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Surprises and Delights

Surprises and Delights

/ People, Hiring, Remote Work, Operations
Surprises and Delights

Work from home…15 years in review.

Congratulations to Linda Harden and the entire team at Contact Center Pipeline on 15 game-changing years! There are only a few comprehensive monthly magazines for contact center professionals, and this one is at the top, in my view. This publication is always packed with timely and meaningful articles – by impressive authors who add a lot of value to the contact center community.

So much has changed over the past 15 years. In 2009, I was working for Hilton Reservations Worldwide, and we had just moved 1,000+ people from in-office positions to work from home (WFH). We were in the midst of the 2008-2009 recession and desperately needed to reduce costs. So, we made the decision to release a good deal of the contact center real estate portfolio, and quickly figured out how to effectively support people who were home-based.

Tools in 2009? We had a phone bridge, Sharepoint files, and a home grown self-scheduling tool that was built in an Aspect database. We shifted from hiring mostly full-time people to mostly part-time people, and with the efficiencies gained in scheduling plus the obvious real estate and related savings with the move to WFH, we were able to avoid major layoffs.

We had just moved 1,000+ people from in-office positions to work from home.

Most of our employees were quite happy to move home, and those that wanted to stay in-office could do so (if we maintained an office presence in their geographical location) or were given a chance to relocate to an area that did have an office.

While we were mostly successful, the program had some flaws, and we felt the pain of them for quite some time. These were our failure points 15 years ago that we worked hard to correct. What’s so interesting is that I see a number of organizations today – experiencing the same challenges:

  1. New hire training for WFH team members was still in-house – since we didn’t have virtual training built out at that point, we asked new hires to come in-office to train. That resulted in some turnover. It took us 18 months to introduce a fully virtual new hire training program, and years to get really good at it.
  2. New hire training was full-time – even though most of our positions that we were filling were part-time, we asked WFH people to train in full-time schedules, or nearly full-time. This caused fallout. 18 months in, we started offering part-time new hire training.
  3. The part-time schedules offered to new hires were 90% evenings and weekends, as our most senior team members were hanging on to their fixed daytime Monday-Friday schedules. We worked hard to mix the offerings to our part-time new hires by adding in some daytime hours for them to choose from.
  4. We had some supervisors with mixed teams (some employees at home and some in-office). The supervisors were stressed, and less effective. What few tools we had available for virtual performance management were clunky, and we were asking leaders to manage and support two different ways. It was a stretch, it was taxing. We stopped doing it for the most part, and went back to dedicated teams. For the few teams that remained mixed, we reduced the team sizes to take some pressure off the leaders so they could do their jobs well.
What’s so interesting is that I see a number of organizations today – experiencing the same challenges.

Amazingly, these were our only material challenges. Could we see people on video? No. Did we have a comprehensive meeting platform? No. Did we have robust digital new hire training? No. Did we have dedicated digital channels for knowledge and experience sharing? No.

The great news is that the tools available today are robust and can support hybrid and fully remote teams in a way no one would have imagined 15 years ago. In many instances, we can engage and get stuff done more effectively today than we ever could when we were co-located. I’m hearing from a number of my clients and colleagues that WFH/hybrid teams know more about each other on a personal level than they ever did when everyone was office-based. Why? We are working harder at it.

The great news is that the tools available today are robust and can support hybrid and fully remote teams in a way no one would have imagined 15 years ago.

I think the surprises and delights that we will glean from these early days of post-COVID on scale remote and hybrid work are just beginning to show up! I can’t wait to see what the next couple of years will show us as companies and leaders start to get really, really good at WFH and hybrid working.

Michele Rowan

Michele Rowan

Michele Rowan is President of Work from Home Alliance, which provides consultancy, workshops and conferences exclusively on remote working for contact centers, support functions and enterprise.

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