With More Reasons to Have Operators Work at Home Comes the Need to Better Oversee Them
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Around the world, many jurisdictions have enacted stay-at-home mandates to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Other areas are pursuing a “stay home, stay safe” recommendation. This scenario hits answering services doubly hard. First, as clients respond by revamping their business models, they turn to their answering service for additional help, giving them more work and expecting a wider scope of outcomes. But as answering services strive to take more calls, they may struggle to do so with reduced staffing levels.
The solution is allowing answering service operators to work from home. For some services, this may be a new consideration, while for others they may now pursue remote staff with more diligence. Few answering services have a 100 percent home-based staff. Yet at this time everyone can see the benefits of working from home.
Here are some tips for successfully managing a distributed workforce, such as when most everyone works from home.
Develop a Remote Perspective
Broadcasting a message to all staff that “there are donuts in the break room” sends a strong message to off-site staff that they don’t matter—or you forgot about them, which you probably did. In all your interactions, put your remote staff first. Figure out ways to effectively communicate with off-site employees. Everything that works for remote staff, will work for local staff too.
Put All Communications Online
Convert physical bulletin boards to virtual bulletin boards. Move from physical inboxes to electronic inboxes. This may be an email, or it may be something else.
Put all necessary paperwork online, making it equally and as easily accessible for all staff, regardless of location. The same applies to submit paperwork. Don’t make your remote staff jump through hoops that don’t apply to local staff.
It’s easy to interact with office-based staff. This can be as simple as a wave or a head nod when you walk through the operations room. But you can’t do this with remote staff. Figure out how to offer the same courtesies to your staff working in their homes. You might want to periodically have a video call with them or set up online group meetings that they can attend. These don’t need to belong or complicated interactions. In fact, simple and shorter are better. Aim for quantity over quality.
Update Your Policies and Procedures
A fourth consideration is to review your written policies and operations procedures. Make sure they apply equally to local and remote staff. Then once you have reworded them to be inclusive, post them online, and provide them to each employee electronically. If they need to sign that they received these updates, digitize that process as well. Eliminate the preference for, and the need for, all printed materials.
Taking these steps will help your remote staff be as successful—and as happy—as your local staff. It will also combat the us-versus-them mentality that often occurs among employees who don’t work at the primary location.
When you do this “stay home, stay safe” becomes “go remote, go to work.”
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his books How to Start a Telephone Answering Service and Sticky Customer Service.