We Should Assume We’ll Never Return to Business as Usual
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
As the telephone answering service industry responded to an unexpected, pandemic-induced spike in call traffic coupled with some workers reluctant to come to the office, changes occurred out of necessity. Many services looked to address this two-pronged threat by pursuing a work-at-home model, either as their first test of remote workers or as a fuller embrace of the concept.
This increased focus on remote staff is not likely a temporary solution until things return to normal. Instead, we should view it as a new normal. Even when a reprieve from the coronavirus crisis happens, many predict a second wave to occur—possibly this fall—which could be even more intense. And a few wonder if we’ll see a seasonal reoccurrence each year.
Here are the key things to consider in your plans:
The first step in allowing staff to work from home is the technical aspect of getting them connected. This starts with a stable internet connection and adequate computer resources in each home. Consider the glitches and challenges that occurred when doing this. Address them now instead of waiting for the next wave to hit.
Last month I gave tips on managing a distributed workforce. Look at what went well and what could’ve gone better. Work to fix the aspects that didn’t go so well.
HR and Legal Considerations
Aside from the technical and management issues are the human resources considerations and legal aspects of having a staff work from home, even from another state. Update your employee handbook and procedural manuals to reflect this. Review your insurance coverage to make sure it addresses a distributed, home-based workforce. Consult with a labor attorney in your state to make sure you have the needed protection and adequate recourses in the event an off-site employee goes rogue.
If you have a premise-based system, consider moving to the cloud. This will best facilitate remote staff and provide maximum flexibility. In addition, an off-premise solution removes equipment from your building, which brings up the next point.
As staff moves off-site, you require less space in your building. And if everyone works from home, you no longer need a physical office. If you lease this means you can scale back or cut your rent. If you own the building, you can either sell it or lease unused space to other businesses.
Sales and Marketing
Consider how much of your sales and marketing occurs online versus how much results from in-person meetings. Going forward expect that more local prospects will want to avoid physical interaction with your sales team. Strive to reach the point where all sales and marketing efforts occur from a distance.
Business Support Functions
Though much of the work-at-home focus so far has been on answering service operators, explore how you can extend that concept to non-operational staff. What if everyone had to work from home? Could you pull it off?
As you send more of your staff home to work, consider what steps you can take to stay connected with each other, and engaged in work. What can you do to counter feelings of isolation? Seek creative ways to maintain morale, effectiveness, and efficiency when physical, in-person interaction doesn’t exist or must be minimized. Consider conference calls, video meetings, and online interaction opportunities—both formal and informal.
Though it’s possible we will soon return to normal, making these preparations unnecessary, it’s an unlikely outcome. Instead, plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his book How to Start a Telephone Answering Service.