Customer Contact Strategies Blog

Top Three Failure Points of Work at Home Programs

Posted by Michele Rowan

February 26, 2015 at 6:34 PM


Over the past five years, we've worked with 800+ organizations in design, implementation and continuous improvement of work at home programs for contact centers.  

Now that home working for contact centers is moving into the mainstream, there are some patterns emerging in terms of failure points.  The top three are folllowing, along with proven methods of turning things around, or better, avoiding the failure points all together:

1.  Bad Hiring - 62% of respondents from the 2015 Remote Working Benchmarking Survey cited poor job matches as the top reason for turnover, particularly in the 30-120 day employment window.  This is generally the highest turnover segment for contact centers, and the highest cost, due to churn. Minimize bad hiring:

  • Streamline and automate processes, transform from "manual" environment
  • Use 21st century technology for sourcing and assesing candidates (recorded interviews, simulations)
  • Incorporate personality testing into your process, once you've established what "good hires" look like
  • Put together well thought out behavioral interview questions
  • Arm yourself with ample and qualified hiring resources
  • Don't set unrealistic hiring targets

2.  Bad management - employees who are successful in training, but later (30-120 days) disengage and depart, are likely feeling too much distance, and lack of support.  Distance and lack of support could be caused your business processes and technologies (covered in #3 below) or could be caused by the quality of your managers themselves.  Best practices on going from bad to great remote working management:

  • Align the way work gets done (on site and virtual).  If everyone accesses the same systems to share knowledge, communicate, recognize, exchange, then moving someone a few blocks or a few hundred miles away won't matter much, if at all.  In other words, go digital (chat, enterprise social networks, video)
  • Prepare managers for the virtual distinctions that do exist in your organization and best methods to close the gaps
  • Set expectations on frequency and quality of touch/interactions
  • Expect and measure demonstrated competency of virtual working (for managers and team members)
  • Be careful to put a mediocre manager in charge of remote employees - they will struggle or fail

3.  Virtual distance - when people feel cut off, isolated, or have to exert incrementally higher effort to be seen or heard (compared to their in house counterparts or other jobs they've had in the past), they will eventually lose interest and move on to an environment where it's not so difficult to achieve personal best. Surefire methods of marginalizing "virtual distance" in your work environment:

  • Go digital - everybody works from the same platforms to get stuff done, regardless of where they sit
  • Visiblity of co-workers - implement an enterprise social network (Yammer, Jabber, Socialcast)
  • Require use of social platforms - it's not for fun - it's where most exchanges take place
  • Share knowledge - use peer resolution to solve problems (group chats, groups on the enterprise social network)
  • Keep socre - implement real time desktop scorecards - everybody knows how everyone else is doing
  • Engage/applause - at minimum, utilize the enterprise social network for reward/recognition and better, add gamification to amp up the fun and value.
  • Measure effectiveness of your remote program frequently - bimonthly mini-surveys at minimum

Join us at one of the two Advanced At Home Strategies Workshops in 2015 (July 22-23 in Denver or November 11-12 in Laguna Beach), for deep dive discussions and best practice exchanges on all of above.










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Topics: Remote Working

Top Five Remote Working Priorities

Posted by Michele Rowan

December 16, 2014 at 5:32 PM

Survey results from 100+ Fortune 1000 companies with home-based employees are in.  Not surprisingly, the top challenge for companies is preparing leaders for effective management of telecommuters.  The second largest challenge has been reported in

training people on technology usage and leveraging technology to drive productivity and engagement.  Here's the list from the survey results:

  • 71%:  Preparing managers for remote roles
  • 52%: Training managers and remote staff on technology
  • 47%: Engagement of remote staff
  • 45%: Satisfying hiring requirements
  • 32%: Upgrading/replacing legacy technologies


Given telecommuting is the #1 new benefit being offered by employers in 2015-2016, getting business processes, technologies, and work flows sorted is becoming increasingly more important.  Pretending it's not different, or leaving it to your managers to wrestle with, will result in performance gaps, and impact engagement.

If you've got people working from home, or remotely, or you're thinking about offering it, please do two things:

1.  Register for the 2015 Remote Working Summit February 17-19 in Dallas  - 20+ speakers, and it's only once a year.

2.  Download the paper on Five Remote Working Priorities, and best practices to make it go.



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Topics: Remote Working

Psychometric Testing Tools - Employers are Split

Posted by Michele Rowan

October 8, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Personality tests can predict on the job behaviors, or they are intended to.  And the use of them in customer service jobs is rapidly expanding.  60-70% of prospective workers are tested by US businesses today, doubling its use from a decade ago, according to a September article in the Wall Street Journal.

Psychometric testing can be an extremely valuable tool for assessment and selection, by adding science to a mix where previously there was none.  Leading up to this decade, most businesses pretty much relied on background checks and interviews to make employment decisions. While both have high impact, less information is available via background checks today, and interviews can be quite subjective. Translation:  the risk for hiring mistakes is mounting.

So including a third pillar to the process by collecting a snapshot of cognitive abilities, personality type, customer service skills and other traits can create a really balanced approach to the hiring process.  Many businesses like IBM, Home Depot, Target, Walmart, and McDonalds utilize them.

But there is growing scrutiny alongside the rise in utilization, particularly around effectiveness and fairness. The EEOC is investigating whether personality tests discriminate against people with disabilities.

Perhaps we should examine the point at which personality tests are administered.

Many companies place the testing process at the very beginning, in an attempt to streamline the entire application process. Personality testing comes at the same time that people are learning about the job, and the minimum qualifications.

And other businesses ask applicants to take the personality test later  - after they've learned about the job, and the minimum qualifications.  Applicants read about things like specific responsibilities, working hours, shifts, work days, minimum levels of experience, special skills.  And they either opt in to continue on (acknowledging they meet the described minimums) or they opt out - on their own - because they discover they are not a good fit. 

Only after applicants self-select through the minimum gates, is the personality test then offered.  Why does this make a difference?  It saves everybody time, it reduces the risk of testing people that may not meet minimum qualifications (through their own de-selection) and it saves companies money, because fewer people are tested, and fees are based on started/completed tests.

Testing companies want employers to test everyone, but it doesn't mean it make sense for you business.  In fact, combining personality testing and minimum qualification assessments very early in the process is likely adding to the risk of poor matching, and certainly adding to hiring costs.

We'll have this debate at the Laguna Beach, CA Remote Working Master Class on Nov 12-13.

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Topics: Remote Working

Laguna Beach Remote Working Master Class

Posted by Michele Rowan

October 6, 2014 at 7:20 PM

Two Days of Thought Leadership:  November 12-13, Laguna Beach, CA

Nathan Hickman, Director Workforce Management, and Michele Rowan, President Customer Contact Strategies, lead this two-day meeting on all things remote working.  Topics are attendee-driven, and will incude the following:

Topics and Dicussions Points:

  • Building a remote working infrastructure that will scale in the future
  • Identifying attributes and characteristics of high performing remote team members
  • Cultural connectivity and engagement of remote staff
  • Best practices in collaboration and peer recognition
  • Virtual performance management - getting it right
  • Innovtive technology to leverage a remote platform
  • Virtual learning - design & delivery



Deep dive discussions, benchmarking, and thought leadership in an intimate setting.  Attendees are surveyed in advanced on topics of high interest, ensuring you walk away with exactly what you came in for.

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Topics: Remote Working

More Evidence that Telecommuting Augments Performance

Posted by Michele Rowan

September 25, 2014 at 2:30 PM

Unversity of Illinois 2014 Telecommuting Study:

Results from a recent study on benefits and limitations of telecommuting was released by the University of Illinois; here's the scope and top line findings:

  • 500 surveys were mailed to full-time US based professionals across a broad scope of jobs
  • 300+ employees responded, and another 150 (managers of the employees) also responded
  • 1/3 of the respondents worked from home or in a satellite office part-time, 2/3 worked from home full-time.
  • Home-based employees were rated on job dedication and working well with others (vs. their in-house counterparts)
  • Telecommuters have lower stress and tend to work longer hours

Could it be that telecommuters still often represent the "cream of the crop", or highest performing employees, and therefore skew survey results like these?  Certainly on the enterprise side of remote working, this could be the case.  Many organizations have invited just a fraction of their corporate or enterprise staff to telecommute.

But another meaningful reference point is telecommuters in contact centers.  80% of companies surveyed by Customer Contact Strategies in February 2014 reported that their home-based contact center employees had lower absenteeism, similar or better productivity, and higher employee satisfaction scores compared to their in-house counterparts.

So two more meaningful reference points that both en masse and from this recent smaller sample, telecommuters perform (at minimum) as well, and often better, than their office-based co-workers.

More data and case studies on telecommuting returns for enterprise workers, contact centers and support roles will be shared at the Remote Working Master Class, Laguna Beach, CA, November 12-13.  Two days of extensive thought leadership and benchmarking.

Learn More



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Topics: Remote Working

Nathan Hickman: Building a Scalable Work at Home Model

Posted by Michele Rowan

September 4, 2014 at 2:53 PM

Meet Nathan Hickman, Director Workforce Management and Technology Planning, BECU Credit Union

Driven by a keen curiousity surrounding physical vs. virtual distance in the workplace, Nathan conducted his graduate thesis at Gonzaga University on remote workers and was published in the 2011 Journal of Business and Leadership.

Take a listen to the 15-minute podcast, and then join Nathan and 25 additional subject matter experts  in Laguna Beach, CA, November 12-13 for the Virtual Agent Conference.

Listen to Nathan's insights on:

  • How to build a scalable program on a small program budget
  • Separating virtual distance challenges from physical distance
  • Efficiently and securely utilizing employee-owned equipment in a highly regulated environment

November 12-13 Laguna Beach, CA Virtual Agent Conference

Two days of intense thought leadership, benchmarking,
and - paddleboarding.


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Topics: Remote Working

UK Passes New Law on Flexible Working

Posted by Michele Rowan

August 27, 2014 at 4:34 PM


Until now, only employees in caregiving positions could request flexible working arrangements from their UK employers.  But that all changed last month, when the Government got involved.

The change to the law gives all UK employees the right to request flexible working arrangements, as long as they have a minimum of 26 weeks of service.  

So what is the UK Government trying to accomplish?  Culture change in tandem with economic benefits.   Here's what the UK Department for Business is forecasting:

  • 60,000 new flexible working arragements per year
  • 475 million GBP in overall economic benefits over 10 years
  • Improvements in productivity, attendance and employee retention
The extension to the flexible working rules comes alongside the introduction fo parental leave, which, starting April 2015, will combine materinity and paternity rights into one package.

What's your company's stand on flexible working arrangements?  Where are the early adopters, small majority, large majority and laggers going with flexible working arramgnements?  

This and many more critical topics are on the agenda for the Laguna Beach, CA  Remote Working Conference November 12-13.

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Removing Remote Working Barriers

Posted by Michele Rowan

May 21, 2014 at 5:13 PM

Stacy Lowman, VP of Talent Development for World Travel Holdings, talks for 15 minutes on this webcast about removing barriers to world class remote working. 

World Travel Holdings has nearly 1,000 remote employees in multiple states, and recently started "virtually" hiring and training new team members - without ever meeting the personally. 

Stacy and his team share innovative strategies for ensuring that employees are connected on that "last mile" between the corporate offices and home-office.  We discuss:

  • Leveraging social platforms to create high visibility and engagement
  • Recognition & reward on steroids (or gamification)
  • Low effort performance awareness and support

Stacy is speaking at two upcoming Remote Working Master Classes in Chicago June 24-26:

 Listen to webcast


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Three Critical Sucess Factors for Remote Work

Posted by Michele Rowan

December 12, 2013 at 4:05 PM


Remote working is exploding as a result of mobile technologies. A growing segment of the workforce prefers it, and it saves huge spend on real estate and related costs.

But lagging behind the rapid technology expansion is well thought through organizational strategy to absolutely ensure that remote workers are as productive and as engaged as their in-house counterparts.

Who are your mobile workers?

  • Office-based employees that travel for work, work from various campuses, and sometimes work from home.
  • Field workers or road warriors that are constantly on the move, and rarely in the office, except when necessary.
  • Home-based employees, who visit the office only when required.
  • Office-based employees who work from home (or other location) when it suits their personal lives.

Three critical success factors for leveraging remote work

1. Job match.  Not every job is a good fit for remote work. Expectations and output should be clearly defined, contracted, highly visible and discussed with frequency. Roles that require extensive think tanking and brainstorming (greater than 50%) might be better served in an office environment.  Jobs that require less than 50% face-to-face collaboration for output are a good match for remote work. 

2. Self-assessment for employees. Is there a certain "personality type" that will thrive in a remote environment?  People that are accustomed to and prefer autonomy certainly drive the success rate, and a strong technical aptitude is recommended, given IT is no longer down the hall.  Beyond that, innovative companies develop self-assessment tools for employees as a first step in the process (with company requirements included).  The fit for employees is personal, and when possible, their nomination as step one identifies gaps that need to be closed, and mitigates risk of poor performance or dissatisfaction. 

3. Cultural match. High powered connectivity and visibility of others is compulsory.  Think of it as replacing your office landscape - the place where people work together (formal and informal), learn from each other (formal and informal), and socialize.  A social platform (Chatter, Yammer, or Socialcast) becomes the all-in-one place where work and ideas are exchanged, updates are issued, colleagues are recognized, and problems get solved.  A second best practice is the use of video for one to one and team meetings.  Video mitigates the risk of "missing out" on the power of face-to-face interactions.

Make working easy - from anywhere

Mobile gear and technologies are available in all shapes and sizes, and pass muster of most security requirements.

The last bit of effort needs to be invested in comprehensive, low-effort connection of your people - broadly and deeply, making work easy to get done, from just about anywhere.

 Learn More 2014 Remote Working Summit

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Drivers and Returns in Remote Work

Posted by Michele Rowan

December 12, 2013 at 3:46 PM

Remote working is exploding as a result of mobile technologies. An estimated 33 million Americans work remotely for all or part of their workweek, and the forecast doubles by 2016.

Enterprise road warriors are getting more work done now than ever before, with less down time. Flexibility and convenience is driving speed to market at a newfound pace.

For mid and back office support functions, remote working is liberating people to choose their ideal workplace - while controlling or reducing the high price of real estate.

And for contact centers, remote working opens up massive pools of US-based talent, flexible, variable staffing, sky-high employee satisfaction and retention, and improved attendance and productivity.

A recent survey conducted by Customer Contact Strategies by 200+ organizations revealed the following results:

  • 74% of participants reported improved attendance
  • 64% reported improved employee retention
  • 58% reported productivity improvementscost20improvements

But how do we ensure that remote workers are as engaged, and as productive as their in-house counterparts?  Three critical success factors:

1) Well defined expectations.   Employees perform at their best when they know what is expected of them, check. For remote employees, that equates to well-defined job responsibilities, highly visible performance results and clear expectations on participation from a virtual perspective (i.e. virtual meeting attendance and contributions, response times to written communications, etc).

2) Job matching. Not every job is a good fit for remote work. And not every employee is attracted to it. Highly successful companies are careful to assess both before transitioning positions.

Best suited for remote work are roles that require less than 60% extensive face-to-face collaboration to produce output. Customer facing positions, content development, data processing and management, quality assurance and verification are terrific fits for remote work, along with the manager roles that support them.

Not every employee wants to work remotely. It's an extremely personal decision, with many factors that play into it - some of which change over time, based on the personal conditions of the employee and the role the employee holds.

Successful companies invite employees to complete a self-assessment for a remote position, before the organization conducts an assessment or makes a commitment.

3) Strong company culture. This is the big nut to crack, because it requires a very truthful and transparent assessment of current cultural state to be successful. Organizational values and beliefs are conveyed through meaningful and inspirational leadership, and embraced by employees via purposeful activities. Connecting the remote community calls for leadership preparation, business process reworking and technology enhancements to ensure that remote employees are highly visible, engaged, informed, supported and trusted -  as equally as their in-house counterparts. 

Some hugely successful companies in remote work include American Express, Aetna, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee.






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Topics: Remote Working

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