Mental Health / 06.05.2020

How Contact Centers Can Help Their Work-From-Home Agents Cope with Stress

This blog post is part of our mental health series and authored by Mike Aoki, a contact center expert who was chosen by ICMI as one of the “Top 50 Customer Service Thought Leaders on Twitter”.

 

StressWorking from home brings its own kind of stress. People who have just transitioned from the office to working-from-home face several stressors. That includes the stress of moving away from an office environment to taking calls at home, potentially with their spouse and children also at home. It means transitioning from having a Team Leader sitting a few feet away to answer their questions, to now waiting for an email or instant messaging for an answer. Agents may feel isolated from colleagues and disconnected from the company. Given the inherent stress of dealing with difficult customers, the added stress of not feeling supported can reduce morale, performance, and employee engagement.

As a leader, what can you do to help your team with those stresses? Step one is to ensure your work-from-home Agents get the support they need. Train front-line leaders on how to coach and support remote Agents. Train front-line managers to leverage video conferencing, phone calls, and instant messaging to support at-home Agents.

Work-from-home Agents also need more than one connection to the company. They need to feel supported by a team. Managers, Team Leaders, Quality Assurance Coaches, and Workforce Managers are some of those support points. In addition, Agents need contact points for IT and Human Resources. Feeling supported, rather than isolated, helps work-from-home Agents feel less isolated from your company.

In addition, Jaime Saibil, a psychotherapist and organizational/ industrial consultant at Saibil Counselling & Consulting recommends, “Regular, structured check-ins” with work-from-home Agents. She adds, “These could take the form of one-on-one calls or a team call. The important feature is that the calls are regular and predictable, and that your team’s concerns and questions can be heard.”

As a senior leader, ensure Managers, Team Leaders, and Coaches book those connection times into their schedule. Unlike at onsite contact centers, Team Leaders cannot walk around to talk to Agents on the floor. Instead, they need to book calls and video conferences with work-from-home Agents. Since remote support requires extra effort, you need to hold them accountable for maintaining regular contact with their work-from-home Agents.

Support Your WFH Agents with Technology

Saibil also suggests leaders, “Provide several different communication technology options. Email alone is insufficient. Remote workers benefit from having a “richer” technology, such as video conferencing, that gives participants many of the visual cues they would have if they were face-to-face. When quick collaboration is required, a mobile-enabled messaging system like Slack, Zoom or Microsoft Teams are great options.” Help your front-line leaders leverage technology to support your work-from-home Agents.

The human touch is also vital. “Provide opportunities for remote social interaction” says Saibil. “The easiest way to establish interaction is to leave time at the beginning of team calls for non-work items. E.g. Meet the family – kids, pets, etc.” Use an “icebreaker” exercise to start team video calls and build team spirit. That can be as simple as asking attendees, “Have you watched anything interesting on Netflix lately?” or “Is anyone else baking bread or making cookies at home this week?” That quick little interaction establishes a human touch and allows people to find commonalities with their fellow remote coworkers.

Offer Encouragement and Emotional Support

Since working from home in this current environment can be stressful, Saibil encourages leaders to, “Offer encouragement and emotional support. If a newly remote employee is clearly struggling but not communicating stress or anxiety, ask them how they are doing. Be sure to listen carefully to the response and briefly restate it back to the employee to ensure you understood correctly. Listen. Openness. Validation. Empathy. Let the employee’s stress or concerns, rather than your own, be the focus of this conversation.” Some Agents may need additional support. Your company’s Employee Wellness Program may offer counseling services and financial advice. Check with your Human Resources department to see if that is available and appropriate for a situation.

As a leader, help your work-from-home Agents get the support they need to cope with stress. Make them feel supported. Help them to feel connected to the company and their colleagues. That can improve employee wellness and engagement.

This blog post was authored by Mike Aoki: 
Mike Aoki - Contact Center Trainer and ConsultantMike Aoki is the President of Reflective Keynotes Inc., a training company that helps contact centers improve their sales and customer experience results. A contact center expert, Mike was chosen by ICMI.com as one of the “Top 50 Customer Service Thought Leaders on Twitter” for the past six years. He has also received the GTACC Award for social media influence, and co-authored the Amazon #1 bestselling leadership book, “Called to Action.”