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How to Keep the At-home Workforce Engaged and Productive


by Richard Correia


As employers move to work-from-home models to comply with governmental mandates and ensure the safety of their employees, companies and employees alike are adjusting to a new normal. A year ago, more than 26 million Americans, or about 16% of the workforce, spent at least some of their time working remotely, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While that represents an increase of 44% over five years earlier, that number is markedly higher today.


Experts predict that more than 75 million U.S. employees will be working from home before the crisis is over.

COVID-19 has indelibly changed the world of work, and its effects on the workforce are likely to last long after societies and economies rebound from the virus’ impact. The global pandemic is expected to lead to a “fundamental, permanent shift in how people work,” Nat Levy wrote in GeekWire.

More than half of employees have a job where at least some of what they do could be done remotely, according to a Global Workplace Analytics analysis of BLS data. Even if those employees are working from home 25% or 50% of the time, that’s a significant change – one that requires employers to rethink how they manage employees to ensure that agents are engaged and productive.

Agents who are newly working from home face more frequent distractions – for example, pets or children in the home – and often have less frequent communication with team members and managers. If not managed properly, their performance on KPIs can take a hit.

Contact center (CC) and back office (BO) leaders who focus on four key areas can more effectively set goals for performance and productivity, then manage and measure them, for a happier, high-performing workforce.

Establish clear goals “The science is very, very clear from decades of research: [Goals] have to be clear, and that includes understanding the priority of those goals; they have to be collaboratively set (they involve the employee, which gets their buy-in) -- this also helps you determine the appropriate type of goal to set,” says Ben Wigert, Director of Research and Strategy at Gallup.

The ability to help people understand the expectations of them and make progress toward their goals becomes even more important with work-from-home employees. For managers supervising employees who are working from home for the first time, that requires not only measuring productivity but also managing it. With insight into the amount of time agents are spending in productive and non-productive applications and dashboards that show agents how they are performing relative to their KPIs as well as to their peers, managers can jointly set goals with the agents and continually empower agents to self-improve.

Coach to those goals with positive feedback With a newly remote workforce, gone are the in-person face-to-face time and impromptu discussions about challenges and successes that would otherwise take place in the break room or other informal settings. And even when agents are working in the contact center (CC) and back office (BO) itself, it can be difficult to deliver feedback that’s targeted to the individual. Just 27% of employees say the feedback they receive helps them do their work better, according to Gallup, and only 22% strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them.

In many organizations, that’s due to a lack of insight into employee performance. Without data that highlights the areas of improvement for an individual employee, it’s difficult to personalize development opportunities.

Insight into performance enables managers to act as coaches. Knowing who to coach – and what to coach them on – frees managers from the need to spend time chasing down information and trying to make sense of data. They can instead focus on three key activities that separate a coach from merely a boss, according to Gallup research:

  • Individual and team engagement, seeing their role as the provider of what employees need to succeed.

  • Leveraging and understanding each agent’s unique talents.

  • Offering feedback that optimizes individual strengths and ties into clear performance goals.

“Performance management should equip, inspire and improve performance,” Wigert says. “Any performance activity you're doing that's not actually engaging your employees and improving performance should be done away with.”

Follow up on coaching No matter how great a coaching session seems in the moment, it’s not a success unless it leads to behavioral change. To ensure continual improvement, managers need to follow up on the coaching they have delivered; this requires a system that measures progress and guides both managers and employees on what’s working, and what’s not.

Coaches can ensure that the feedback they are delivering as part of an individual session or a coaching program is effective with a few key steps, according to Harvard Business Review:

  • Take notes. At the end of each coaching session, managers should write down their thoughts and feelings about how agents are progressing. Tools and templates can make this process more objective and standardized.

  • Follow up on agreements. Managers should review written agreements and ensure that they’re delivering any support agents have asked for.

  • Have an open-door policy, even if it’s via remote-working tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Managers should be available for formal and informal coaching sessions alike – and at a more frequent cadence than in the brick-and-mortar contact center(CC) and back office (BO).

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of coaching. In addition to tech tools that can identify trends and quantify the effect of individual coaching sessions and coaching programs, managers can ask themselves whether they’re meeting the needs of each person on the team and whether they are helping make their team more successful.

Lastly, observe best practices for monitoring remote employee performance Many contact center (CC) and back office (BO)s have technology in place to monitor, measure and manage employee performance or are adopting it to better manage their newly remote workforce. Among the best practices to consider to ensure that employees are receptive, not resistant, to performance management technology:

  • Be transparent that you’re monitoring their activities, including how and why. Keep in mind, however, that repeated reminders that the monitoring is ongoing can lead to lower feelings of personal control and lower satisfaction in the activities the agent performs, according to research published in Harvard Business Review.

  • Use tech monitoring tools for learning and development, not to punish employees. Employees who perceive that technology is there to help, not hurt them report higher satisfaction levels and greater commitment to their employers than their peers, researchers have found.

  • Be positive and make it fun. Gamification techniques can motivate employees to improve behaviors that most affect the KPIs managers are trying to influence.

Organizations of all shapes and sizes have already put the technology in place to enable agents to work from home, including enabling connectivity and security to the tools they need to provide great customer service. The next step in this remote-work evolution is to ensure that they’re staying engaged and productive. Learn more about how tools like NICE Proficiency Essentials can help you manage your work-from-home employees.

Richard Correia Richard has many years of experience in Product Management and Product/Solutions Marketing, with time at Cisco, Turin/Force10, Dell, and CyrusOne. Accomplishments include managing the product direction and revenue of Turin/Force10 data center solutions from a few million, to just under a hundred million. At Dell, he was focused on marketing the different hardware and software components of the data center solutions. At CyrusOne, he changed the direction and strategy of marketing, focusing on greater ROI. Richard holds a bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering from University of Rhode Island and advanced degrees in Business & Engineering from Southern Methodist University.

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