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April 2021 – Setting up for Success – Three keys to successfully navigate the Work@Home environment

Setting up for Success – Three keys to successfully navigate the Work@Home environment

To say Covid-19 has changed the way we work is an understatement. Everything done in the Contact Centre sector has and will continue to evolve from the traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ approach. It is estimated that between 40% to 60% of employees will be working from home permanently in future. This means organizations must rethink and revise processes to create an environment of success for those working virtually. Recognizing the uniqueness of a virtual environment is a key first step as long-established ‘brick and mortar’ (B&M) processes may not be effective in the future.

Here are three keys to successfully navigate the Work@Home environment:

  1. Not everyone is suited for the Virtual environment

Hiring employees in a virtual environment is not as easy as it may seem on the surface. Remember that you are hiring into an environment you do not control. We all test for internet speed, but what about others in the household (aka the workspace)? How does their internet usage affect employees? Did the applicant consult with the household members to gain an agreement; compliance; and respect of the work area? The decision to work from home is NOT a singular event; it requires a keen understanding by the applicant of expectations, but also, and more importantly, it requires agreement of the household. Take special care to prepare applicants and allow them a complete view of the expectations/journey. Use elements such as visual representations of a typical work area; provide expectation checklist that can be shared within a household. In short, take extra time and effort to outline the journey and all aspects of the physical work area.

Besides the physical space, organizations must now ensure the mental wellness of employees is not compromised by working in a virtual/isolated environment. Human beings are social animals and as such not only crave social interactions, but many cannot function without it. The hiring attributes are no longer just the skills, but rather together with skills we must hire for an ability to function in the environment. Look and test for attributes that contain the word ‘self’. These will go a long way to establish ability to work at home. Terms such as ‘self-confidence’, ‘self-motivation’, ‘self-discipline’ are all integral to understanding the ethos of the employee.

In short, the extra effort required to ensure virtual compatibility will pay off in the end with improved retention and efficiency/results.

  1. Support from a similar environment

Work@Home environment is unique with nuanced situations that require in many instances, first-hand knowledge of the situation. A support staff who has never had to adjust equipment setup, troubleshoot an internet issue, or have a difficult conversation with household members about work boundaries will not be effective in resolving employee issues. Supporting virtual staff with virtual staff ensures those who have encountered common issues are resolving them for others.

The amount of ‘white noise’ and distractions in a B&M site is not realized until you are home, where the silence is deafening! B&M resources supporting Work@Home, given the amount of distraction, can cause delayed or distracted responses. Supporting staff in a similar environment enables a more fluid and responsive interaction and ensures the laser focus of any support staff is the virtual employee.

A mature Work@Home program will seed future leaders from those at home today, it makes perfect sense to promote those that understand the environment and have proven their communication and adaptability in that environment. A B&M resource with no experience working from home will not be as effective as a leader. This strategy will also create a robust innovation eco-system where continual improvement ideas and adjustments are being promoted from those at home, which is critical to longevity.

  1. Communicate

The most important aspect of any Work@Home program is how effectively and efficiently we communicate with our staff. The old adage ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is a situation that will not only cause attrition, but also affect the mental health of our employees. Working in an isolated environment is difficult and the future of working from home will depend on how well organizations interact and ensure their employees are managing well in this environment.

Support staff must be well trained to look for signs of potential issues as they relate to working in isolation; they must be trained on how to effectively communicate both positive and not so positive messages. Creating a governance model that mandates the frequency, purpose, method, and anticipated outcome of conversations is critical to success. We cannot assume conversations are happening and happening in an effective manner. Given the significance of the Work@Home future, an organization must create and grow the communication strategy.

The future of Contact Centre work is Home Agent. We must realize our efforts and support structures will need to change to care for the new Environment, one that is an unknown to many and one where our B&M strategies are not be effective. As the journey progresses, look for more Hybrid models to be incorporated to care for the social aspect of employees.

In summary, hire the right employees to succeed in the virtual environment, support them with leadership from a similar environment and adapt your communication strategy to create a successful joint outcome in your journey.

March 2021 – For the Love of Recruitment

I fell in love with recruiting entirely by accident. As I look back at how it all unfolded, many of the stars that aligned taught me so much, and I have incorporated much of my accidental career path into my current day-to-day.

In 2006, I moved home to Halifax after 2 years in Toronto. I was sleeping on my mom’s living room couch and needed a J-O-B! I was waitressing but my goal was to move into my own place and I needed something with stability.

I applied for a contact centre sales position through a staffing agency, as my background had been in contact centre (Xerox) and sales (Weight Watchers, Xerox), and I thought it would be a no brainer to be hired back into the space I’d left before I moved to Toronto.

I met with the recruiter and spent 2+ hours with her going over my background, skillset, experience, and what I enjoyed about my career to that point. We had a great rapport and I was confident her next step would be to send my resume to her client. I was wrong!!

She said ~ “I’ll be honest with you Jen, I don’t think this is the right role for you.”

I pushed back and said I’d use it as a stepping stone to grow within the company.

She asked me to leave it with her and to trust her.

Fast forward a few weeks later and her Branch Manager reached out to me to say he’d heard great things about my meeting and he’d like to chat with me about an opportunity at their staffing agency. It was a business development role and I started the following week.

I would find the business and the same person who had interviewed me would find the talent to be hired. It was awesome!!

I love learning about other businesses, how they operated, how their hiring needs were a critical piece of their growth, and how we would help them. This is still something that excites me daily and I love being a part of, as the owner of my own business.

About 6 months into my role, there was an opportunity for me to move into a hybrid type role ~ finding the business AND finding the talent!

I called it ‘FIND it and FILL it!’

I had the Branch Manager teach me the basics of recruiting and I’ve honestly never looked back, nor could I imagine doing anything else.

I spent 2006-2009 in the agency world and then transitioned into corporate recruitment, with almost 2 years at EastLink and close to 10 years at Manulife.

I’m obsessed with finding incredible talent for organizations and I’m equally obsessed with doing so in the contact centre space. I was fortunate enough to look after 90% of the hiring for EastLink’s contact centre and I learned so much about talent pools, candidate interviews, hiring manager’s needs, running job fairs, checking references, identifying who would likely grow within the organization, and the strategies that go into all of these pieces.

When I started at EastLink it was for a 3-month contract and it was to bring hiring back ‘in-house’ as the turnover rate through agency placements was 95%!!!! Astronomical was an understatement!!

Turning that around and seeing retention increase significantly is, to this day, a highlight of my recruitment career!

In 2011, I moved to Manulife where volume recruitment across Canada was my initial focus and I was able to leverage skills I’d learned from my time at EastLink.

Fast forward once again, this time to 2017 and I raised my hand to take on a bulk hire for one of Manulife’s contact centres. It was an adrenaline rush to be back in the space I knew and loved!

Other recruiters on my team thought I was crazy for saying I loved bulk hires with very tight turnaround times but I knew this is where I would thrive ~ and thrive, I did!!!

By mid-2018, I was hiring for all 5 of Manulife’s contact centres with locations in Halifax, Montreal, and Kitchener-Waterloo. I even did some for the US side of the business, hiring contact centre specialists for John Hancock.

I was a strategic partner, collaborating with hiring managers, directors, and some VPs around the hiring plans, forecasting our numbers, presenting the business case on increasing base salaries to be more competitive in the market place, implementing referral bonus programs, and piloting a small work from the program. I was doing all the recruitment pieces I loved but I was also ingrained in the contact centre space from a different perspective and it is there that I truly saw why this industry is an amazing career opportunity for so many different people.

I’m 2019, I hired 253 full-time employees across 5 contact centres, 3 Canadian and 1 US location.

Some of those hires have quickly excelled and moved into leadership roles or other business units.

Some are crushing the role they were hired into and I am grateful to have played a role in helping someone find a career they love!

Recruitment for me isn’t filling a seat, it’s creating a career opportunity that changes someone’s life. That offers them a career they love while supporting themselves, their families.

Now that I’ve transitioned from employee to self-employed, I am relentless in ensuring candidates and companies find what they need through the hiring process. I don’t believe in hiring for the sake of hiring ~ I believe in finding talent and matching it to opportunity but also knowing when to approach a different leader or hiring manager for a candidate who may be a better fit for their team vs the original role they applied to.

I build relationships and I trust that the strength of those relationships are what set me apart in this space ~ and I flipping love it every single day!!

My ultimate goal is to make sure I help as many people as possible feel the same way!

February 2021 – CCNS Blog

Before applying for my first contact center role, I remember thinking “Do I really want to listen to Americans complain about their cell phone bills all day?”  The honest answer was “no.”  However, little did I realize that job would provide the foundation to launch my career and help me hone the communication skills that would prove invaluable in every subsequent role.

Let me step back for a moment.  After graduating with a BA in International Relations and an MA in 20th Century Military History I experienced the struggles of trying to find professional employment with two degrees and random summer job experience on my resume.  For 3 years I worked survival jobs while applying for professional roles, patiently waiting for an interview call and never hearing back.  It was hard mentally believing I had a lot of potential but not getting an opportunity to show it.

What initially drew me to the contact center industry was the potential opportunities for internal promotion.  I hoped to be able to gain the professional experience to bulk up my resume and make myself more marketable.

With my Masters degree in hand, I took a role as a frontline agent and spent a year taking phone calls.  Every time the phone beeped, I had to be prepared to adjust my approach instantly…on one call I may have an attorney in Manhattan threatening to sue me, on the next call I may have a grandmother from Texas wondering why her bill was ten cents higher last month.  Learning how to have successful interactions with different personality types has proved to be one of the most valuable skills I’ve ever developed.

In the next 5 years, I would be fortunate enough to be promoted to Trainer, Sales Manager, and Operations Manager.  I gained a lot of professional experience to enhance my resume and make myself more marketable to future employers.

Looking back, I wonder what would have happened had I not gone into the contact center industry.  How many more years would I have spent applying for jobs endlessly hoping for someone to give me an opportunity?  I’m glad I found an industry that was so willing to hire recent grads and give them the chance to develop their skills.

If you have experienced some of the same challenges or my story has resonated, take a look into the scope of roles available in the industry.  It helped me build my career, there’s no reason it can’t do the same for you.

January 2021 – Deploying and Managing a Remote Contact Center: 3 Critical Factors to Get Right

In the past, when customers contacted companies to acquire information or resolve issues, they likely spoke to customer service agents working out of bustling contact centers alongside dozens or even hundreds of their colleagues.

Running a contact center from a single physical building, however, might soon be a thing of the past. Thanks to advancements in modern technology, as well as ongoing challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, more agents are working from home. This trend is likely to continue as organizations grow more comfortable with work-from-home environments and realize the benefits of moving to all-remote contact centers, including reduced absenteeism and improved service levels.

Before deploying a remote contact center, however, there are a multitude of factors to consider. Three of the biggest include the security of customer data and complying with related regulations; managing productivity; and boosting employee engagement and morale.

Ensuring Data Security and Compliance Using Technology

When it comes to contact centers where all agents are working from home, upholding the security of data and ensuring compliance with data security and privacy regulations requires a two-pronged approach. From a technology perspective, it’s all about locking down endpoints. Tactics include the following:

  • Use Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), which allows you to host desktop environments on a centralized server and securely deploy the virtual desktops to employees. If this is not an option, virtual private networks (VPN) can provide data security by encrypting data being sent over a network, making it unreadable.
  • Ensure employees store all data in the cloud rather than locally.
  • Require employees to use hard-wired connections instead of Wi-Fi, which creates the risk of roamers looking to hijack a connection. Hard-wired internet access also ties employees to their home office space, which ensures they aren’t going to a coffee shop to handle sensitive customer information in a public place and/or working off an unsecured connection.
  • Restrict network access to hours of operation only, which mitigates the risk of bad actors accessing networks during off hours.
  • Employ two-factor authentication to ensure the person logging into a computer or network is the correct user.

The other side of ensuring data security comes down to the bigger variable: the people. In a brick-and-mortar environment, contact centers can more easily reduce the human risk factors that jeopardize data security. This is more difficult when everyone is in their home environments, but it’s not impossible.

To set the stage for work-at-home employees’ success, follow a formalized process from the beginning and reinforce best practices throughout all stages of the employee lifecycle. Some tactics include the following:

  • Educate employees on the importance of data security. This can start as early as the recruitment phase; in fact, one best practice is to ask potential employees for live videos of their anticipated at-home work areas. Managers can verify that it is a quiet, low-traffic area and will be able to spot and immediately correct unsuitable factors (e.g., screen reflections in mirrors or windows or people or pets in the background).
  • After they are hired, reaffirm in writing that they understand what is and is not allowed in their workspaces and that their workspaces will be periodically reviewed for compliance via live, 360-degree-view video.
  • Home workspace policies will depend on the company, but many include requiring that desks must be clear of paper, pens, and personal devices and that no writing tools or data-recording devices can be within reach.
  • Once the employee is officially performing the job, train and engage operational teams to conduct 360-degree-view audits via webcam at prescribed intervals; ensure that the same forms are used; and track results for follow-up and compliance with governance requirements.

While it’s important that employees have comfortable, ergonomic work spaces, it’s equally important that they’re secure because in remote contact centers, employees’ personal environments are an extension of company work areas.

Ensuring Productivity

Ensuring productive workers starts with recruiting the right people. This is even more true within an all-remote contact center, where employees must be able to be successful in both the contact center and from home—not one or the other.

There are several personality traits and skills that make quality work-at-home employees. They include the following:

  • Look for people who are self-motivated and self-reliant. They must be able to adapt to the virtual environment while achieving agreed-upon goals without physically being supervised every moment;
  • They should exhibit confidence and independence and know how to use available resources to minimize downtime and resolve problems; and
  • They should be strong communicators who demonstrate an ability for concise written communications via email, chat, or social media support.

Once you’ve found the ideal people, give them the tools that will help them succeed. This includes the following:

  • Training sessions should be comprehensive, with multiple touchpoints, and refreshers throughout that drive home key information.
  • Help employees be self-sufficient when possible, which will instill confidence and reduce potential anxieties about being fully remote. For instance, demonstrate the basics of troubleshooting their equipment and give employees access to chatbots that can solve simple IT issues so they only need to contact IT for serious problems.
  • After employees are fully onboarded, managers should conduct regular coaching and check-in meetings and work with direct reports on performance management plans.

Once employees have the right training and the tools they need to be successful, it’s likely they will be more productive in their work and more engaged and helpful with customers who rely on them.

Boosting Employee Engagement

Of course, while data security, compliance and productivity are obviously high priorities, just as critical is ensuring that your employees like where they work. The foolowing tips can help with that goal:

  • It can be hard for contractors or short-term employees to feel real connections to their employers. Hiring people as true employees—with the same benefits that brick-and mortar workers have—instead of as contractors can help them feel part of the greater workplace and boost their company loyalty.
  • While at-home employees generally gain a better work-life balance, they also might miss the camaraderie of an office space. Keep geographically separated co-workers engaged with each other within the work-at-home culture through chat and video. This comprises communication not just between managers and direct reports but also between employees and the larger team or organization.
  • People are social animals. Host team meetings and coaching sessions via webcam instead of phone so people can see each other and their managers.
  • Apart from team meetings, find ways to have fun together, too. Celebrate big wins, promotions, birthdays, and such with virtual video chats and happy hours. Don’t be afraid to get creative. The company could arrange to have pizzas delivered to everyone at the same time so the team can enjoy a lunchtime pizza party together.

The Future is Remote

The 2020 pandemic proved to businesses everywhere that agents’ physical locations are less important than the outcome of their customer interactions. When deploying remote contact centers, organizations can set themselves and their employees up for success by prioritizing data security, productivity, and engagement and reap the benefits of a motivated, more efficient workforce.


Marco Colaiacovo is responsible for developing and growing Hinduja Global Service (HGS) Work@Home program. He has more than 20 years of experience in the contact center sector, having collaborated with internal and external partners to create and deliver environments that produce world-class service. He works out of his home office in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, and also serves as president of the Contact Centre Association of Nova Scotia.