Which Post-Pandemic Model Is Best for Remote Engagement Teams
Work from Call Center or Work from Home?
Understanding the Benefits of Each to Optimize Your Remote Teams
As the industry continues to revive shuttered offices in response to COVID’s retreat, business leaders are deciding whether to reopen their inbound and outbound facility-based call centers or continue to maintain a home-based model. There is no perfect answer to this question, and the Amplity team believes that each company needs to consider what works best for them, their culture, and their specific needs. We are eager to help you assess the upsides and downsides of each arrangement and make the right decision for you. This article identifies and describes several of the advantages of each arrangement to help you ask and answer the key questions that will enable you to understand which model may be best for your specific situation.
In March 2020, businesses worldwide joined the COVID-induced scramble to close offices and establish work-from-home (WFH) arrangements for millions of staff members. Now, as the crisis shifts from pandemic to endemic, some companies are opting to move back to an in-office model. For example, Elon Musk ordered Tesla employees to come back to the office or find another job, and Goldman Sachs workers are already back in-office full-time. But other companies are choosing the opposite path, especially with regard to their call center teams. Southwest Airlines plans to permanently close its reservations centers and allow customer service representatives go completely WFH. And according to a May 2022 report by FinancesOnline, “86% of customer service enterprises are looking into implementing a permanent work-from-home model.”
Similarly, biopharmaceutical firms are rethinking their need for the call centers that once housed row upon row of inside sales and customer service representatives. Whether companies manage their own call centers or outsource employ contract sales organizations, many are grappling with whether to move back to centralized teams in a work-from-call-center (WFCC) model or continue the decentralized WFH arrangement made necessary by the pandemic. Teams have grown accustomed to working from home and have adapted to their remote setups. Indeed, after investing the time and resources in the technology that made the WFH structure possible, companies have serious questions about the wisdom and necessity of bringing their teams back under a single roof.
There are pros and cons to each approach, and companies need to consider what works best for them, their culture, and their specific needs. In the following sections, we describe several of the advantages of each arrangement.
Remote Teams Need to Be in a Call Center
Housing remote engagement teams in a dedicated call center has several important advantages.
Strong support for culture and teamwork
When team members have in-person exposure to leadership and one another, team building and culture development are simple and often spontaneous. WFCC representatives have opportunities for unplanned interaction with managers, more experienced colleagues, and representatives in other areas. The term “water-cooler talk” may be something of a cliché, but it speaks to the relationships that form when co-workers can have meals or coffee together—and these strengthen the team. Additionally, conflicts or differences of opinion are often easier to resolve in person.
Potential for greater efficiency and productivity
Some people tend to be more productive when they spend time in an office environment rather than at home, and they may feel more accountable for their progress in a WFCC model. Oftentimes, team leaders benefit from broad observations of teams by being with them in person on a day-to-day basis, as exemplified by the “management by walking around” leadership style.
Sharing best practices immediately
When new information or new processes need to be shared, it can happen almost immediately in a call center, without having to set up virtual meetings. The back-and-forth of an in-person team huddle tends to be more efficient because team members can ask for clarification right away. If individual team members have questions over the course of a workday, they can consult with each other and their managers face to face. Importantly, when one WFCC representative develops a successful caller strategy, it often runs through the contact center like wildfire and the entire team starts using it to improve performance. This viral experience is very hard to duplicate in a WFH model.
Efficient training, recognition, and professional development
Some individuals learn better in in-person learning environments and struggle to succeed with online learning. Likewise, positive recognition is much easier when you can gather the entire team in a room and celebrate individual and group achievements or successes. Finally, representatives working in a WFCC model may more easily see pathways for career advancement, and they are more visible to the management team and may thus be more likely to advance.
Real-time monitoring, management, and coaching
Every company has its own requirements for quality monitoring of inbound and outbound calls, and it’s simpler for managers to meet these requirements in a call center. When team members work remotely, call monitoring and feedback take more planning and coordination.
For patient services teams, keeping patient information confidential is of utmost importance due to HIPAA regulations. This can be difficult to do when representatives are working from home within earshot of family members or housemates. There is an argument to be made for housing team members in a call center when they are dealing directly with patients and handling sensitive information.
Today, a WFH Model Is a Better Choice
As long as team members have a quiet, private home office environment and are set up with the right equipment and technology, the WFH model can be highly productive. After all, field sales representatives function in a WFH environment, and they are widely viewed as the gold standard customer engagement archetype. Benefits of WFH:
Access to a wider pool of talent
It’s self-evident that selecting talent from a nationwide labor pool should result in more high-quality hires than selecting talent from a much smaller local pool. With a continuing tight labor market, this benefit of WFH is undeniable. In our minds, the single most important advantage of the WFH model is this access to a vastly larger reservoir of quality, affordable talent.
Greater appeal to today’s workforce
As a result of the pandemic, many staff members have grown accustomed to WFH arrangements, and studies suggest that many of them are not eager to give up the WFH lifestyle. Requiring teams to work on-site at a call center could hurt companies that are looking to hire and keep the best employees. The past few years have shown that team members appreciate being trusted to fulfill their responsibilities as they see fit. They may prefer a results-oriented WFH culture to a workplace that requires on-site hours.
Higher employee attendance, morale, and retention
When team members don’t have to travel to a call center, it is easier for them to start work on time. Inclement weather is no longer an issue because they have everything they need at home to put in a full work day. Minor illnesses or childcare emergencies no longer necessarily mean a full missed day of work. What’s more, people find it easier to balance their work life and home life when they can WFH. Many employees are happier and more productive when they are not forced to choose between work and home responsibilities—and this can reduce the costs of representative turnover.
Integration with local healthcare landscape, field representatives, and time zones
When representatives can live in the geographic area they serve, rather than living close to a national call center, they have a better working knowledge of the local healthcare landscape. In addition to making connections with healthcare providers, they also can meet with local field representatives in their territory, a great benefit to everyone involved. Additionally, employing representatives who can work in their local time zones has clear scheduling benefits. Embedding teams in the local market may be more effective than requiring them to work in a central location.
Ability to use technology with intention
Remote work during the pandemic showed that it is possible to foster collaboration using video calls and other online tools. People have become quite comfortable with this way of working, and some staff members prefer this to in-person meetings. For managers, it sometimes can be more efficient to gather a team online rather than in person, as people can participate from any location.
Elimination of background noise and distractions
A call center is often filled with background noise from colleagues (talking, coughing, etc.). If team members have a quiet home office away from household bustle, the WFH setting can be more conducive to better attention and higher productivity.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
Based on our recent and long-term experience, the Amplity team believes that both WFCC and WFH arrangements can deliver powerful results. We can support clients with either model—or deploy a hybrid of the two—and we are eager to help you assess the upsides and downsides of each arrangement in order to make the decision that suits your needs and culture.
In the end, our view is that what’s most important is staying focused on the qualities of a high- performing team: efficiency and productivity; camaraderie, support, and empathy; and connections and transparency with client leaders. Together, these translate into the best possible service and results for our clients, for providers, and for patients.
Ready to discuss how we can help you design a solution to support your business objectives?