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Will Contact Center Agents Return to the Office Once it’s Safe?

As seen during the pandemic, working at home is fine for contact center employees, as long as the program is managed properly. The trick or best practice is to create a formal work-at-home (WAH) program that addresses all employee and company responsibilities and properly sets expectations, so everyone knows what is required of them. 

Now that employees have worked successfully from home, some are not going to be willing to return to the office. There are studies now underway to identify the severity of this issue, but based on early findings, it seems somewhere between 25% and a full third of the agent population is going to want to continue to work from home. This may be due to ongoing concerns about their health and the safety of their work environment, as no one can be sure of when the pandemic is going to be fully contained. Other agents find it convenient to work from home because it eliminates the commute and need to purchase a work wardrobe. 

However, from what we are seeing in the market, there are also many employees, including agents, who want to get out of their house or apartment and go back into an office. Many people are tired of being stuck in their house with no safe outside destination to go to. They may crave social interactions or lack proper work space, just to mention a couple of the reasons for wanting to return to an office environment. 

DMG recommends that contact center leaders be flexible when it comes to deciding if employees have to return to the office. We suggest that contact centers give employees a choice, one that doesn’t involve a cut in salary if someone decides that they feel safer at home. Specifically, we suggest that companies that want to re-open their contact centers ask employees to choose where they want to be based in the future, and allow three options:

  1. 100% work in the office
  2. 100% work from home
  3. A hybrid model, which will be a set number of days working in the office and at home

We’ve seen that it doesn’t really matter where an agent is based, as long as the contact center has the proper oversight tools and agents are able to work securely from a remote location. It is, however, necessary for managers to know in advance where each of their employees is going to be working every day, which is where workforce management (WFM) software comes in.

Contact centers need enhanced WFM solutions that establish and track schedules, as has always been the case, as well as the location where an agent is going to work, each day of the week. Agents should have the ability to alter their work location, as well as the hours they work, but this should be done only on an exception basis. Changing WFM requirements have made mobility more important now than ever before because it makes it easy for them to communicate schedule changes with management. 

Final Thoughts

All companies should have an effective work-at-home program because it offers many benefits for the business and its employees. Employees who were working from home before the pandemic should continue to be allowed to do so. Companies need to be prepared to make exceptions for former on-site employees who have concerns about returning to the office. DMG recommends that once everything settles down, at least 1/3 of all contact center agents should be allowed to work from their homes as this enables them to succeed during a business continuity scenario and addresses the needs of employees. The exact percentage or number will vary by organization, but using a model where WAH is an option will position an organization to be responsive to evolving employee expectations and unanticipated changes in workplace conditions.