Illustration of person working remotely on a laptop, with a phone, notepad, tea, lamp and plant nearby

Customer care from anywhere

One of the paradoxes of the COVID-19 pandemic is that as people stayed at home and isolated, the world seemed to become more digitally connected. You couldn’t avoid topics like "Zoom fatigue," virtual happy hours and the blurring borders between home and work life. But time has passed and two things have become clear: The pandemic has changed not just how, but where we work, and our expectations have evolved. Doors have opened that can’t be easily shut — perhaps because there’s a pile of laundry or a dog toy in the way.

Research on the shift in preferences leads to similar conclusions. According to Statista, 44% of Americans now work remotely on a full-time basis, up from 17% before the pandemic. Although the current percentage can be expected to decrease as the world reopens, we’re unlikely to see that number return to pre-pandemic levels. Expectations have changed, period. A FlexJobs survey found that 58% of respondents would look for a new job if they could not continue to work remotely. Elsewhere, Forbes shared that 74% of professionals expect remote work to become standard, and 61% of employees prefer being fully remote.

The pandemic has brought on a historic shift toward the "work anywhere" model, first out of necessity, and now increasingly out of preference. It can be observed across industries, business units and disciplines — and brands are being called upon to adapt. Critically, they can’t afford to get caught napping on this particular video call; when it comes to remote work, different functions necessitate different considerations.

This is especially true for your customer care teams. Once a tried and true on-premise department, brands are waking up to the potential of successful remote support teams. Those who do it right do three things very well:

  • They protect their employees and their brands against security risks;
  • They set up and encourage productive workspaces; and,
  • They put real thought and energy into remote employee engagement.

Read on to learn more about the lay of the land and what you can do to set up your remote customer care team for success.

Brands are pivoting to work anywhere models

TELUS International, in partnership with Pulse, surveyed technology leaders about their team's workplace structure. Within the next six months, nearly a third (31%) anticipated a remote structure, while 52% anticipated a hybrid structure.

The trend becomes even more clear when you take note of the big-name brands adapting to the change in expectations. Tobi Lütke, CEO of eCommerce giant Shopify, tweeted to announce a permanent switch to remote work back in May of 2021: "We will keep our offices closed until 2021 so that we can rework them for this new reality. And after that, most will permanently work remotely. Office centricity is over." Another tech powerhouse, Slack, announced that they’d both give most employees the option to work remotely on a permanent basis and hire more remote-first employees going forward. These brands, and others like them, may be on the leading edge, but you can expect more to follow.

Tobi tweet 2 Image of tweet by Shopify CEO, Tobi Lütke.

Establish security protocols for your remote teams

There’s no two ways about it: The shift to remote work has changed the landscape of workplace security. It’s a topic that’s top of mind for many tech execs: A survey by OpenVPN found that 73% of VP and C-suite IT leaders think that remote workers are a greater security risk.

Your customer care agents handle important, personal identifiable information, and to maintain customer trust, they need to do everything in their power to keep it safe. That means remote teams need to be trained on security best practices and made aware of the threats that put security at risk. It also means there is an imperative to support your agents with adequate technology, including carefully configured devices, high-bandwidth full encryption virtual private networks (VPNs) and safe cloud data storage.

Gone are the days of security via locked doors and keycards. With a distributed workforce, vulnerabilities are spread out too. Develop policies surrounding your company devices and their usage, and safeguard client data by prohibiting agents from allowing others to use company devices or software. And just because there’s no tangible front desk in a work anywhere model, that doesn’t mean physical security goes out the window. Set expectations about private, secure workspaces that guard against prying eyes and ears.

Help remote teams design productive workspaces

Training should go beyond the reinforcement of company expectations and security best practices. Showing your agents what an efficient workspace looks like creates the best possible chance of success. In The Great Indoors, a book that analyzes how indoor spaces shape our behavior, health and happiness, author Emily Anthes discusses findings that can be applied to remote workspaces.

There are a number of things that agents can control to prevent unwanted effects. For example, Anthes’ shares that background noise can harm both memory and motivation and cause fatigue, while poor lighting can lead to an increased rate of errors. A room that's too hot or too cold can cause discomfort and make work feel more difficult.

On the positive side, according to Anthes, daylight and windows boost memory and inhibitory control (the ability to control impulses) and plants can enhance attention, focus, memory, learning and productivity.

Brands looking to set up their customer care teams to work anywhere can apply these learnings, perhaps by offering ergonomic workshops or by encouraging breaks outdoors.

Rethink employee engagement

Even though research, like that conducted over an 18-month period by Forbes, suggests productivity has not been negatively impacted by a work anywhere model, employee engagement has become more complicated. "Culture and performance are more intricately connected than ever," shares Mirvac in a 2021 report. "Recent research from Gallup reported that employees are 10% less likely to feel cared for or recognized in a virtual environment, and 5% less likely to feel that their opinions count. The cost to employers of actively disengaged staff is estimated at around 17% of each individual's salary."

Brands need to rethink employee engagement for a digital world, and signs suggest the answer lies in leveraging digital tools to keep agents motivated and interested. "We really believe in engagement," said Gideon Prior, chief marketing officer at Workvivo, on a recent episode of TELUS International Studios. Prior went on to explain his belief that the "only way for communications to work in the world of today" is if people are "engaged and feel a strong emotional connection to the company, its culture and its purpose, even if they’re not working in the same office space." TELUS International uses Workvivo internally to keep over 50,000 active users connected on a daily basis by celebrating achievements, welcoming new team members, highlighting opportunities to provide feedback and more.

Platforms and tools that enable you to collect employee feedback, as well as those that enable recognition — whether it is top-down or peer-to-peer — are key to keeping a remote customer care team engaged. Give your team members the opportunity to have their voices heard, to provide ideas and the opportunity to be recognized.

Adopting a work anywhere approach to customer care

Moving to the work anywhere model requires a focus on employee satisfaction, company culture, business security and customer experience. Let us help guide the way with our holistic Work Anywhere solution that combines the best of people, processes and technology to deliver a flexible and secure support model for an engaged remote workforce. Expectations have evolved; evolve with them. Reach out to learn how TELUS International can help.

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