Flexible Work Arrangements: The Future of Contact Centers flexible work

Flexible Work Arrangements: The Future of Contact Centers

The future of work is an important topic of discussion for business leaders. While we can’t know for sure what the future of work will look like, one thing seems certain—flexible work is a major component in achieving satisfaction among the modern workforce. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, attitudes toward ongoing remote, hybrid, and flexible work agreements changed dramatically. The hybrid work model became the accepted norm as businesses proved that they could be productive and successful while supporting employees’ desires to work from home some or all of the time. 

For companies with contact centers, addressing the demand for flexibility has become a top priority. According to CMP Research’s 2022 Agent Experience Survey, agent experience has been the number one challenge for contact center leaders in the past few years, specifically around hiring and retaining agents. Data shows that 42% of contact center agents are not satisfied in their current role, and  65% of agents anticipate leaving their positions within two years. Ultimately, the research found that agents leave for three reasons: dissatisfaction with managers, flexibility, and career development. 

Understanding what it means to offer flexible work arrangements and knowing how to implement them successfully will help contact center managers strengthen their organizations and contribute to the overall strength of the business.

What is Flexible Work in Contact Centers?

Great customer service requires around-the-clock attention. Contact centers that provide customer support only during traditional weekday 9-5 business hours may still be able to get by depending on the nature of the business, but the digital age is quickly erasing formerly accepted boundaries around limited support hours. With modern sensibilities combined with increasing pressure to deliver service excellence, flexibility has become a key strategy for improving the results and longevity of call center organizations. 

Flexible and alternative work arrangements for contact centers can come in many shapes and forms. Contact center leaders can infuse flexibility into shifts, assignments, schedules, physical locations, and more. Regardless of the specific type or area, the intention and objective of incorporating flexibility into the contact center is always to enhance the work lives of agents, making them easier and more manageable. This, in turn, reduces stress, increases job satisfaction, and elevates employee productivity. For companies, engaging staff reduces the high cost of hiring and training. 

Flexible Work Arrangements: The Future of Contact Centers flexible work

Types of Flexible Work 

There are many forms of flexible work that give agents more options and greater control over their scheduling preferences. Here are some common examples of flexible working arrangements.

1. Flexible Working Hours

Flex time allowing agents to select the shifts and hours they prefer can be a game changer in retaining staff long-term. Moving to a four-day work week is another form of flexible hours that contact center leaders can consider.  

2. Work from Home/Remote Agents

Supporting a hybrid model or remote work arrangement where agents work from home some or all of the time can create operational cost savings and support their work-life balance needs. Ensuring that all remote or hybrid agents have access to the right technology and tools is imperative for success. 

3. Shift Exchanges

Allowing agents to swap shifts with other agents relieves stress when unexpected events occur. It also frees them up to take on opportunities for more work when they are available. Workforce management software and applications can make it simple to change shifts on short notice and ensure that the contact center is never short-staffed.

4. Break Options

Rather than setting specific times for regular breaks and lunch during the shift, consider allowing the agents to choose the best time for them. For example, an employee who needs to pick up a child after school could take a shorter lunch break and use the remainder of the allotted time by moving up their departure time and leaving earlier. This flexibility can make it possible for employees to accomplish the priorities in their personal lives without disrupting their work time. 

The Risks and Rewards

Moving from a traditional work model to a more flexible arrangement is a big leap for contact center management. Flexibility inherently adds complexity, which always presents challenges. For example, with flexible work schedules, regular communication can become more complicated if agents are not on-site every day on a set schedule. And, if agents are working from home, concerns around the negative effects of isolation and distraction could arise. However, research overwhelmingly supports the fact that embracing flexibility is key to maximizing performance. By offering more choices in the workplace, employers can positively impact productivity and morale. With more satisfaction comes the advantages of lower turnover and higher customer service rates. 

Best Practices for Flexible Work 

Regardless of the type of flexible work arrangement best suited for your business, the following five best practices are designed to set you up for success. 

1. Introduce Flexibility in Stages

If starting from traditional scheduling policies, introduce flexibility slowly and build from there. Too many flexible work policy changes can quickly become complex and overwhelming all at once. Create a plan and set phases to roll out new levels of flexibility. Begin with one meaningful but smaller change and when everything is running smoothly, you are ready to add the next flexible work option. 

2. Embrace Technology 

Workforce management software and applications are designed to empower agents to handle their own scheduling so that contact center managers can focus on other priorities. Some solutions leverage AI to make capacity planning, forecasting, employee scheduling, and intraday planning easy, accurate, and far less time-consuming. Cloud-based solutions mean that the team can easily access the system from anywhere.

3. Invest in Management 

Strong contact center management produces the most satisfied agents. Simply keeping agents on-site or on set work schedules does not guarantee that the management-agent relationship will be positive and successful. Research shows that in-person interaction does not drive connection as much as previously believed. Commit the time to develop management talent and encourage ongoing and intentional collaboration between management and agents.

4. Offer Continuous Development

Call center agents need ongoing training to improve their effectiveness, stay engaged, and remain motivated. Continuous coaching and development are especially important for remote workers or hybrid agents doing part-time work with flexible schedules so they stay current with new skills, tools, and updates. Look for ways to formally and informally enrich agents’ training and development both remotely and on-site.

5. Use Gamification 

If flexible work arrangements make it feel like your team has lost the unity of working together in the contact center, consider gamification as a way to create bonding experiences. Friendly competition with reward and recognition are excellent energizers in the workplace. Leaderboards for customer satisfaction scores, badges for specific achievements, points for sales conversion rates, or customer resolution rates are common examples of areas that can be “gamified” in a contact center. 

Future-Proof with Flexibility

It is no secret that happy employees are more productive and successful. Workplace flexibility is a significant factor in employee well-being because it enables individuals to achieve a more satisfying work-life balance. With higher motivation and morale, organizations will find it much easier to retain and develop staff while reducing the need to spend additional time, budget, and resources on continuous recruitment, onboarding, and training. 

Fortunately, contact centers are well positioned to offer flexible work arrangements because the potential benefits of flexibility are compelling. These include improved reputation, higher sales rates, and reduced administrative burden related to agent turnover. Ultimately, engaged employees produce positive results that positively impact the bottom line and future outlook for the business. 

Managers can deliver on customer service goals and elevate customer experience while also accommodating their agents’ lifestyles, scheduling needs, and work preferences. As the advantages of flexibility far outweigh the drawbacks, flexibility is the future for contact centers. Download our ebook today to learn more about how flexible work arrangements impact contact center agent experience and customer service costs.

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