Creating A Policy Statement for Work at Home Agents
Companies who have not yet launched work-from-home programs for their contact center agents may now have an urgency to do so quickly, in order to be prepared should the need arise. Uninterrupted contact center operation is essential to business continuity.
Before you send agents home, however, it’s imperative to create a robust policy statement. Not only will this policy statement clearly set expectations, but it will proactively address areas such as technology, expenses, participation, as well as HR and legal concerns.
In talking with hundreds of companies launching work-at-home agent programs, many have shared their policies with me and I’ve compiled tidbits of their collective wisdom. Now let’s delve into some of the topics you’ll want to address in your policy statement.
Specify qualifying criteria
Qualifying criteria typically includes the following:
- Minimum period of time the agent has worked with your company
- Quality score of at least X% or greater for a period of Y months
- Has the candidate received any formal disciplinary actions in Y months?
- Has the candidate exceeded their number of sick days for the year?
- Has the candidate successfully completed required training (specify)?
If based on business needs, you need to require most or all of your entire workforce to work from home, you may need to put some of these qualifying criteria to the side -- at least during the period of emergency. That’s why it’s important to include a clause that your policy is subject to change at any time, for any reason.
Ideally, your customers have no idea that the agent they are working with is working remotely. That means it’s important for the home workspace to be fairly noise-free.
- Must the employee have a private workspace or office?
- Is the workspace relatively isolated from noise and distractions?
- Is there a high-speed internet connection? Does it meet the minimum standard for speed?
- Does the work environment meet ergonomic criteria? This may include an adjustable chair and appropriate lighting.
Now, here is a sticky one - will you assess a prospective home agent’s work environment beforehand? If you’re requiring them to work from home in a pinch, you may not have the latitude to be as stringent about their workspace as you would under ordinary circumstances.
Nevertheless, from a worker’s compensation perspective, be sure their workspace is compliant with ergonomic requirements.
One company’s policy stipulates that injuries at their home work location are covered by their Worker’s Compensation policy. However, it also contains this clause:
“The Company shall not be liable for any injuries to third parties in the Employees At Home location. Employee agrees to indemnify, defend and hold the Company harmless from any loss, claim, damage, cost or expense (including but not limited to attorney’s fees) incurred by reason of any injury to person or damage to property on or about the Employee’s At Home Location.”
Be clear about who pays for what
You’ll want to remove all ambiguity to the extent possible. This will require careful thinking through what expenses the agent may incur, and whether your company or the agent will be responsible for the expense. For example:
- A laptop. Under ordinary circumstances, some companies require the agent to provide their own laptop. But if business requirements dictate the agent work from home, this is an expense you’ll probably want to cover.
- High-speed internet. What is the minimum acceptable speed? If the agent needs to upgrade their internet equipment or speed, who will be responsible for the added expense?
- Equipment need for ergonomic compliance, such as a monitor and an adjustable chair
- Office supplies
- Postage, shipping costs, etc.
Will there be a trial period and/or performance requirements?
Under ordinary circumstances, many companies set a trial period to see if work-from-home is working for the agent as well as for the company. Policy statements stipulate the minimum performance requirements the agent must meet and maintain in order to work at home. If the agent doesn’t meet these requirements over the specified timeframe, will the agent be required to come back into the office, or will he or she be terminated?
One policy statement includes this clause:
“Unless prohibited by state law, this At Home Agreement in no way alters the Employee’s status as an at-will employee of the Company, nor does it create any contractual obligations, express or implied, affecting the at-will relationship between the Employee and the Company.”
Agent and supervisor meetings
When agents are working remotely, it’s especially important to hold regular agent/supervisor meetings. Face-to-face meetings are important, and you can still do that. Set up video calls -- 8x8 Video Meetings provides free HD audio & video conferencing. You’ll be able to more thoroughly assess the agent’s work environment and gauge surrounding noise/distractions (or hopefully the lack thereof).
You may want to do a trial meeting from the agent’s home workstation before the agent enrolls in the work-from-home program, to assess whether his/her environment is suitable.
Reserve the right to change your policy
Be sure to include caveats in your policy statement, such as “This policy is subject to change at any time.” You undoubtedly will need to modify it to address the evolving needs of your business and add topics/issues you simply didn’t think of beforehand.
Once you’ve created your draft policy, be sure to review it with your management, the contact center supervisor team, HR, and legal. But first, run it by a few of your agents. They’ll likely have questions or suggestions that you can proactively address before you share the draft more widely.
When your policy statement has been reviewed and approved, go through it with each agent to see if they have questions or concerns. Finally, make sure they read and sign the policy statement before they begin to work from home.
One final suggestion -- draw on the expertise of your peers and colleagues at other companies who may be willing to share their policies. Learning from the experience of others will help your company will be more prepared as you establish your own work-from-home policy statement. That being said, if you have anything to add or have any clarifying questions as you establish your policy, let’s keep this discussion going on Twitter. You can find me at @kayphelpstweets.