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Delivering a consistent service, whilst dealing with discontinuity

By Rob Osborn, Business Continuity Specialist

Most business leaders have not yet had a chance to take stock in 2020. Crisis management has been the overwhelming priority, having to deliver customer service to a demanding customer base during a time of huge fluctuation in volume across all channels. In an article earlier this year, we talked about the need for good Business Continuity Planning for a considered approach to getting back into the office as lockdown eased.

A summer of discovering the very real challenges of mass homeworking and having to deal with them has accelerated the learning process for the entire sector. It is now clear that working from home is a viable technical option for many more employees than most businesses imagined, although some critical processes such as payments still carry significant risks if dealt with incorrectly when handled outside centralised business systems. New ways of communicating with colleagues and teams via Zoom, Microsoft Teams and similar tools have complemented remote data networks to enable services to be carried out without massive disruption. At the same time, customer expectations have begun to align with the realisation that things have changed in the world of work.

We saw as national restrictions eased that businesses started to bring workers back into their offices and contact centres. Then the threat of a second wave has brought on tighter government restrictions, which has, in turn, created a new set of challenges for managers and leaders to deal with.

New challenges

Many businesses have successfully put social distancing measures into their places of work to protect staff, ranging from hygiene regimes to split working patterns and more regular, complete shift changes. Coupled with homeworking, this has allowed businesses to maintain links with employees, whilst monitoring their welfare and performance. It has also facilitated safer working practices.

Social distancing and strict hygiene recommendations are likely to remain well into the future, so it has been important to build these new working routines to make work not just possible but productive.

However, the reality of the pandemic continuing whilst people return to work means that there are new challenges to face. For example, lack of availability of testing in times of high demand is resulting in additional time off for many people. What were once simple issues like minor illnesses and routine medical outpatient procedures now require employees to be tested and, in many cases, periods of self-isolation. How does your business deal with a workforce where many employees need to take 2 weeks out of the office unexpectedly?

The upgrade of recommendations and guidance into statutory instruments means that businesses who fail to account for Covid protection are now liable for fines up to £10,000 (as this article is written), so it is essential that your business keeps up to date with the laws relating to your workplace.

A policy for essential workers?

Recent changes to regulations and guidance say that people who can work from home, should do so. ‘essential workers’ are permitted to attend the workplace. What is your policy to define essential workers? What are the consequences of not having a policy?

For many businesses, the period between March and July 2020 was spent finding ways to provide a viable service from teams who were forced to work from home, then to improve productivity by investing in new or existing systems and refining processes. Since restrictions were eased, bringing employees back into the office safely has been the priority for some businesses. Now that the government is asking only ‘essential workers’ to go to work, how do you decide what proportion of your workforce is needed in the office and what defines an ‘essential worker’ within your organisation?

There is a dilemma – how do you reconcile all the effort in finding ways to facilitate people working from home and then counter that by telling them they ‘need’ to work from the office? What will you do if team members challenge your decisions? In smaller organisations, flexibility can be a positive experience in times like this. However, with larger teams and contact centres, there is a need for a considered and robust policy to provide some governance and guidance for your management team to follow.

Practicalities of returning to the workplace

During the period of complete lockdown, when the furlough scheme was fully active, most staff were either working from home or put onto enforced furlough leave. Now businesses need to decide who should be in the office and who should work from home. For example, are there teams who need to be in the office every working day? Or can you successfully split your workforce into teams who rotate office time?

If you have regular office workers, what is the business’ liability if they contract or pass on Covid-19 after being asked to come into work? On the other hand, are you fulfilling your duty of care to employees in terms of mental health if they are working from home? You might consider that some employees are not only more productive but healthier if they are encouraged to spend more time in the office.

There is no doubt that team leaders and managers need to give staff liaison a higher priority than before this pandemic hit. Employee health will likely emerge as one of the major victims of the Coronavirus pandemic, and businesses that fail to check in with their team members may face the consequences with high churn, poor performance and potentially even health-related claims.

Where hands-on work is essential, this is already causing headaches for employers. Thankfully in the customer service sector, there are practical solutions available.

How do you resolve these challenges?

As usual, there is no single magic bullet. However, a combination of strategies can minimise the disruption caused by working through the pandemic.

Firstly, there are technology solutions available that can enable your workforce to transition easily between working in the office and at home. They can help your business to manage staff self-isolation, split shifts and flexible working to cope with childcare and school issues. Systems can be rolled out rapidly and effectively using cloud-based platforms, which need not render your existing data handling regimes obsolete. Such systems can also handle payment processing in a compliant way, minimising your exposure to fraud and potential intervention by regulatory authorities.

If you need help finding the right systems for your business, we can help. CCP has built a technology network of over 40 leading providers and is able to use their deep understanding of contact centres, CX and technology to accurately assess your requirements.

Secondly, having access to flexible outsource solutions gives you the option to rapidly deploy additional personnel resources to meet fluctuating demands or to cope with planned initiatives to raise sales or deal with enquiry backlogs. CCP has a large network of specialist contact centre outsources, experienced in precisely this sort of work across multiple sectors.

Finally, in terms of the wellbeing of staff who work remotely, we have produced a series of guidance videos in which Nathan Dring offers powerful advice on how to cope when working from home, including tips for managers on how to get the best out of individuals and teams who work remotely. Watch them here.

If your business is facing new challenges at this difficult time, or if the second wave of Covid cases is a risk to your operations:-

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