WFM Fall Survey Results

Each quarter SWPP surveys the workforce planning community on critical workforce planning topics.  Over 160 call center professionals representing a wide variety of industries participated and provided insight into this quarter’s survey on challenges associated with bringing home agents back to the center when the pandemic allows.

Survey Participants

Forty-seven percent of the respondents in this survey work in centers with over 500 agents.  The rest are representative of a wide variety of sizes from under 50 up to 500 agents.  The financial, insurance, and “other” industries drew the largest number of participants, but all other industries are also well represented.

Location of Frontline Staff

Respondents were asked where frontline staff are working today.  Over three-quarters (78%) responded that all or most are at home while only 1% indicated that all are in the office.

COVID Processes for In-Office Agents

When asked to consider the processes that will be put in place to keep staff safe as they return to the office, many responded that they will have temperature checks, COVID questionnaires, and to a lesser degree, will put a contact tracing process in place if any are positive for the virus.  A significant number of responses indicated “other” which may mean there is no plan to bring agents back to the office at this time.

Extra Time for Check-In

The respondents were asked how much extra time would be needed to handle the check-in process.  Approximately one-quarter indicated 1 to 5 minutes would be needed while another 14% indicated it would require 5 to 10 minutes. Only 1% thought it would take more than 10 minutes per person.  Twenty-seven percent do not think any extra time will be required.  However, 28% responded that they don’t know how long it will take.  To some extent, the time will depend on the queue that forms as a group of agents arrive at the center simultaneously.  If it takes 3 minutes per person and 10 agents arrive for the same start time, there could be a queue of up to 30 minutes waiting for the process to complete unless there are multiple resources working the check-in process.

Compensation Plan for Extra Time Required

Respondents were asked how they will compensate staff for any extra time required for the check-in process.  In this case, 38% indicated that no extra time will be required (compared to 27% in the previous question).  Some will make adjustments to the schedule to accommodate this added time but 41% responded that they don’t know how this time will be accounted for or compensated.  This is a critical issue in the plan to return staff to the center as they are not likely to accept taking their own time for this at no pay if it is more than a minute or two, and adherence and coverage issues may also develop with delays from the process.

Staffing for the COVID Check-In Process

Respondents were asked who will staff the check-in process and multiple answers were allowed.  The existing security personnel and “other” were the most frequently chosen answers.  Supervisors or managers were next in the selection.  Ensuring that the staff has the proper training to do an effective screening is critical to a successful process and having enough checkers to move the queue along as agents arrive at the workplace will minimize the time agents spend in the process before they can log in and start their workday.  In the end, having the right number of agents available to handle customer contacts with an acceptable service speed is the objective.

Seating Plan Accommodations

Respondents were asked how the seating plan will be adjusted to accommodate social distancing.  Over 40% (43%) indicated that some seats will remain vacant and another 35% indicated that the entire seating plan will be reconfigured.  Only 9% indicated that no change is planned for the seating arrangement.  Clearly, the total square footage of the space will need to increase to allow for the needed spacing for the full staff based on the relatively tight quarters most centers utilize today.  This may lead to more home-based workers even if some return to the office just to avoid the need for added real estate.

HVAC System Adjustments

Respondents were asked what accommodations will be needed to ensure the HVAC system minimizes the spread of contagion.  Over one-quarter (28%) indicated that their systems have been reviewed and no changes are needed.  Another 11% have reviewed their systems and find that adjustments will be needed and 16% have plans to do the review in the future.  Thirteen percent do not plan to do a review, but one-third of the respondents answered “other” to the question.  These may be centers that do not plan to return staff to the office in the foreseeable future.

Changes to Breaks and Lunches

When asked what plans they have to change breaks and lunches to ensure social distancing, over half (56%) indicated that they expect the staff to manage this process with no changes to the planned schedules.  However, 23% indicated that the breaks and lunches will be more spread out than in the past.  Another 21% answered “other” which may be those who will not move staff back to the office.

Changes to Scheduling Efficiency

Respondents were asked how the work-from-home option has changed scheduling efficiency.  While 44% indicated no change has been experienced, 34% indicated that efficiency has improved.  Only 15% indicated that efficiency has declined and 7% don’t know what the impact has been.  For some staff, the opportunity to work more flexible shifts is a bonus of working at home.  Even split shifts that are generally avoided when staff commute to the office may be attractive for those managing home schooling and day care issues as well as their jobs.  Where these options work for the center and the agents, it is an opportunity to be considered.

Closing Comments

Based on the responses to this survey, it appears that some centers have started planning for the return of some or all staff to the office.  It is a complex situation with the need for health screenings, social distancing, and the time and space needed to accommodate the new requirements.  A comprehensive plan needs to include the HR and Facilities departments, but a review with the supervisors and a subset of affected agents will be helpful in identifying potential issues ahead of time.  This will allow the plans to address concerns before they arise.