Three Barriers to Working from Home

By Michele Rowan

Having worked with over 500 companies in design and deployment of home agent strategies over the past two years, clear threads of highly successful implementations have emerged, along with three barriers to success: fraudulent activity, cultural connection, and control.

Progressive and innovative organizations understand that the question has evolved from “if” to “when” home reps become part of the customer contact strategy. This is because the model continues to deliver tremendous returns in cost savings, employee satisfaction, and customer loyalty.

As a short-term solution, while we refine business processes and technologies, building a home agent model within the neighborhood of an existing contact center is a smart and low-risk way to go, unless there is a proven incompatible labor market.

Longer term, the best employees will demand mobility from us, as technology is present to support it. The question then becomes, “Will your organization be one that pursues the best talent by removing geographical restrictions, or will you settle for employees that you can control by tethering them to your hometown?”

Three key barriers to implementing a successful home agent model are listed below. For those who are stuck in the strategic analysis process and struggling to move forward due to these barriers, best practices and processes in high utilization are also outlined. These should encourage a fresh look or perhaps inspire your next round of continuous improvements.

  1. The risk associated with fraudulent behavior or manipulation of data at home seems daunting. How can we reduce or control someone’s ability to write down non-public information in a home office? How can we prevent a roommate from looking over the shoulder of a home-based employee and writing down sensitive information? The risk at home clearly is larger than in contact centers.

However, survey results from a study AHCC (At Home Customer Contacts) conducted earlier this year with over ninety companies deploying the home agent model showed that 98 percent of companies experienced the same or fewer incidents of fraudulent behavior at home versus in-house. How is that achieved?

The tools that many companies utilize to mitigate risk of fraudulent activities include surveillance and controls that function as both monitors and deterrents. Specifically, these include webcams (continuous or intermittent throughout the day), use of IVRs (interactive voice response) for segments of calls where sensitive information is conveyed from customer to company, and added layers of pre-employment screening. Others expand live and recorded surveillance samples. There are a number of strong levels of control that can be integrated into business processes. They will obviously affect the cost model, so analysis is required to find the optimal balance for your organization.

  1. There is a higher risk that home-based employees will not connect and subscribe to the company’s culture. Do employees need to be in-person to collaborate with team members or in-person at company events where key messaging and vision is delivered by management to forge cultural connections? IBM and AT&T don’t think so. Forty percent of IBM’s employees work remotely, and a third of AT&T’s managers are non-geographic.

To ensure that values are well defined for all employees, a best practice is to develop a framework to evaluate core values used on location to effectively connect values to people, followed by tools that can be used to connect remote team members. There are many effective means and channels available, most of which are already in use for connecting headquarters to regional offices and teleworkers to their corporate-based counterparts (such as chat, webcasts, and telepresence). By starting here, the balance of the work will flow quite naturally.

  1. There may be a risk that employees won’t work as expected (or as hard) when out of eyesight. This is no longer a majority-held fear. We have been managing productivity via technology for the past decade, and we’ve gotten very good at it. For some, this fear may linger at the C-suite level, but it can generally be dissolved with data and analysis on effective business processes and management. Data may not carry the day immediately to allay this dated concern, but it wears down the barriers.

When managers and supervisors believe that employees won’t work as expected (or will work less) at home, alarm bells should ring. These leaders have trust issues, and these must be addressed before the company can optimize a distributed work environment. A best practice is to send these members home to work and experience teleworking firsthand.

To summarize, transitions always require reevaluation of existing management processes and approaches in order to maximize benefits. Examining perceived barriers and actual risks through that lens has helped leading organizations move forward.

Michele Rowan is president of At Home Customer Contacts, helping companies develop and implement virtual contact center solutions. She conducts two-day best practice workshops in the US, Europe, and Canada. The next one will be in Toronto at the Sheraton City Centre, June 26-27.

[From Connection Magazine June 2012]

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