Preparing Your Contact Center for the Return of Employees


With stay-at-home orders being lifted and phased re-openings occurring globally, companies that went to work-from-home models during the COVID-19 pandemic are debating whether to keep their employees remote, bring them back to the office, or develop a hybrid model. Gartner research shows that providing a workspace for employees who are not productive at home is the most important need for customer service leaders now.

However, companies cannot simply open the doors to their facilities and invite employees back into their pre-COVID workspaces. Given the nature of the virus and health official recommendations regarding social distancing and proper hygiene, customer service leaders must evaluate how their facilities need to be modified to meet new guidelines to help protect employee well-being. It is imperative for companies to conduct thorough assessments of the work environment and make the needed adjustments to meet social distancing and hygiene requirements so they can allay staff fears and put employees' minds at ease. Employees must trust company actions to protect them.

When developing a return-to-office program, Gartner recommends that customer service leaders consider the following:

  • Current office conditions: Trace the typical steps of employees in the office and review each area, such as break room, meeting space, collaboration space, restrooms, and dining area, to identify where changes need to be made to adjust for social distancing while reducing the spread of germs. Survey employees to capture their needs, expectations, and concerns regarding returning to the office. Incorporate these results into the return-to-office plans.
  • Employee hygiene modifications: Distribute hygiene guidelines to employees and provide training to employees returning to the office on modifications that must be followed.
  • Social distancing modifications: Move/remove extra workspaces to ensure employees have proper distance between them. Adjust seating in conference or training rooms, along with break rooms, to meet the spacing rules. Post maximum occupancy and social distancing requirements in bathrooms, elevators, and conference rooms.
  • Facility requirements: Implement touchless infrastructure where possible, such as motion-activated lights, sinks, toilets, and soap dispensers. Install dividers between offices in open concept or low-wall office setups so that there is a physical barrier between workspaces. Configure the office so employees do not have to share workstations and hardware.
  • Return-to-office criteria: Develop a staged return-to-office plan that takes into consideration employees who volunteer to return, essential services that must be staffed in the office, and high-risk groups. Stagger days for being in the office or adjust shifts to reduce capacity to help achieve social distancing requirements.
  • Communication and management changes: Ensure communications regarding return to the office are sent weeks in advance of implementation to allow employees to make accommodations and adjust. This should include the changes made to the office to prioritize employee health and well-being, new policies and procedures, and how staff reintroduction to the office will occur.

Customer service leaders must partner with their legal, HR, IT, real estate, and finance counterparts to develop their return-to-work plans because of the wide-ranging impacts these plans will have across functions and on service delivery. Failure to adequately prepare the office with employee well-being in mind can increase the risk of exposing staff to the virus, creating mental and emotional stress. The results of this could be costly, creating issues with absenteeism, morale, productivity, retention, employee cynicism and brand reputation, ultimately impacting the customer experience, revenue, cost, and quality.

Deborah Alvord and John Quaglietta are senior director analysts in the Customer Service and Support practice at Gartner. Alvord has 29 years of experience in the services and contact center industry and has gained extensive experience and expertise in the areas of customer and employee experience, operation and service delivery optimization, outsourcing and vendor management, metrics and KPIs, talent and performance management, voice of the customer, and quality processes. Quaglietta has more than 25 years of experience in sales, customer service and support, consulting, and customer success.