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Perspectives from GTACC 2020 – Leading a Remote Workforce

by | Nov 19, 2020 | Remote Solutions

This year may have taken us all apart physically, but it has brought us all much closer together. The most important thing we have all done during this pandemic is to build stronger connections – with family, friends, and colleagues. Isolations encouraged us all to double down on reaching out, and that is exactly what is helping us power through this continuing crisis.

The GTACC Summit 2020 held on November 5 enabled leaders in the contact center industry to share our experience of leading through an unprecedented crisis and running ‘business as unusual’ during the last seven months. Here we’d like to share our key takeaways and perspectives from the conference, especially around inspiring sessions with Heather Arthur, Vice President, Rogers Customer Care Operations and Eric Scipio del Campo, Vice president Canada Contact Centres, Scotiabank, Sharon Stines, AVP Customer Care, AIR MILES Reward Program, Tony Porciello, Director Retail operations/Global Consumer Care, Spin Master and Mike Aoki, President, Reflective Keynotes.

An agile approach and a connected culture will bounce you back from shocks

When the going gets tough…it brings out the best in us! We’ve all been in rooms discussing ‘what if’ situations to create disaster recovery and business continuity plans, but almost none of them accounted for 100% impact on the entire operations at once.

When governments announced almost worldwide lockdowns in response to Covid-19, the agility in our leadership and trust among our teams pulled us through the initial phases of the crisis. At ContactPoint 360, we put together a plan within 5 hours to transition our employees to work-at-home while addressing technological and personnel challenges. As Eric and Heather shared during the chat – companies that rapidly adjusted their policies, processes, and technologies kept their front-line employees engaged, informed, and empowered to keep the customers connected to their brand.

Use more words – Consistent communication is the bedrock of remote relationships

Constant communication with remote teams is vital to keep them connected and motivated. Work-at-home employees are at a higher risk of feeling disconnected from the company and their colleagues if we are not careful. Moreover, we need to pay attention to how we communicate. Traditionally, we would set up meetings or walk over to each other and have a conversation about work. A short email would follow in-person discussions. We’d take the context of the conversation and our relationship with the person for granted in the way we wrote these emails – sometimes a short, curt one-liner. These caused no trouble then but can house resentment in the absence of physical proximity. Now words make up for the lack of visual cues in conversations. Therefore, it is essential to take care of our tone, sentence structure, and detail of our emails’ content to ensure that both – the intrinsic and extrinsic message is interpreted correctly. The same goes for our conversations on calls.

As Heather mentioned during the fireside chat – leading with honesty and openness built trust within the team. Leaders that communicated their vulnerability during this time fostered humility and mutual support among the team. Inclusive communication across the organization is imperative to keep people connected and ensure a seamless flow of news and knowledge among a remote workforce.

Invest in employees for high returns in business

In the contact center industry, Covid-19 presented us with the opportunity to ‘walk our talk’ when it comes to company culture and employee satisfaction. Our CEO, Asad Mirza believes in treating every member of the team as family. This principle has percolated throughout the organization and resulted in high agent-retention rates. Moreover, we increased our hiring efforts during the pandemic to optimize and accommodate WAH schedule flexibility; and continue to expand our family across all locations.

Hiring, training, and integrating new team members virtually presents unique challenges for organizations, especially in developing connections among colleagues and leaders. During another live chat hosted by Mike Aoki at GTACC on ‘How to keep WFH team members balanced and engaged’, Sharon Stines, AVP Customer Care, AIR MILES Reward Program made an important point – when people think about remote work, they think about technology and tools to get the work done. While that is important, we also need to think about technology and tools to keep people connected.

At ContactPoint 360, we’ve made efforts to enable our team members to build connections from onboarding, training, graduation, and beyond. We encourage the use of webcams to build relationships and human connections between each other and the leaders as ‘one team’.

Our virtual orientation training and graduation lunches focus on ensuring that our CEO and several senior leaders, like myself, are present to personally welcome our new agents to provide support, encourage an open-door policy, help them with the ‘go-live jitters’ and build rapport. We recently sent uber coupons to our latest group of graduates for the graduation lunch, so everyone had a meal together on webcam.

Small gestures go a long way in earning loyalty and support from employees. Porch drop-offs of small gifts to show gratitude instill a sense of pride in the individuals at being associated with the company. As Sharon mentioned on the live chat, it is not so much about what is in the box as it is the gesture and the element of surprise.

A goodie bag works well to create loyalty and advocacy among agents for the contact center as well as the client brand they service. We recently received an outpour of gratitude when we mailed welcome packages of co-branded swag and delicious snacks to our agent pool. The response was infectious and humbling!

Create an innovative, flexible and inclusive work environment

Work-at-home culture may be great for a balanced lifestyle, reducing commute, cost savings, etc. but requires us to rethink our work etiquette and discipline. For many of us, the new environment, combined with an old culture, has created an ‘always-on’ work mode. Therefore, it has become essential to create boundaries and deliberately include breaks to balance work and personal time schedules. These time slots should be as sacred as our commitment to a meeting. Some great ideas we heard during the conference were –

Walking meetings – Here, all attendees take their meetings outdoor, so there is a time in the day where they may work while taking in some fresh air.

Coffee Catch ups – Deliberately schedule casual chats with colleagues and acquaintances from work because there won’t be any ‘watercooler conversations’ for a while.

Mindfulness Moments – Either 15 mins before a work meeting or in a separate session, schedule time to talk about how people are coping with the situation on a personal level. Addressing mental health concerns, sharing updates on the current state of the world, acknowledging moments of gratitude, etc. are essential to foster and maintain a positive spirit among teams.

Working remotely requires us to shift our 9 to 5 perspective and create smaller blocks of time to work during the day. Due to the lockdowns and restrictions, all members of a family shifted into the same ‘office space’ overnight. Teammates with children had additional challenges, and personal stress with schools and daycares shut down. These new challenges demanded an innovative approach to workforce management and scheduling on a personal and corporate level.

With advanced tools, companies like us can bring flexibility to the schedules of our agents. Employees can choose various time blocks that work for their schedule. This has allowed us to retain talent, hire new talent, and maintain consistency in our operations.

As this year comes to an end, it leaves us with much to reflect upon…but not before we acknowledge our grit in successfully meeting its unprecedented challenges. We are cumulatively wiser and stronger as we look forward to the next year.

Tracy Carter
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