Another Chapter in the Ongoing Debate Started by Joshua Millsapps' Question "Is remote work, too remote?"

Originally posted to GovLoop the “Knowledge Network for Government”

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Kay Phelps

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In January Joshua Millsapps asked “Is remote work, too remote?” In March, Marissa Mayer Yahoo’s CEO caused a firestorm when she outlawed telework at the company. Debate rages across social media and other venues about the role of telework in today’s economy. This is especially true for governments. The benefits of large scale telework programs can be immense: dramatic saving of costs, powerful positive impacts on the environment, fewer cars clogging our rush hour roads, increased quality of life for employee and other factors.

Implementing a program has its challenges. Managers need new tools. Cultures need to adjust. Equity among those who must come to the office and those whose jobs can be fulfilled without incurring the negative impacts of millions of unneeded cars on our roads consuming valuable natural resources and spewing tons of carbon into our atmosphere each day must be balanced.

In an ongoing series of conversations blogger and APN Podcast Network host Guy Clinch has consulted with a series of industry experts on the benefits, the challenges and the tools that are available to establish a successful telework program for government. In this most recent edition, Guy speaks with Rebecca Kay Phelps, Contact Center Segment Manager at Jabra.

Kay has over a decade of experience working with organizations that have successfully deployed remote contact center agents. Kay talks about what it takes to build a successful program, what managers need to think about when they dispatch workers to home offices, powerful practices that can help prepare employees for a successful transition and the tools and methodologies that managers can use to make sure the program succeeds.

Listeners of this informative series will come away with a set of actionable tools, insights and advice from leaders in the movement to use technology to gain the benefits of telework for organizations and our society.

Join the conversation with your comments below!


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Avaya + Google: The Who, How, and What of an Exciting Alliance

Yep, that’s right, two of the best, bringing you the best. Here’s the scoop on who, how and what:

Who. You may not have heard yet about the collaboration just announced between Avaya and Google, but it’s pretty big news for organizations using or considering Avaya Call Center solutions. We are jointly developing solutions to make technology adoption simple, to help you meet your business objectives for customer experience improvement and enhanced contact center efficiency, and to support top-line business growth initiatives.

How. We’re linking Avaya Aura® Call Center Elite with Chromebooks. This creates a potent combination of Avaya expertise in customer engagement and Google’s leadership in Web applications and simple, fast and secure device messaging, such as through Chrome devices. The result – Avaya Agent for Chrome – provides important contact center management efficiencies and fast, cost-effective access to a full suite of technologies needed for real-time customer response.

What. Avaya Agent for Chrome is a Chrome application that enables contact center agents to access Avaya Aura Call Center Elite from a Chromebook to manage voice calls. They can do it from anywhere, even without a desk phone. The Chrome application enables call handling and voice communication via WebRTC over a Chromebook with a headset, or calls can be sent to a landline or mobile device. Should the quality of a VoIP call degrade, the agent can manually switch the voice path to a landline or mobile connection. And, yes, of course you can screen pop valuable customer information for improved customer engagement and experience.

And it’s simple! Avaya Agent for Chrome eliminates the need to download a native client to individual agent endpoints. It can be deployed to address a variety of requirements such as seasonal capacity, mobility and technology refresh.

The Avaya Agent for Chrome solution is a fresh example of the Avaya and Google drive to lead the way in communications and collaboration for the 21st century. What impact could our solution have on your contact center? Let me hear from you.

Are Your Agents Driving the Best Results for Your Contact Center?

Are your agents driving the best results for your contact center? An interesting question perhaps! But here’s a thought: Engaged agents equal happy customers, and happy customers mean good business. Not a complicated idea. But possibly a challenging one for many contact centers.

It’s a Juggling Act

Why? Because contact centers traditionally look to optimize the needs of the customer with those of the business. It’s a tricky balancing act, a constant struggle to meet increasing customer expectations against the need to stay cost competitive in a hyper-competitive world.

This balancing act is critical. But it’s not enough. Extensive research shows that unless you also focus on improving employee satisfaction and staff retention – elements of employee engagement – in the contact center, you will struggle to meet your other objectives. Improving employee satisfaction and ensuring agents are engaged are essential to securing happy customers and delivering good business results.

Start with the Agent

Easier said than done, I agree. But here are a few ideas to help improve agent morale, capabilities and motivations:

  • Provide proactive and regular coaching sessions with timely, accurate and relevant contextual key performance indicators (KPIs), call evaluations, and preparatory learning
  • Undertake regular assessments and evaluator calibration to fairly measure agent performance
  • Provide opportunities to identify competency gaps and receive role-appropriate training, delivering the skills required to create knowledge workers
  • Provide tools and self-service options for agents to monitor and manage their own performance, e.g. manage their requests for holidays, time off, and schedule preferences

A Unified Workforce Optimization Solution Can Help

An integrated and unified WFO solution is great for agents. It helps enable contact centers to refashion cumbersome processes, freeing frontline management to pursue high-payoff activities involving root cause analysis and one-to-one coaching.

It helps ensure they are fairly treated, development issues are spotted early, and coaching and eLearning are delivered in a targeted and timely way to empower, motivate and please agents. A unified solution, coupled with streamlined processes, can help transform a contact center culture from a tactically-focused cost center into a strategic operation in which employees are knowledgeable, motivated and understand what is expected, how they are doing, and how to improve their performance to achieve specific business goals. Do this and everyone wins – the agent, the company and its customers.

Which brings me back to my first thought: Engaged agents equal happy customers and happy customers, in turn, equal good business – not a bad thought, eh!

If you’d like to know more about enabling your agents to drive the best results for your contact center, watch the replay of the recent CRMXchange and Avaya webinar Engaged Agents – It Makes Good Business Sense.

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Natalie Keightley, Avaya

This article is a guest post from Natalie Keightley, who is responsible for Portfolio Marketing within Avaya’s Customer Experience Management Product Marketing unit, and is based in Guildford, UK. In this role Natalie is responsible for developing Avaya’s strategic messaging and thought leadership in Customer Experience Management, to promote Avaya’s market leadership with customers, analysts and media.

Natalie’s 18 year career in IT and Telecoms has focused on helping businesses deploy IT and Communications solutions to achieve business results and covers business analysis, strategy development, product marketing and IT consulting.

Natalie has been with Avaya since 2000, and holds an MBA from Henley Management College, UK, and a Bachelor of Commerce Honours from the University of the Witwatersrand, RSA.

Continuing the Conversation on Telework: Is Remote Work Too Remote?

Originally published on GovLoop.

Andrew Krzmarzick commented on my blog post Answering Joshua Millsapps’ Question: Is remote work, too remote? by saying OPM surveys reveal that supervisors feel the biggest barrier to telework adoption is the, “Need to learn new skills for managing a remote workforce.” As I had referenced in my post my success in learning new skills when I was a manager of remote employees, Andrew asked that I expand on that topic. The Cliff’s Notes of my answer is that success requires a combination of new skills and employing the right tools. In addition to my experiences, I have asked a number of my colleagues who manage remote workers for their additional advice.

Below I share my experiences and feedback from my colleague Carl Knerr. I will summarize some of the available tools and Carl and I will reinforce how these tools can be used in combination with best practice management skills to help the supervisor of the remote worker overcome some of the obstacles to adoption.

First, may I say that my philosophy on supervising people derives from advice I was given as a young manager. I was told, “Never confuse people in motion with work being accomplished.” I say this with tongue in cheek, but truthfully for me, focus has always been primarily on results.

This is not to say that activities are unimportant. Measuring results means meeting milestones. Between milestones activities are important indicators of progress. Measuring activities of the remote workers requires tools. Below I review a number of tools applicable to different situations. Not every tool fits every circumstance. For instance, quality monitoring may be applicable to coaching people whose primary focus is interacting with clients on the phone. For others, tools such as enterprise grade social media may be more applicable. Think of the following not as a proscription, but as a toolbox. I spent an early part of my work years as a tradesman. We used to say that 90 percent of the job was choosing the right tool.

For supervisors of remote workers whose primary function is to work with customers or clients over the phone a basic tool is the status indicator. A supervisor managing people whether local or remote can employ a telephone or a softphone application with a basic indication, such as an array of LEDs, that tells when workers are active on their office phones. Combining this basic information with reports available from a Call Accounting System gives the supervisor real time information and context. For more advanced situations such as home based call center workers, more sophisticated tools are available.

The supervisors of call center workers who are in home situations use Call Management Systems to provide real time and historical information for quality and performance management. The information from these systems can be displayed in many different formats including real time readouts on the display of a digital or VoIP phone. Also Desktop Wallboard applications can present the information scrolling across computer screens. Both the supervisor and all of the call workers can share this information. Statistics including the number of callers who are waiting to be answered, how long the callers have been waiting, the average speed at which callers are being answered and a host of other data points may be displayed. The supervisor can use real time and historical reports with graphs, charts and other display formats that come in both prepackaged and ad hoc varieties. The real time reports provide powerful tools to manage staffing levels and workflows while historical reports both inform those decisions as well as provide data feeding performance improvement and evaluations.

Where appropriate and with the proper administrative precautions in place, supervisors may also use features of a communications system such as Service Observing. Service Observing allows supervisors to listen to in-progress calls for the purposes of quality monitoring. Supervisors may also barge into a call taking over for a call worker who is struggling, under duress or who requests help. Features allowing the ability to whisper coaching instructions into the earpiece of a workers handset give supervisors a way to provide support that is non-invasive to the relationship between the call taker and the client they are serving.

Other tools include call loggers and Workforce Optimization (WFO) tools. Basic WFO packages provide for the recording and quality monitoring of voice calls. There is no difference in the way these systems work whether call workers are local or remote. Especially in a fast paced call center environments, where large numbers of transactions are processed each day it is critical for supervisors be a part of the workflow. These tools allow the manager to participate with their call workers in the processes of delivering high-quality results through the management of work volumes, handling escalations, intervening when necessary and other collaborative processes aimed at performance improvements.

In the contact center where multiple mediums of communications are managed, more advanced WFO tools capture recordings of voice, text messages, web browser co-browsing and other media that can produce a holistic picture for the manager. The consolidation of all the elements of a contact record can be aggregated and used to provide comprehensive documentation of activities and results. Managers can use this holistic information for real time coaching, training, periodic performance evaluations and other aspects of personnel management.

For a more generalist populations of remote workers, tools including instant messaging and other newer communications applications allow supervisors to interact with workers in real time. These applications often provide “presence” which lets a supervisor know if someone is idle or in action. Granular detail including whether someone is talking on their phone, whether they are typing or involved in other activities is shown in real time. Enterprise grade social networking is also a new powerful tool to maintain a sense of community for a distributed workforce and to power collaborative work across the organization. (For a recent discussion on the use of these tools please see: The Collaborative Effects of Social Media in Business.)

More advanced tools including Speech Analytics automate the processes of quality monitoring. Software today can listen for phrases, tones or other indications such as those of displeasure or stress and provide tools for management interactions. Other benefits of speech analytics include providing managers ways to check for compliance with industry regulations, organizational security requirements and other issues critical to organizational performance and regulatory adherence.

These are but a few examples of the tools that are available. The point is that there are many ways to empower a supervisor to proactively manage workers whether they are sitting in a cubical row or distributed across the planet. Other than not being able to walk over and tap someone on the shoulder, the quality of the supervision is limited only by the ability of the individual to take advantage of the tools.

Next I’ll bring in the advice of some of my colleagues. In this post I will reference my conversation with Carl Knerr, Director of Serviceability Engineering at Avaya. In future posts I’ll talk about advice from others including Rebecca Kay Phelps who has had a long history of working with organizations with distributed workforces.

Carl responded to my request for examples of management skills by saying that he has actually never managed people other than remotely. He said, “Even when I worked in an office, my employees were in different locations.” Carl continued that regularly scheduled one-on-one conversations are very important. He said that managers need to make this part of their regular formal routine. “It is too easy to get busy with work so much so that you might not make the time to actually talk to your employees,” Carl said. He makes sure all of his people know they can always call whenever they need to, and that, “These formal meetings are an insurance policy to make sure that we’ll definitely talk on a regular basis.”

Carl also said that it is important to the relationship to make sure that the employees know, “We don’t have to talk just ‘work’.” In essence it is more of a, “Mandatory water-cooler conversation time,” Carl said.

Carl went on to say that as a manager of mangers who are also remotely located, “I do ‘skip levels’ for everyone in my organization every other month. Other tools I use are to create an Outlook contact for all my direct reports with a picture of them. When I get emails and phone calls from them, I see their face.” He admits that this is clearly, not the same as face-to-face, “But it helps.”

Carl said that he has recently begun using video conferencing. He said, “This is relatively new to me, but I do find that it can be a big help to increase the feeling of a ‘normal’ relationship.” Also, Instant Messaging is key tool. Carl said, “I’ve always asked my direct reports to be sure they are on IM during working hours. I can’t walk to their office to ask a question and IM seems to work quite well for that in a distance situation.” Thanks to Carl for his advice.

Above I have provided a number of concrete examples of tools and management techniques to help the manager of remote workers feel more comfortable. I’m not saying that it is easy at first. It takes work. It takes trust. It requires obtaining new skills. For some it may even mean an attitudinal adjustment.

The bottom line however is that we can no longer afford not to take advantage of the savings and benefits that remote work affords. We waste way too much fossil fuel, we dump way too much carbon into the atmosphere and we impose way too many burdens on those employees for whom travel to an office is not a critical requirement of the job.

Carl has written more about his experiences in his blog on Why Virtual Office Might Be Right for You.

I hope that you have found this helpful.


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Guy W. Clinch