It has been one of the craziest years for contact centers and more changes are on the way. If your contact center is like most, you are not able to continue work-from-home any longer than necessary. You may be preparing a plan to start bringing your agents back to your brick-and-mortar centers.
We put together the following tips and focus areas to help make the transition back to the office a little smoother and more comfortable for your agents.
Focus on Flexibility
Good news! The contact center industry is used to change, often daily or even hourly. The success of your return-to-the-office plan will rely on exercising your flexibility muscles. As we all know, things are changing every day with COVID-19. We may be opening today and reclosing tomorrow. Be prepared and be flexible enough to modify your plans according to the fluidity of the situation. As they say, stay calm and call on.
Create a Workplace Health and Safety Plan
Every organization should review applicable laws in your state and city, as well as CDC guidance. Then, create a workplace health and safety plan that keeps your teams safe and includes some of the points covered in this article.
- CDC Guidance. Start by reviewing the CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers. This will provide guidelines and recommendations that all employers can use to protect their workers and clients.
- Workforce Management. When bringing people back into a shared space, you may need to create a workforce management plan to limit the number of agents in the center at any given time. Make it simple and easy to remember. You could assign a color to each team and post a color-coded schedule. Posters at the entrance (and on agents’ desktops) will help remind people of the color of the day/week.
Adjust Metrics and KPIs
Coming back to flexibility, we may need to alter our key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics. Normal speed and responsiveness will likely be affected by new cleaning protocols, social distancing and limited access to facilities. It may be necessary to adjust KPIs and metrics to accommodate changed employee situations, including childcare or other family care. If your KPIs are not modifiable, some agents may need to move to Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (EFMLA) status.
- Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). You may need to adjust your paid-time-off policies to accommodate local and national laws, including FFCRA. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires certain employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. These provisions apply until at least December 31, 2020. Find more information about FFCRA on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division website.
Focus on Fighting Fear and Spreading Cooperation
At CallCenterPro, we always say to follow the platinum rule. That means seeking to understand our agents and treating them the way THEY want to be treated. COVID-19 response is no different. Some employees are fully ready to get back to normalcy (shaking hands and being with people), while others are genuinely concerned for their safety and prefer to social distance and avoid contact with anyone.
To enable cooperation and comfort for all, it’s important to implement a communication system. One workable idea that we found is color-coded wristbands or lanyards in red, yellow and green.
- An employee wearing green signals, “I am comfortable with close contact.”
- Yellow might indicate, “Please observe six feet of separation.”
- Red would send the message, “I prefer no face-to-face contact at all.”
This system allows everyone to understand their coworkers’ preferences and treat them the way they want to be treated. Remember, over time people may shift from one color to another, so allow flexibility here as well.
Establish Cleaning Protocols
We can no longer rely on our cleaning crews to clean the office at the end of every day. It is everyone’s responsibility to be vigilant in cleaning and disinfecting. One idea is to have teams break from phones every hour to clean common areas. Training will be required as many people have different ideas of “clean.”
We should educate to clean commonly touched surfaces like door handles, tape dispensers, copiers, staplers, drinking fountains, vending machines and elevator buttons. Locate hand sanitizer stations prominently; set up plenty so that there is never a crowd at the station. Providing your staff with personal hand sanitizer bottles with your company’s logo would be a considerate way to promote your corporate brand and culture.
- UV Cleaning. Your employees will appreciate your small investment in UV cleaning for masks and personal items. UV cleaning stations or wands can help make people feel safer.
Loosen Sick Leave
Review your progressive discipline policy and be ready to require employees to work from home when they have symptoms. Provide paid time off in accordance with applicable laws. Remember to be flexible. Letting a slightly sick employee stay home is a much better option than risking widespread contagion in the office.
Create an employee education plan that includes steps they can take to be safe in or out of the office.
Start Employee Health Screenings
We recommend that every company create an employee health screening protocol. A great source for best practices is located on the CDC website.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Create an employee education plan that includes steps they can take to be safe in or out of the office. Have a COVID-19 “boot camp” to train employees on the new norms of office cohabitation in the pandemic era. Hold “COVID drills” similar to fire drills. A COVID drill requires everyone to stop what they are doing to practice cleaning and sanitizing protocols to their personal workspace and common areas. Create materials such as signage and posters to reinforce important behaviors. Post trainings and reminders, create e-learning modules, and use your agent intranet or home page to post updates, policies and reminders. Set the example to employees that you take COVID-19 and their health very seriously.
Social Distancing in Common Areas
Sun Country Airlines created directional walking paths to limit employees from crossing paths in the office. EcoWater has prepared a revised floor plan for the customer service department to allow representatives to practice appropriate social distancing when they return to the office, and posted the new plans around the facility. Other ideas include dedicating one door for entrances and one for exits to keep people moving in one direction. Create a compliance plan and encourage everyone to follow the new rules.
- Breaks and Break Rooms. It’s essential to prevent large groups from gathering. Consider expanding break areas by designating a conference room as another break room. Staggering employee break times can also limit numbers in a room. Your color-code system could come in handy for assigning times and break areas to reduce exposure and enable effective distancing.
- Meetings. Many of us are starting to get teleconferencing burnout, but moving to face-to-face meetings will require careful planning. If you’re going to move toward live meetings, set the ground rules. No-contact rules may include no handshakes, no closed meeting spaces, no hugging, etc. Make sure no one is facing one another directly; arranging seating at least six feet apart and all facing the same direction is good. Better yet, take your meetings outside and get out of the conference room, weather permitting. In some cases, virtual meetings may still be your best option.
Employee Testing Program
A COVID-19 testing program can help ease fears, especially for those employees with higher risk profiles. If you can offer testing, understand that the efficacy of these tests may not be 100%. Following the other health and safety guidelines is still important.
Critical Team Protection
Do you have critical team members who cannot all be gone at the same time without a major disruption to your operations? We recommend establishing protocols to separate these critical employees into groups that do not have any close contact. Keep them separated until COVID-19 easing is in full effect.
Rules that apply to those employees who exhibit symptoms—as well as those exposed through personal contact or travel—are necessary in every contact center. These guidelines should include how to report and how to quarantine those with symptoms.
Document & Communicate
Once your back-to-work plan has been created, it is important to document your policies and protocols and update your employee handbook.
Finally, the most important tool in your box is communication. Use every medium available to you to communicate what you expect and what you will provide to keep everyone safe and happy. This pandemic calls for over-communicating—spread awareness instead of the virus!
Eric, Matt and Jeremy are board members of the Midwest Contact Center Association and are frequent speakers on industry best practices.