Work in the New-New Normal
By Eric Klein, COO and Co-Founder, Cloudonix, Inc.
Everyone is making predictions about the post Covid19 “New Normal”. But the reality is we are constantly moving into a “new normal”
“The business landscape has changed fundamentally; tomorrow’s environment will be different, but no less rich in possibilities for those who are prepared.” - By Ian Davis, McKinsey& Company March 1, 2009.1
Back in 2009, Ian was talking about the world after the financial crisis, and how it would affect businesses. And to be honest many of those same concepts are relevant now
“For some organizations, near-term survival is the only agenda item. Others are peering through the fog of uncertainty, thinking about how to position themselves once the crisis has passed and things return to normal. The question is, “What will normal look like?” While no one can say how long the crisis will last, what we find on the other side will not look like the normal of recent years. The new normal will be shaped by a confluence of powerful forces—some arising directly from the financial crisis and some that were at work long before it began.”2
This is also true for the current crisis. And there are several things we can learn predict based on how companies have already responded, especially with their call center operations. Companies that were quick to recognize the dangers of having their staff in the continue to look at the longer horizon.
Vimeo, Inc.: “Prior to the crisis Video Creation Customer Support was mostly done on site, and the team successfully transitioned to working from home during the crisis.” Much to the satisfaction of Nir Ben-Ari, Head of the Video Creation Customer Support team at Vimeo. And they will see how things change in the future.
Expedia, Inc.: “The shift from brick and mortar to Work at Home was a necessity as COVID impacted the ability for Agents to work in centers. We expect to continue on with between 30-50% Work from Home as our go forward strategy.” - Jenn Anderson Director, Global Partner Operations at Expedia, Inc.
Baja Call Center Inc.: “We are thankful we followed our instincts as the move has proved so successful that we plan to keep a percentage of the workforce at home when the crisis passes. Productivity and job satisfaction have both improved and that increased efficiency further allows us to keep pricing affordable." “I think realistically we are looking at around 50% of employees working from home for the foreseeable future. We are finding that the majority of agents are productive and enjoy working from home. We are in the process of polling the employees to find out under what circumstances they would want to return to the office if at all. Some agents are looking to return to the office as soon as possible so we want to accommodate that as well.” said Justin Lines, CEO of Baja Call Center Inc.
Texas Sourcing International: “Currently, in our center we have 48% of our agents working from home, and 52% in the office. As we grow, we are planning on maintaining that approximate 50/50 arrangement.” Said Geno Polka, Chief Commercial Officer at Texas Sourcing International.
What is driving the move toward work from home?
Not all moves to Work-from-Home (WFH) have met with success, in Mid-June it was reported that Sapiens had to pay $250,000 for a ransomware attack. “The hack is believed to have occurred while most of the company’s employees switched to work from home amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.”3
So, with this attack in mind I ran a poll in several call center related groups on LinkedIn. In the first I asked what contact center management saw for the future. Here the question was about whether they saw their staff either working from the office or from home.
The options were:
- Everyone works in the office
- Up to 30% work from home
- Up to 50% work from home
- Everyone works from home
There were 144 respondents.
As you can see in Figure 1, over 70% saw a large portion, if not all, of their call center staff working from home. With 60% saying that up to half of their teams would be working from home.
Figure 1 How do you see the future of call centers in the post COVID era?
But what is driving these changes? And what will the implications be.
In the second poll looked at “What is most important feature in a work from home (WFH) solution for a call / contact center?” The options were:
- Continue monitoring agents
- Unchanged workflows/processes
There were 102 respondents.
As you can see in Figure 2, security was the third of the desired of the options. Keeping the business running as it was before (no changes in processes and continuing to monitor the agents) made up a combined 67% of the responses. I attribute these to the worries of management that WFH employees are not going to be as efficient or responsive than if they were in the office. The idea that the agents would need to be retrained or do things differently was also a concern.
Figure 2 What is most important feature in a work from home (WFH) solution for a call / contact center?
Why will there be more work from home?
There are many reasons for this shift from the previous large call center environment. These can be related to reduced costs of maintaining such a large space, concerns about future health issues as brought out with COVID-19, or even the proof that such work can be done remotely as during the lockdowns.
But one thing is clear, management has had a significant change of heart about the need for everyone to be in the office full time. Even companies like Facebook, Twitter and Amazon are realizing that their work practices need to change. Recently Mark Zuckerberg said “I think that it’s possible that over the next five to 10 years — maybe closer to 10 than five, but somewhere in that range — I think we could get to about half of the company working remotely permanently.”4
“Tech giants including Facebook, Twitter and Amazon have begun sharing plans about how they'll adapt their work cultures to adapt. Offices will be the most visible examples of these changes, with many occupied far below capacity as some employees permanently transition to remote work.”5
So, with this transition to more of the team working from home there are some technical considerations that need to be taken in order to best equip the remote employees. As the polls showed, keeping much of the same tools and processes are key requirements of call center managers. And as the Sapiens case shows, these can not be at the expense of security – especially in call centers that deal with medical or financial information.
Traditional solutions to work from home
There are numerous factors to consider in this move. Secure login and VPN connections are easy to implement and don’t require extensive training. That takes care of the CRM, email, and online systems.
But connecting a home office back into the phone system, dialers, etc.? No that is a bit more complicated, and frequently get bypassed with employees dialing out over their cell phones. These bypasses and eliminates tracking metrics, call recording, and other compliance factors that may be critical.
To enable the agent to be able to connect to the phone system traditional options range from expensive to technically difficult. These include:
- Replacing the existing phone solution with a cloud solution. This will be both costly and time-consuming. These kinds of cloud systems are usually charged based on number of seats plus a per the minute charge for each call– leading to an unpredictable monthly bill.
- Buy additional licenses for your existing system, but this can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the system and number of seats needed.
- Using a VPN to connect existing licenses, but this can be complicated by firewalls, and quality concerns.
- Using a dial-back solution via the telephone network in two legs, 1st call is made to the agent’s phone & the 2nd call is made to the customer, patched in as a conference. But for this the company is paying twice for every minute.
New option for work from home
By using a combination of newer technologies, it is possible to connect the work at home agent with the existing systems. A system like Cloudonix can connect to existing on premise phone and agent tracking via a single port, thus removing the need for multiple new licenses in those systems. And by providing end-to-end encryption the calls can be as secure as if they were taking place inside the call center.
This way, agents can work the same way they would have if they were sitting at their desks; with no need for new training or loss of management oversight. Call recordings or transcripts as will as call durations and notes can be put into the CRM as always. And the agents can be using software based phones on their computers or smart phone, so there is no need for new hardware.
For maximum flexibility with predictable costs you should choose a solution that is based on a flat rate per agent (or better still per active agent) per month. Once connected and tested this kind of solution can be used as needed and increased or reduced to the minimum fee based on the business need.
About the Author
Mentor for technology-oriented startups and VoIP security and fraud specialist, Eric oversees the day-to-day operations at Cloudonix so the developers can focus on turning caffeine into code.
His experience in network and communication systems comes from his years at MCI Communications (Verizon) and Cellcom, and his activities as a fraud prevention expert at Humbug Telecom.
Eric co-authored the RFC4864 Local Network Protection for IPv6, and he has published a number of chapters in books on disaster recovery and telecom security, as well as a science fiction book.
About the Cloudonix
Cloudonix is delivering on the decade long promise of easy and comfortable customer experience. Our solution improves customer voice engagements and enables businesses to grow revenues and reduce costs.
Our service merges customer side information (from the website/mobile app) with the associated voice call. Customers are connected to agents - no annoying menus. Agents get all relevant service data from customer side.
For more information please go to https://cloudonix.io
Or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
1The new normal, by Ian Davis, McKinsey Quarterly published March 1, 2009 |https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/the-new-normal
2 The new normal, by Ian Davis, McKinsey Quarterly published March 1, 2009 |https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/the-new-normal
3 Sapiens pays $250,000 in Bitcoin to hackers who took over its computers, by Meir Orbach June 14, 20202 in Calcalistech https://www.calcalistech.com/ctech/articles/0,7340,L-3833070,00.html
4 Mark Zuckerberg On Taking His Massive Workforce Remote, By Casey Newton, The Verge, Published May 21, 2020 https://www.theverge.com/2020/5/21/21265780/facebook-remote-work-mark-zuckerberg-interview-wfh
5 The new work-from-home policies at Facebook, Twitter, Apple and more, by Ian Sherr, CNet published May 29, 2020 https://www.cnet.com/news/the-new-work-from-home-policies-at-facebook-twitter-apple-and-more/