Like most of you, I’ll never forget where I was the night the world shut down. I was performing at a jazz club and one of my students, Tommy, came to my show. It was my first semester teaching music as an adjunct professor at Purdue University Fort Wayne, and I was thrilled to be making my debut musical appearance three months after the birth of my son.
“We have an extended spring break!” Tommy told me emphatically after the show. I was shocked. Out of an abundance of caution for COVID, Purdue was extending its spring break for another two weeks. It would be a full year before we returned to in-person classes, but no one knew that then.
Mask mandates, travel bans, and devastating statistics dominated the news cycle and continue to do so. But, as tumultuous as this last year and a half has been, some positive changes have emerged.
Shutdowns forced many companies to not only close their physical doors, but also reevaluate their overall “workplace” mentality. Contact centers are no exception. While many team leaders and managers scrambled to assemble their agent workforce remotely, productivity soared and agents reported enjoying the freedom that came with working from home. Many of us still don’t know when we’ll return to the office and for the long-term, a lot of companies are adopting a hybrid approach that balances remote work with an in-office setting.
Forrester predicts that “Remote work will permanently increase to 300% of pre-pandemic levels.”
Sounds like a dream, right? No commute, all-you-can eat meals and snacks at an arm’s reach, and pants are optional! What could possibly go wrong?
Consider the tipping scales of work-life balance.
What is Work-Life Balance?
The Cambridge dictionary says the definition of work-life balance is, “The amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy.” This isn’t a new idea, of course. In 1886, 250,000 laborers and unionized workers went on strike across the U.S. with their eight-hour day movement, which would become the framework for work-life balance as we know it today. The group’s slogan was “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what you will.” Perfect balance. Or is it?
Unfortunately, this formula doesn’t work for everyone anymore. Our lives are not cookie-cutter shapes with an equal eight hours neatly carved for work, sleep, and play. More than ever, the post-pandemic workforce demands flexibility. This is especially key in contact centers where attrition is already higher than many other fields. So, how do we retain call center staff while keeping our employees happy and productive in a post-pandemic remote workplace?
1. Communicate clear expectations
Your contact center team may be spread across states, countries, or even continents. Communication is vital to keep everyone working toward the same goal. Set up meetings to touch base at least every other week. Make sure deadlines and KPIs are clearly defined and easily understood by everyone on your team. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open on both sides. Your agents should feel comfortable coming to you with questions and concerns.
2. Be flexible with scheduling
This is good advice for all work environments but it’s especially important for remote workers. The CDC says that “Flexibility allows additional time for sleep and exercise, which promotes good health and creativity. Employers can encourage remote workers to use flexible work schedules to address their health and well-being needs—whether to exercise, meditate, volunteer, or go to a doctor’s appointment.” Need a resource to assist with forecasting, employing flexible schedules, and monitoring your agents in real-time? Check this out.
3. Incentivize staying active
Give your employees a reason to get moving! The American Psychological Association reported that creativity increased up to 81% after just 30 minutes of walking. Imagine the problem-solving that could occur after a mid-afternoon stroll around the block! Monthly fitness challenges (like posting a workout) where the winner receives a prize, gift cards for participating in health checkups, or discounts for gym memberships, are all great ways to encourage physical activity on your team.
4. Stay connected
We no longer have the option to grab a coffee with a coworker before a meeting, or to hang out by the water cooler for a minute more than we should. But these small interactions make a big difference in how we feel at work. In this New York Times article, the writer explores the importance of socialization on our mental and physical health. “People who are chronically lacking in social contacts are more likely to experience elevated levels of stress and inflammation. These, in turn, can undermine the well-being of nearly every bodily system, including the brain.”
I think it’s safe to say that in the last year and a half, we’ve ALL lacked social contacts. But, we can take charge and create connection points. Try hosting a weekly coffee break or bi-monthly happy hour on Zoom. Keep the conversations going and motivate your agents to just have some fun! This casual camaraderie will build trust and loyalty on your team and across the company.
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5. Avoid burnout
Burnout is real. We’ve all had too much on our plates at one time or another, but projects need to be completed and deadlines are a part of life, right? Chronic burnout, however, is daunting and can even be deadly. Defined as a reaction to constant job stress, studies show that “People who experience chronic burnout have a 26 to 35 percent higher risk of early mortality…If we don’t deal with burnout properly, the great price of health will be paid by individuals, and the organizations will also experience financial and human capital loss in terms of lowered performance, absenteeism, turnover, replacement and retraining, and a large amount of medical bills.”
There are things you can do right now to prevent burnout. Be vocal about promoting — and following through on — work-life balance. Encourage your team members to use their vacation time and mean it! Intentionally schedule workday breaks for your agents to go on a quick walk, grab a snack or to call a loved one.
6. Bridge the pandemic gender gap
Women make up almost half of the labor force, but since February 2020, more than 2.3 million women have left the workforce. This is nearly double the number of men who left during the same period.
Nearly one-third of working women are also mothers. We know that trends are changing, but the responsibility of child care still remains disproportionately female. “Many of these women have been forced to leave the workplace due to ongoing closures of schools and day care centers,” CNBC reports.
So, what can you do to help bridge the gap and keep women in your workforce? Start small with simple changes like camera-optional meeting policies or more flexible scheduling. Also consider extra parental benefits like back-up child care and extended parental leave. You may even provide a stipend program for childcare. Slowing the drain of women leaving the workforce starts with ensuring these professionals feel supported.
7. Encourage a designated workspace
Blurred lines can cause confusion and stress, especially when working remotely. A pile of unfolded laundry may understandably be too distracting to ignore if it’s sitting next to your laptop. On the other hand, you may be tempted to roll out of bed and immediately dive into your work.
Make it a priority to give your team members the resources they need — including tools for compartmentalizing work and home. Consider offering discounts on office supplies, or sending your team care packages with gift cards to office supply stores.
The pandemic will have a lasting change on how and where we work. The work-life choices we make in these challenging times will ultimately determine our success and longevity. Encouraging sustainable habits for the at-home agent has never been more important, and these tips can help your team have a happier, healthier, and more productive workplace wherever they choose to work.