve this challenge: Automated KPI-based notifications alert supervisors and agents via text, email, in-app notifications or desktop alert popups when the team or individual agents have hit occupancy and other key goals – regardless of where employees are working from. Alerts and calls-to-action can be used to notify agents that they’re overrunning scheduled activities or have an upcoming event, prompt agents to switch tasks (which can improve focus while adjusting occupancy) and more.

    In addition, automated self-scheduling for agents enables employees to achieve unique schedule adjustments that reduce the disruptions inherent in a work-from-home routine, while still ensuring net staffing. One such example of this is NICE Employee Engagement Manager’s (EEM’s) automated self-swap functionality. Rather than having to work through a distraction, such as a repairman working in the home or a child practicing piano, the agent can simply use a preapproved self-swap to move his or her hours around rather than having to take time off or reduce the number of hours they’re scheduled to work.

    Employers need consistent team performance; employees need work-life balance

    For effective customer service, contact centers need to ensure that their frontline teams operate with consistency and reliability, especially during times of instability. Supervisors and workforce management personnel need to be able to quickly communicate with agents and depend on their commitments. However, when agents feel overworked and overburdened due to a blurring of the lines between their personal and professional lives – and studies have found that the average workday has increased by 48.5 minutes since the widespread move to remote work – burnout sets in and customer service suffers. Unfortunately, just one in three employees say their employers have increased flexibility in recent months to deal with burnout, according to an Eagle Hill Consulting survey.

    How technology can help you solve this challenge: Burnout soars when agents have many consecutive days of intense work without breaks or are unable to manage their work-life balance and find themselves pulled into work frequently. Automated self-scheduling, including adjustments like automated shift trades, can help. If opportunities for voluntary time off (VTO), paid time off (PTO) and self-swaps – which are preapproved based on the contact center’s needs – are unavailable in EEM,  there is still the possibility of automated shift trades, which have a neutral impact on net staffing. EEM thus provides a multilayered set of options for agents to achieve work-life balance through highly flexible and patented self-scheduling capabilities while optimizing net staffing.

    In addition, communication controls help agents set boundaries between their personal and professional lives to ensure that work does not encroach. Agents can select days and times they can be contacted with scheduling offers, performance notifications and the like. They can choose both when they are willing to be contacted while “off the clock” and how (e.g., email or text message, in addition to in-app messaging and alert popups). If an agent feels the need to completely disconnect from work in order to refresh, EEM’s communications can be silenced during personal time.

    Different perspectives, common solutions

    With workday boundaries blurred and personal and work responsibilities increasingly intermingled, achieving both productivity and work-life balance can feel like an obstacle course each day. Over time,  the cumulative effects of work repeatedly encroaching on an agent’s personal life can cause burnout. Giving employees a sense of control with automated self-service scheduling increases their satisfaction, and doing so with an intelligent solution ensures alignment with the contact center’s operational needs to consistently improve both day-to-day and long-term operational results.

    NICE Employee Engagement Manager (EEM), a key component of the NICE Intelligent WFM Suite, enables contact centers to preserve work-life boundaries in a remote employee’s workday while meeting the needs of the contact center.  The broad capabilities of EEM’s intelligent automation engine not only improve staffing levels intraday and near-term but also drive a wide variety of employee actions for improved performance. Learn more about how EEM helps contact center teams adapt to changing boundaries in the work-from-home environment.

    For a more complete understanding of the work-from-home challenges faced by the contact center, see the previous two installments in this series here and here.

    Do you need help in generating more efficient schedules and automating the challenge of optimizing your net staffing?

    Download our complimentary eBook:  Intelligent Automation and Simulation in WFM for Dummies

    This book will help you understand how using machine learning based simulation can help create schedules based on true multi-skill efficiencies based on ACD routing rules and skills not just static percentages. It will also help you see how you can automatically and proactively create offers for voluntary time off and overtime based on skills to the exact right agents, thus solving the age-old issue of net staffing optimization.

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