Will BPO Work-At-Home Continue In 2021?
Like every other company in our industry, 2020 was a year of unexpected change for Transcom. Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) in general saw a global move from the contact center into homes as the agents picked up a laptop and continued serving customers from home.
In the US, we were already operating a work-at-home (WAH) model so the impact wasn’t as traumatic as the issue faced by some of our industry peers. The contact center operators that relied 100% on agents being inside a contact center were suddenly faced with an inability to let their employees go to the workplace and yet switching to a WAH operation model meant changing security and other processes overnight.
Our security and technology team ensured that we continued to deliver for our clients, even outside the US where we do have contact centers. But now that we can see vaccines arriving will there be a return to normal for BPO or is this change permanent?
If you look at the business journals then there is a connecting thread, WAH is here to stay. CIO magazine talks about the success T-Mobile found when they moved over 17,000 people to WAH inside two weeks. Many journals detail how virtual cloud-based contact centers are becoming drastically more important in the post-pandemic environment and how this focus on the virtual is here to stay. Many journals also talk about the rapid change in channels used by customers - in many cases there has been a dramatic increase in the use of digital channels.
Like the journals and analysts suggest, I also believe that we are not going to see a rapid return to the traditional contact center. Even those companies that were not using WAH at all are unlikely to return to their previous operating model for a number of reasons:
• It has been proven to work: remote and distributed teams were often seen as more difficult to manage than a team in a single location, but it has been proven that many employees are far more engaged and productive when working from home - this really works.
• It’s proven to be safe: the most common executive fear was around information security, but as we have seen in multiple examples, with planning and the right tools you can make a home-based agent just as secure as an office-based one.
• It offers more flexibility and scale: it’s possible to get more inventive with shift patterns and flexible working, such as working across different accounts - all much more difficult to do with people who need to commute to a physical office.
• Resilience: if it takes longer than expected to beat Covid-19, or another major challenge arrives, the team is flexible and able to work from hundreds of different locations - not just a single office. This bakes resilience into the entire operation.
• New opportunities: you can explore new ideas such as hiring from anywhere and no longer worrying about the need for employees to commute to an office - this allows you to raise the bar and also look for unusual skills - like searching for fans of the product being supported.
It’s not just BPO that will change. Many professionals have seen more flexibility in their work in 2020 than ever before. As the focus switches from time spent in the office to what is being delivered there will be change in management and a greater focus on teamwork. Much of this is a healthy change from the traditional hierarchy that encourages long hours without focusing on what is actually productive.
But inside BPO, these changes will take place and I believe it creates enormous opportunities for companies like Transcom. We can build customer support teams in the US by seeking out the best people from across the country. This also allows us to create more diverse opportunities, hiring people who find it difficult to commute because of a mobility issue or those who want to work for just a few hours a day and would never commute to a traditional contact center.
Work at home will continue and it will be accepted as a normal delivery model, not something unusual or an emergency response to the pandemic. We are building WAH customer service strategies that are flexible, resilient, and secure.