Redefining Employee Productivity in the Age of Flexible Work

Even as many organizations return to the office or roll out hybrid work policies, most customer service and support functions will remain remote. This sudden shift—just two years ago fewer than 10 percent of customer support functions worked remotely—was due in part to necessity. Widespread adoption of technologies for call center agents also accelerated and enabled this change.

The work-from-home model demonstrated viability in 2020, amid much uncertainty. Customer satisfaction remained strong, even as agents moved away from centralized contact centers. For companies that adopted remote operations, agent retention was much stronger. Remote agents also cost less and can be more productive.

Despite the clear benefits of remote agents, many business leaders recognized potential disruptions to the excellent service they provided. Real-time collaboration, strong and consistent connectivity, and crystal-clear sound are important capabilities for call center agents. But those benefits require appropriate technology to unlock.

The potential for jittery calls and disconnections is not the only concern leaders might have about remote call center agents. Managing remote agents isn't an easy task, and measuring key performance indicators like customer satisfaction and call clarity can be more difficult with everyone in disparate geographies or on different technology. Moreover, according to a recent Jabra survey, nearly half of remote respondents are concerned about a lack of transparency when measuring employee performance.

Perhaps above all, agents who don't have professional-grade tools might find that lack of technology a major obstacle to performing their job functions. Forty percent of employees using consumer technologies encounter audio issues on the job. Those who only have their computers' built-in audio technology or consumer equipment also find it easy to get distracted and harder to collaborate. More than one-third of employees felt left out of virtual meetings, many as a result of poor technology.

It's understandable that business leaders fretted about technology and its impact on enduring customer service. Respondents to the Jabra survey reported different levels of technology support depending on whether they were hybrid or fully remote workers. Ill-equipped employees had trouble making connections with customers and coworkers.

The good news for managers is that revisiting technology budgets can help address many of these concerns, even in the long term.

Professional-grade tools mitigate concerns of remote agents and business leaders alike. Outfitting remote agents with professional-grade tools won't solve every challenge the new remote-work paradigm presents, but it can help employees conquer many of the obstacles to maintaining productivity and excellent customer service. For starters, nearly half of all remote employees report rearranging space at home for work. Ensuring at-home agents have the necessary office equipment to accomplish their goals will help everyone make the most of the new workspace. One simple piece of equipment that can make any home office feel more productive is a high-end communications tool.

Poor call quality, lack of collaboration, and distracted work hours were common themes that arose out of respondents' answers. Professional-grade equipment that connects cordlessly with any computer or central system can double as data-collection endpoints. By analyzing data that pours in from headsets and other communications equipment, managers can better understand each agent's work set-up and how their arrangement impacts call quality and wait and resolution times. If communications equipment is software-enabled, IT teams can remotely update and manage everyone's tools and troubleshoot issues that might arise.

More simply, the right tools enable high-quality connections and interactions for everyone. High-quality connections help make each call more efficient and ensure fewer agents feel distracted or struggle to collaborate with teammates. Improving call efficiency is especially important given that average handle times increased during 2020. More consistent interactions with the right tools allow home agents to focus on delivering shorter and less stressful calls.

Technology is a crucial, if not the only, solution for remote-agent challenges. Shiny new technology tools cannot solve every challenge of remote work, a trend that was already happening as a slow shift suddenly catapulted forward into its current phase. That velocity of change is challenging for anyone, high-end tools or not. But many of the concerns business leaders had about remote work and many of the challenges remote employees cited were the result of poor connections or call quality and their attendant issues. So, while the right technology isn't the only solution to these challenges, it's clear professional-grade technology can help lessen many of the negative side-effects of remote work, making the remote-agent paradigm a successful endeavor for everyone involved.

Anders Hvelplund is senior vice president of contact center solutions at Jabra.