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Work-at-Home vs On-Premise Call Center Agents – A Comparison

The decades-long debate comparing work-at-home vs. on-premise call center agents is a front-and-center topic today. Our industry is nearly six months into the workplace changes brought on by the coronavirus, and we are still adjusting to the current state of things. Many companies managed the sudden shift to work-at-home with few difficulties, while others are still struggling to overcome challenges, particularly with staffing, training, agent engagement, collaboration and attrition.

So, what does the future hold for call center operations? With Q4 and 2021 approaching fast, we must ask ourselves:

  1. Has pandemic fatigue has set in?
  2. How much longer can we use “because of COVID” as an excuse for poor service?
  3. What are the impacts on US domestic call centers vs. offshore and nearshore operations? 
  4. Are call center workers missing the social interaction of on-premise sites?
  5. Are staffing and performance challenges manifesting or improving?
  6. Is there an uptick in applicants seeking transient jobs vs. a career path?
  7. What will the on-premise and work-at-home hybrid ratio be moving forward?

Company leaders are reconsidering the work-at-home vs. on-premise debate with new questions and concerns as they contemplate how to retain customers and employees while navigating the stormy months to come — and beyond.

Benefits and Challenges of Work-at-Home vs. On-Premise Call Center Models

Even before COVID-19 swept through the US and the world, work at home or virtual centers was already on the rise. Yet the reality of the daily isolation from co-workers, lack of support staff, and feeling disconnected from a team-based culture are concerns, especially for more extroverted call center agents.

Long-standing work-at-home operations have had years of experience in developing a success formula. Most have well-developed technology, processes, policies, and staffing models that drive the right outcomes. Naturally, these success factors were developed over time, and pre-COVID work-at-home operations are reaping the benefits as a result.

However, COVID-19 forced many companies to fast-track and put in a stopgap solution. Given the evolving crisis, and the reality of a once seemingly temporary situation becoming a “new standard,” call center leaders are considering what the ideal future operation should look like.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to either model, and each brings unique benefits and challenges. The table below lists some of the most common:

Work-at-Home Call Center Model

On-Premise Call Center Model

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

  • Increased employee engagement and retention
  • Access to an expanded talent pool of skilled, high-quality staff
  • Competitive operating and management
    costs
  • Scheduling flexibility for agents; improved life-work balance
  • Scheduling flexibility for company; a workforce that can quickly scale up or down, as needed
  • Ability to offer extended operating hours
  • Business continuity — can maintain operations during crisis or disaster
  • Reduced carbon footprint
  • Feeling isolated
  • Lack of reliable high-speed internet connection in the home
  • Lack of dedicated workspace; agents distracted in the home
  • Lack of secure network connection poses data security risk; also, agents working on their own may be more susceptible to social engineering attempts
  • Agents may lack expertise to troubleshoot technical issues or problems with equipment
  • Easy to misunderstand text-based communications from supervisors and team members
  • Teams can become siloed from other functions
  • Agents may have difficulty separating work and personal lives
  • Managers and supervisors require additional skill sets to lead virtual teams
  • Secure network and PCI compliance
  • Easy access to supervisors, trainers, IT, peers and on-site resources
  • Increased opportunities for learning and development, networking with management and peers
  • Supervisors and team leads can see and hear when agents need assistance on a call and/or coaching
  • Customer service and sales staff can benefit from in-person interaction
  • More opportunity for agents to be involved in cross-functional projects
  • Agents are immersed in company brand and culture
  • Easier for supervisors to deliver on-the-spot public recognition to individual agents
  • Appeals to younger workers interested in career growth

 

  • Schedule adherence and absenteeism; having to commute to the center increases the likelihood of tardiness and call-outs
  • Less flexibility to quickly scale if agents must come into the center to log into the system
  • Traditional on-premise shifts are longer (5×8, 4×10) than WAH scheduling, which can contribute to lower agent utilization and higher costs
  • Recruiting is limited to local area
  • High overhead costs, depending on call center site location
  • Long commute times add to agent stress
  • COVID-19 health and safety concerns: A return to on-premise call centers requires companies to make adjustments to the workspace, procedures, signage and shift start/stop times, among other things, to maintain employee safety

 

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