By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Many healthcare call centers are decentralized, linking multiple centers together and embracing home-based agents. While there are many advantages with home-based agents, the risks are great for those who rush into it without careful planning. Here are some considerations:
1) Formulate a Clear Policy: Your call center either has agents who already work from home or agents who want to work from home. Regardless, you need a clear policy to address this. If agents working from home is something you will allow, specify how and when it can occur, what the expectations are, and how you’ll measure agent efficacy, both qualitatively and quantitatively. If you won’t allow home-based agents, this also needs to be stated in writing. A third option is whether telecommuting will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Regardless, have a clear policy and stick with it. Don’t subject employees to inconsistent behavior.
2) Have a Plan and Work the Plan: Once you have a plan for home-based agents, clearly communicate and carefully implement it. A “plan as you go” approach will frustrate staff. And whenever staff becomes unsure or upset, the best ones will leave first.
3) Train Managers to Properly Oversee Remote Staff: Many call center managers use the “management by walking around” style of overseeing staff. This common method is most effective when employees are centralized; it’s disastrous in a distributed environment. If a manager can’t effectively handle remote staff, provide the needed training or find a new manager. Don’t make employees who work at home suffer because of ineffective management.
4) Avoid Using “Us” and “Them”: When a staff is physically separated, an “us versus them” mentality will emerge if left unchecked. Although usually not malicious, remote staff members are often overlooked. Imagine being off-site and receiving a message that there are donuts in the break room or being told to check the potluck signup sheet posted next to the time clock. Referring to remote staff as “them” and the local staff as “us,” especially by management, is a staffing disaster waiting to erupt.
There are many benefits from allowing agents to work from home, but if this is pursued without the proper preparation and forethought, all the anticipated advantages will evaporate. A bit of careful planning today will result in a better outcome tomorrow.