Workforce optimization in a new world of worker mobility
A recent BBC article highlighted the tidal surge of workers looking for new jobs in the post-pandemic world. Dubbed "The Great Resignation", the data paints a startling picture of people "leaving the workforce or switching jobs in droves". A similar survey by Microsoft of more than 30,000 workers showed 41 percent were considering quitting or changing professions within twelve months. Meanwhile yet another study of British and Irish employees showed 38 percent planning to quit in the next six months to a year.
These alarming figures could make any employer break into a sweat, unless they were in the recruitment business. However, in sectors that struggle with high staff turnover even in normal times, the projected increase in labour mobility presents an existential threat. In the contact center industry, for example, where employee turnover is usually around 26 percent annually -- significantly higher than the national average of 10-15 percent -- mapping on the new churn multiplier might even mean total workforce loss.
Employee engagement, then, has become a key focus for business leaders in high-churn industries for a post-pandemic world of worker hypermobility. Central to the new engagement culture will be offering employees unprecedented levels of flexibility -- while still ensuring they are trained, supported, monitored, motivated and organized. Workforce optimization techniques are now firmly on the leadership agenda.
The contact center has long been a sector that has espoused workforce optimization technologies, albeit delivering them in a top-down way. Initiatives such as performance management, quality monitoring, contact recording and Customer Relationship Management have all been widely deployed to improve effectiveness and outcomes. Now the contact center is looking afresh at how its traditional command and control strategies can be adapted to suit the new mood.
Indeed, some contact centre organisations are actively embracing the benefits that flexible working can bring. From hybrid to fully remote models, creating teams that can work from any location, across time zones and in multiple territories makes an attractive alternative to ‘mill-style’ work. All this is increasingly important to employees too and, while many people may welcome a return to the office environment, countless others have experienced a permanent shift in expectations, following their enforced taste of freedom.
For these workers, the option of partial or full remote location, together with flexible scheduling, has become a 'must have' when assessing job opportunities and career goals. In the context of an increasingly competitive jobs market, employers in the contact center sector and elsewhere will do well to recognize the importance of this new take on optimization. Remote working is also widening the talent pool as a whole, bringing contact center jobs within reach of people who aren’t looking for office-based roles.
Management and Motivation
So, what can the experiences of the contact center sector tell us about where workforce optimization is heading more generally? Clearly, the ongoing shift to digitally transform traditional processes and work practices will bring further long-term changes. Staying with contact centers, providing remote employees with integrated knowledge management and support tools is essential for helping workers to meet the needs of customers, irrespective of where their work takes place. The availability of real-time contextual information and customer histories, allied to technologies that assist service agents with complex or challenging interactions ensures that working apart from colleagues and managers will not detract from service delivery standards or customer outcomes.
However, workforce optimization tools should not be regarded as a silver bullet for remote workforce engagement -- helping team members to remain motivated is equally important. People working alone need to have confidence in the processes that assign tasks to them, and that the tasks served up by the technology are going to be relevant to their job description, skillset and development aspirations.
Any tasks that place employees in situations outside of these parameters can be extremely challenging and stressful, with the risks amplified when an employee is working at arm's length from the support and guidance of an experienced supervisor or manager.
Contact center roles are among many that benefit from the reassurance that workers can call for guidance from colleagues whenever necessary. Furthermore, optimization systems must recognize that experienced people with strong skill sets should not be allocated highly repetitive or algorithmic tasks. In the customer service world, organizations are increasingly turning to automated, AI-powered chatbots to handle their most common or simple inquiries. When human expertise is required, these intelligent systems can also route customers to the best-qualified service agent to address more complex or individual challenges.
These challenges and their associated solutions provide lessons for a huge variety of businesses and teams adjusting to a permanent change in workplace culture. As lockdowns peter out, employers are left looking for a win-win situation where they can embrace the best of both worlds -- office and remote.
For many thousands of businesses across the economy where remote working remains a viable option, there is simply no going back to how working life was organized pre-Covid. But, in making long-term changes to the way people are allowed or asked to work, there is a growing sense among leaders that workforce optimization must do much more than try to recreate office processes in the home.
Armed with the right technology, processes and mind-set, however, businesses can thrive in this new world; reaping the benefits of a more flexible and engaged workforce and differentiating themselves through delivering a superior customer experience.
Martin Taylor is Deputy CEO at Content Guru