Federal contact center workers have been working from home for months now – but what started as a necessary reaction to a crisis may prove to be the salvation of customer experience in these agencies. Here we explore four benefits that flexible working in the long term could have, not just on workers themselves, but on providing overall excellent services to the general public.
Access to a broader talent pool
Before Covid-19, contact centers were at the mercy of the talent available within commuting distance. The pandemic has completely changed that.
“It opens up a huge opportunity for hiring and flexible workforce scheduling,” says Martha Dorris, founder of Dorris Consulting International and former customer experience leader at the General Services Administration. While contact center activity remains essential for providing authentic, human and empathetic customer service, there’s no reason why this all needs to occur in one place.
Flexible working could open up more jobs – not just in the towns and cities where these centers tend to be located – but all across rural America. While this of course has a benefit on local economies, it could also increase how representative the agency is. Imagine a world where a person calling from a rural community could dial through to a call center worker just a few miles away, with an understanding of the same local challenges that person faces.
Happier staff are more productive
We see this across all manner of industries and jobs. Time and time again, studies show that staff with a better work-life balance are happier – and happier staff apply themselves more at work. In fact, one Stanford study found that employees who work from home are 13% more productive compared to their in-office peers. Instead of forcing staff to commute, you can encourage them to work to their own rhythm and reap the benefits as an organization.
Happier staff are also less likely to quit, saving a small fortune in recruitment costs and resulting in more continuity for the people they serve.
You can save taxpayers money
Working from home results in enormous cost savings for the employer. Office supplies, electricity and office snacks are just a few of the costs that can be reduced with a flexible working policy.
Then there’s the costs associated with the building itself. While it’s likely that most federal services will keep their office for a mixture of working from home and on site in the long term, there’s no doubt that offices could be considered an unnecessary expense. While they might be important to provide a focal point, a recent Harris Poll surveyed 1,200 employed American adults found that less than half (42%) miss socializing with workers, so perhaps office comradery is not as fundamental to working culture as previously thought.
Security concerns dismissed
“From our perspective, the real question comes down to security and privacy concerns that led to the fact that government has always wanted this work done in a facility where people could be physically overseen,” Tom Romeo, president and general manager for Maximus Federal, tells Nextgov. “With Covid-19, rules had to be relaxed, and I think a lot of the projects—or at least a share of the projects—will never come back to a physical site because so far, it’s worked fine, and we haven’t seen the security issues they worried about.”
Generally speaking, most people are professional and diligent. If you trust them and treat them like the sensible adults they are, then they are unlikely to break that trust by being negligent with a person’s data. You don’t need to be breathing down people’s necks to make them do a good job. In fact, this often has the opposite effect.
Overall, the great forced Covid-19-working-from-home experiment has been a huge success for many businesses and organizations. Productivity is up, staff retention is up and the focus on providing great customer service has never been greater. By establishing flexible working in the long term, federal services could be revolutionized for the people they serve.