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WFH Increases Productivity? I Just Don’t Buy It


Photo of a phone with headset, to show customer support
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The work-from-home (WFH) trend is here to stay for contact centers. As a proof point, Gartner reported 70% of customer service and support employees “want to continue working from home after the pandemic ends,” with service leaders saying “30-80% of their workforce will be working from home two years from now.” The big selling point to continue some version of WFH is the reported increase in productivity. Well, I’m not buying it.
What’s really changed? The closure of schools and childcare centers throughout the pandemic continue with the majority of schools still far from returning all students, full-time, five days a week. This puts parents in the position of managing childcare tasks, preparing meals, supervising homework, and even monitoring playtime throughout the workday — and they admit their productivity has declined. A study by Perceptyx, a people analytics platform provider, contends this loss of productivity isn’t just reported by parents, but non-parent coworkers, as well. Aternity, a digital experience management company that coined the phrase “remote work productivity tax,” supports this, as well. It suggests productivity dips are the result of “pandemic-related fatigue” as remote workers get less productive the longer remote work continues.
As you might expect given its business, Aternity asserts that loss of productivity is driven mainly by poor application performance. Slow or not readily available applications that support key business processes can cause a decline in employee productivity. Ensuring employees can carry out their work at home over a prolonged period presents some concerns, especially when you consider the many systems, applications, and the amount of data employees use daily. Chief among these concerns is poor Internet bandwidth. Nothing kills meeting productivity like a distorted and out-of-sync video call, slow loads on webpages, or choppy cloud application performance. And technology is not the only issue.
The numbers tell the real story. Many companies that quickly deployed remote workers also implemented workforce management and quality management solutions. Unfortunately, supervisors and managers had neither the training nor the experience in managing virtual teams and were not adept at tracking or managing adherence. My sense is traditional contact center productivity metrics prove it — double-digit abandon rates, and long queue times resulting in a rise in transfer rates and reduced first contact resolution. Overall, customer satisfaction has declined, and customer effort scores have risen, leading to dissatisfaction, disloyalty, and churn. In its “State of Customer Experience 2021-21” report, CCaaS provider speaks to the contact center service challenges and resulting impact.
WFM will undoubtedly continue, but productivity and efficiency are not sustainable without realigning digital strategy. Implementing a solid infrastructure to ensure productivity and technology is still the biggest barrier in remote working. Contact center operations need to address these barriers and deploy the necessary work equipment, remote access tools, and means for connectivity for smooth execution. Establish effective and efficient workforce, quality monitoring, and management processes, all without compromising customer experience — these are trying times and we are never going back to business as usual, so doing so is essential to long-term post-COVID-19 WFH.

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"SCTC Perspective" is written by  members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC), an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.