WFM in an Era of Pandemic and Work-from-Home (Part 2)

By Eric Hagaman, Aspect

In Part 1 of this discussion, we explored the current situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many centers have part or all their agents working from their homes and there is a growing expectation that while some may remain working at home, others will come back to the office.  In this section, we will explore the implications of going back to the office.

Workforce planning will play a key part in ensuring the safety of employees returning to on-premise work.  Some of the new requirements to be planned include:

  • Check-in/Security
  • Social distancing at all times
    • Distance while entering the facility
    • Entering in an acceptable amount of time, not too many at once
    • Workspaces far enough apart
    • Distance while exiting
    • Exiting in an acceptable amount of time and distance, even in an emergency
  • Clean workspaces
    • Time for workstation cleaning
  • Clean facility
  • Minimal physical congregation in shared spaces
  • Foot traffic routed to minimize contact
  • Safe air handling to minimize shared contagion
  • Tracing of physical location of employees over time
    • Position assignment and tracking

All these factors need to be thought through and implemented effectively to ensure employee confidence to return to the office.

Entering and Exiting the Facility

While it is common for several agent shifts to begin at the same time, with a requirement for screening and security, this may be problematic.  We need to consider how employees can safely enter the building and how this impacts the workforce planning and scheduling.  Identify the points where employees will physically queue such as lobby, elevator, escalator, doors, etc. If there is a security check-in already in place, it will likely need to be expanded to included health checks.

Space fills fast when 6 feet between people is required.  A lobby with 100 square feet can accommodate about 16 people in queue, for example.  Measure how long it takes to complete the check in (security sign in, health survey, temperature check, access card scan, mask check, etc.).  Assume it takes 2 minutes per person to complete the process.  If 10 agents all arrive at once, not only is there a significant queue (with 6 feet separation) but a potential delay for the last person of 20 minutes.  We need to consider the maximum acceptable time for entering the facility and the safety of a group of employees waiting to check in.  Should those in queue wait outside or in their vehicles to be called as is often done at doctor’s offices?  In some cases, there is an elevator ride to the center with limits on how many people can ride together, creating another potential bottleneck just to get to the contact center floor.  Another consideration is whether employees are entitled to pay if they spend more than a certain amount of time waiting to check in.  And let’s not forget to schedule the additional employees who will need to man the check-in desks.

It is important to work closely with the facilities partners to understand local/legal requirements.  When returning to the office, safety is job #1.  We want to ensure the physical safety of the staff from the spread of disease and ensure employee confidence in established procedures and discipline to follow them consistently.

Considering the need for social distancing, exit plans also need to be in place.  If there is an evacuation such as a simple fire drill or an actual emergency, the maximum amount of time that could be tolerated for everyone to exit needs to be planned with clear processes documented and practiced.

Inside the Facility

The space-efficient design of many contact centers utilizes cubicles of various configurations, many in fairly tight quarters with agents both beside one another and facing each other with minimal barriers. 

Maintaining 6 feet of distance between workstations may require leaving a significant number of these cubicles vacant and this can have some scheduling impacts. Much of the potential real estate savings expected from having some staff working at home may be lost to the additional spacing requirements.

Another consideration that is often overlooked is the safety of the airflow.  If the HVAC output and input devices are placed so that air will flow across a group of people, the potential sharing of contagion is high. Reconfiguring of the furniture or the HVAC system can minimize this flow across the people and needs to be explored with the facilities team.  Where reconfiguration is not feasible, the number of people seating in the area may need to be restricted; however, the best option would always be to re arrange the furniture, keeping in mind all the necessary measures. An office furniture los angeles supplier like Alan Desk can help customize new furniture based on your office needs.

Foot traffic routes are another planning step.  Measure and mark lanes to minimize the potential for violations of safe distance and mark one-way routes as needed.  Some routes to consider include those to and from:

  • Entrances
  • Workstations
  • Breakrooms
  • Cafeterias
  • Shared equipment (such as copiers, fax machines, etc.)
  • Exits

Workforce planning and scheduling will benefit from workstation position assignment tools.  Figuring out how to ensure that too many people are not in the breakroom at the same time as well as just managing the limited number of seats can be challenging without the assistance of automation.

Workstation and position cleaning will need to be a daily affair at a minimum.  If agents share the space, cleaning will need to happen between each personnel change.  Determine if this cleaning will be done by the agents or a cleaning service.  If the employee is expected to do it, time needs to be built into the beginning or end of each shift to accommodate it.  Where a cleaning service is used, it is likely the service will want to clean an entire pod of the center at one time which can create a need to schedule these workstations idle during that period.

Scheduling Strategies

One approach to deal with these challenges is to schedule teams of agents to start and stop at the same time, but different for each team.  This will stagger the arrival and departure vs. the other teams, reducing congestion entering and exiting the facility.  It helps to have known times to clean workstations, breakrooms and shared areas and equipment.  In this scenario, the breaks would be staggered.  This reduces the number of employees travelling to and from the break facilities at the same time.

An alternative approach is to stagger the arrival and departure of individual employees.  This can allow alignment of the start times with certain work positions to minimize employees passing each other.  This is likely to work best when employees clean their own workstations.  Cleaning of breakrooms and shared facilities and equipment can be scheduled for off-hours. In this second scenario, breaks should also be staggered for the same reasons.

Assigning employees to work position by date and time can help plan possible foot traffic routes.  It can be one piece of contact tracing information if needed.  Physical location and path tracking can be accommodated with beacons in various areas, a mobile app, or via badge/device.

Summary

As you complete your workforce plan, take all your limitations into account.  Consider on-premise staff as “base staff,” utilizing home workers to fill in where needed.  Clearly document and communicate the procedures.  Accept that on-premise staff will likely be less efficient than in the past or even than home-based workers.

The maximum number of employees who can be scheduled for work in a facility at one time can be limited by:

  • The number that can enter safely without unacceptable wait times
  • The number of people who can queue or congregate
  • Workspaces that can be staffed at a safe distance
  • Workspaces with required equipment
  • The number that can exit safely in an emergency.

Look for tools to help automate the complex processes so you can focus on the important human needs of the staff in these challenging times.

Eric Hagaman is Senior Product Manager at Aspect. He may be reached at eric.hagaman@aspect.com