Over the last few months, a lot of companies — startups, multinational corporations, and small businesses alike — made the move to remote work. Some will keep doing so for a longer period than extends itself well into 2021, while others, Twitter, for example, are even going so far as allowing some employees to work from home permanently if they wish to do so.
Some businesses already had best practices in place and were used to seeing their team members work from home on a regular basis. But others, mostly more traditional companies with no remote-work policies whatsoever, struggled to adapt, either because they didn’t have cloud-based systems that employees could easily access from home, weren’t prolific users of internal communication tools that became a necessity during this period, or even because employees could not be sent home overnight without a computer to work from the following day.
Yet even the most tech-savvy businesses might still have seen some teams more than others struggle to get settled into their new home offices.
Remote work for the masses
The popularity of remote work has been on the rise for some time now. In the US alone, it has increased by 115% over the past decade, and a report published by Zapier at the end of 2019 shows that 74% of surveyed employees would be willing to quit their current job if a new one offered the possibility of remote work. But the percentage of people working from home was still small by the end of last year. In the European Union, for instance, only 5,4% of employees would usually work from home.
Fast forward to a few months later, and the Coronavirus pandemic paved the way for the biggest remote work experience the world has ever seen.
Roughly a month into the pandemic, Slack released a report on “Remote work in the age of Covid-19” for which they surveyed knowledge workers — “anyone who holds an office position and/or works with data, analyzes information or thinks creatively” — across the US.
It shows that, as of March 27th, approximately 16 million knowledge workers in the US had already started working remotely, with the number likely to have increased during the following weeks.
More than numbers, the report provides interesting insights into remote work and the differences among knowledge workers in several industries or lines of business. Surveyed employees who worked in business development, IT, and product or program management find it easier to work remotely than those working in sectors such as education or customer support, who said that working from home is either impossible or difficult.
The challenges of Customer Service
As we mentioned in our previous blog article, customer service teams have been faced with unprecedented peaks in ticket volume, and even now, with companies navigating their way across the new normal, customer request volumes are still up 48% on average compared to their usual pre-pandemic values.
Customer service agents are going out of their way to assist customers during this crisis, but stress levels are high at this time, for agents and customers alike, and delivering a good experience might not come easy. Especially when, those who do have the chance to work remotely, are doing so for the first time. Remote work is not a very common sight in customer support, with operations often running out of big contact centers only due to the centralized technical infrastructures and the associated habits built over time of strict scheduling policies and quality control. Agents and managers have found themselves facing newly added challenges to an already straining profession.
Managers lose the overview of their team
Due to the on-sight nature of customer service work, managers might not have experience managing a remote team. They might be missing the right tools in place to have an overview of their team member’s productivity or might not know how to communicate and align the team with their goals through digital channels alone.
Teams should aim to focus on implementing solutions that will help boost productivity all year round, no matter where people are working from, and that, at the same time, help to provide a clear insight on metrics of various KPI’s.
Is there an AI strategy in place that helps eliminate manual work by replying to repetitive questions, closing system notifications that don’t need human intervention, setting ticket priorities, or routing requests to specific teams? If not, it’s a good place to start. Cleverly’s Automations can take care of that, and it even helps businesses identify automation opportunities so that they implement a strategy that works best for them and their team.
By doing so, managers will be freeing agents up from a lot of the repetitive work that often leaves them unmotivated, contributing to their productivity by allowing them to focus on cases where they feel like they really make a difference. And they can rest assured that motivated employees will want to deliver their best work no matter if they’re at the office or at home.
Lack of communication
Finally, the knowledge workers surveyed by Slack also mentioned a lack of communication as a big setback to working remotely, claiming “their company didn’t have communication tools to keep everyone connected virtually.” In fact, communication came up in other reports, like Buffer’s “State of Remote Work 2020”, to whom, for three years in a row, respondents have pointed out communication and collaboration as the top challenges for remote work.
This isn’t just a matter of not having the right tools in place, cloud systems, VPNs, or even basic appliances like laptops, or knowing how to use them, but also of not having people around to ask questions in real-time.
In customer service, if agents are working at a call center and need to ask someone for help, they can easily turn to a colleague or their manager and do so. At home, they have to reach out to each other through their internal communication tool and wait for a reply. This, in turn, can affect reply times to customers, decreasing customer satisfaction, and making agents frustrated for not being able to do their job as usual.
Remote onboarding and training
Communication challenges become even more prominent for new agents. Starting a new job is always challenging, even if someone has been working in customer service for a while. Companies act in different areas of business and have distinct processes to handle customer requests. A smooth onboarding process is often what helps ease the transition into a new company, but remote work has required companies to re-think the whole process.
According to research conducted by HBS Working Knowledge for Forbes, companies struggle to onboard employees even during “normal” times, so it is not unlikely that they’ll find themselves struggling during the pandemic.
There are several factors that make for a great onboarding experience, like providing agents with all the equipment and tools they’ll need to succeed at their daily job or promoting non-work-related remote activities that help new hires feel included in their new team. But one very important part of it is training.
Virtual training sessions can replace any in-house orientations that help employees get up to speed. But this new world is also more demanding in operational terms, meaning knowledge needs to be at the agents fingertips so everyone, including newly onboarded agents, can be certain to access timely and reliable information.
How can managers help their team?
Despite its challenges, managing a remote customer service team shouldn’t be much different than managing it at the office. Keeping the connection between team members while making teams happy and productive can be achieved with daily morning catch-ups to get everyone’s spirits up to face the day, or 1:1 sessions to keep the communication flowing and giving agents space to speak out if they’re facing any hiccups.
As far as tools and systems go, everything should be in place and working properly so that customer service teams don’t face any extra challenges on top of their daily work.
And of course, implementing the right AI-powered solutions that support agents on their daily tasks and help them be more efficient.
Request a demo or reach out to us to learn more about how Cleverly can help you help your remote team.