An Advice Column Only for
Contact Center Managers
Our reader’s question this month is on the topic of leading contact center representatives who work remotely. Earlier in the year we were asked a similar question and Ulysses’ senior consultants offered some terrific ideas on this hot subject. Read now. For even more insights, we asked our colleague to chime in—Wayne Turmel. Wayne knows quite a few things about remote leadership. He not only co-founded the Remote Leadership Institute with Kevin Eikenberry, but the duo just released a new book on the topic The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Thank you, Wayne, for these additional super tips!
Q: Our contact center is hiring more and more remote reps. What can we do to help keep them engaged and well informed? We send out multiple communications via email and have regular phone contact with them, I'm just not sure it's enough.
Ulysses Learning’s featured expert for this month’s question is:
Wayne Turmel, Co-founder, Remote Leadership Institute
A: Great question, and the fact that you’re asking it is an excellent first step. It’s always a good sign when the questions you ask are about, “how can we make sure they’re engaged and excited to work for us?” rather than, “how do we make sure they’re working when we’re not looking?”
The first thing to do is to stop thinking of them as remote employees. Start with the question, “what would we need to do under normal circumstances to keep people engaged and motivated?”
You probably have a list in your head:
· Help them understand the company culture and mission (why is this workplace special and why should they want to be part of it?)
· Make sure they know how their work fits into the big picture. How does the work they do benefit everyone else, from the customer to the team to the company?
· Help them understand very clearly the work they are to do and how success will be measured
· Give them lots of reinforcement, coaching and feedback
· Maybe have some fun along the way. Work doesn’t have to be drudgery
So far, what we’ve talked about applies to anyone, no matter where they work. That’s the point: WHAT leaders have to do hasn’t changed. It’s HOW we are expected to do that’s different. So how does not being physically with your team impact these issues?
Help them buy in to company culture and mission. You can tell people to “go look at our website,” to learn about your company, but that’s not enough. From the first interview, people should understand that where they work will be important. Here are two good ways to do this:
1. Encourage your team members to get to know their teammates, even if they will be working as individual contributors. People have a natural desire to connect. If you have webcams, that’s the best way for people to communicate and modern collaboration tools like Slack, Skype for Business and others make it very easy to use what used to be exotic technology. (Odds are if they’re younger than you they’ve been Facetiming and Snapchatting their whole lives.) If you don’t have webcams, you can still share pictures of team members in fun ways. Take time on team meetings and in other communication to share appropriate information about each other so that people feel they are part of a team worth joining.
2. Share company information in short, frequent bursts. Sending out links to articles about your company, sharing positive customer service stories, and letting the whole group in on team members’ successes can be as easy as a simple Instant Message or Email. It can be a link to a video. It takes just a few seconds to keep people aware of what an amazing place they work. And it shouldn’t all be messages from “on high.” Encourage team members to do the same.
Help them understand the big picture. When you all work in the same center, you see the posters on the wall, can get to know each other in the break room and see each other working hard. How do your remote employees get visibility to each other? Good leaders spend a lot of time making sure that they have one on one coaching time with each employee. That’s a good thing, and it’s not enough if you want to build a real team with good working relationships. Think about ways people can learn about their teammates. Have you got a system where people can share best practices with each other? This can be live on conference calls and webmeetings, or through Chat channels and email. When you offer praise for a job well done, does the rest of the team know that happens or is it only the individual who hears what a good job they do. Trust on teams is built when people know they are aligned, working with competent people, and that the folks who they rely on have their backs. Good Long-Distance Leaders work hard to help them gain visibility where they might not otherwise have it.
Help them understand the work they are to do and how it will be measured. Metrics matter, and when you work remotely it’s even more important that people are clear on what they should be doing and how their success will be measured. One important difference when working remotely is that you’ll need to have these conversations more often. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown meeting, but even quick check-ins by phone or Instant message (that are scheduled and aren’t sprung on people like surprise inspections) can keep the communication flowing and help head off questions or concerns that people might not otherwise raise until they become full-fledged crises.
Give them the coaching and feedback they need. One of the most common complaints from remote workers is that they don’t get the constant feedback that people get when they’re in the call center. They hear when something’s wrong, but there’s a tendency for managers to treat no news as good news, and to wait until there’s “a good reason” to reach out. The fact is that small amounts of steady feedback is better for both the manager and the employee. Make check-ins part of your daily routine. And know that some people will need more attention than others, just like in the call center.
Have some fun along the way. One of the unintended consequences of working apart from each other is that things become very task-oriented. We don’t call unless there’s an obvious reason. In an attempt to make the best use of everyone’s time, meetings are kept short, and we don’t take the time for the good humor, teasing, personal chat and just plain fun of regular meetings. While you can’t have cake in the breakroom, you can still celebrate birthdays, have baby-picture or cutest pet contests, and set up chat rooms where people can share personal information and silliness.
As we like to say around here, the first rule is to “think Leadership first, location second.” You know what you have to do, you just may have to find new ways to do it. Fortunately, there is a lot of technology and help out there.
Wayne Turmel, Co-founder, Remote Leadership Institute
He works with organizations around the world to help people use technology to lead people and projects and build productive human connections in an increasingly remote and virtual work environment.
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