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TELECOMMUTING: The Work-From-Home Option

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DQC Bureau
New Update

Telecommuting or the concept of virtual call-center, is one area, which

Indian BPOs have stayed away from due to lack of broadband infrastructure-a

key to make this concept work from homes. As broadband infrastructure in the

country improves, telecommuting will open a huge opportunity for companies to

explore.

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Call-centers of tomorrow will not be the ones operating from under a single

roof, instead, it will be a network of customer service agents (CSAs) working

from their own homes miles away from each other. Telecommuting or virtual

call-center, as it is known elsewhere in the world, is probably the ideal

solution to the biggest challenge that BPOs face today — which is that of high

attrition rate.

The concept of working from home is quite popular in the USA with almost 30

million people already working from home, according to international statistics.

Indian enterprises are yet to explore this huge business opportunity due to

lack of infrastructure. The 'real' broadband, which is the key to make this

concept work, is yet to penetrate in Indian homes. However, with all the push

that the Government is giving to increase broadband penetration, this concept

will trigger a revolution in the way call-centers of today operate.

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Few months ago, Hyderabad-based HyperSoft announced its intention to begin

the concept of virtual call-center here in India. However, Dadi Bhote, Director,

HyperSoft, has put this decision on hold until the country gets a robust

broadband infrastructure. "The Government is serious about building the

broadband infrastructure in the country. Hopefully, in six months we should be

ready for it," says he.

ADVANTAGE ABOUND



Telecommuting offers plenty of benefits to both the employer and the

employee. A survey conducted in the US suggests that a growing number of call

center agents have shown liking towards telecommuting. Given a chance, they

would prefer telecommuting for many reasons.

Who

wouldn't like to work at will? Most call-centers in India work in three to

four shifts. CSAs are usually put on different shifts on a rotational basis.

This causes many agents to upset their biological clock and eventually get bored

of this schedule. While some get used to this irregular schedules, many drop out

from the job.

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Call-center companies are aware of this fact, but are not in a position to

come up with an alternative that can make the life of CSAs easy. So, to

compensate for the same, they continue to lure youngsters with high salary,

perks and a high fashioned lifestyle. Most youngsters get attracted to this

lifestyle and once they realize the tough part of working in odd shifts, they

leave the job.

Telecommuting gives agents the opportunity to take up flexible working hours.

Since agents are given the option to operate from home, they save on the

commuting time and get a chance to choose multiple shifts broken in to slots of

different hours.

The survey also suggests that giving flexible options to the agents improves

employee retention and productivity. The agents become more productive when they

work from home. According to the survey, the productivity of the agents working

from home is much higher than the agents of traditional call-centers.

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WIN-WIN SCENE



For the employer, the telecommuting business works out a lot cheaper and is

an efficient option than setting up huge contact centers. Companies need not

invest in huge real estate and expensive infrastructure. By letting employees

work from home the company is saving almost 80% of the infrastructure cost.

The company saves on indirect costs like Internet connection,

telecommunications equipment, computers, buildings, transportation, electricity,

air-conditioning, allowances, bonus, insurance, medical, leaves, and many other

associated expenses.

In the case of telecommuting, companies make use of CSA's home

infrastructure to provide customer service. A typical qualified agent is

required to have an up to date, reliable computer at their home, with a minimum

of 128MB of RAM, and at least a 350MHz processor is recommended. A broadband

Internet connection (cable, DSL, T1, ISDN, satellite) is required for most

projects. Call center projects also require a telephone line, telephone headset,

and most importantly, a quiet, uninterrupted work environment during all working

hours. Some companies recommend installation of VoIP gateway to efficiently

handle voice calls.

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Using web-based technologies, all calls are routed right to the agent's

home office. The chances of work getting disrupted due to transport strike or

natural calamities like heavy rains causing trains to stop and road blocks can

be avoided with telecommuting.

TECH HURDLES



The concept of virtual call-center appears optimistic, but there are experts

who believe that telecommuting is not the ideal alternative. According to them,

without in-house agents, the quality of service can be an issue.

Telecommuting may not be a good idea to provide technical support, which

involves frequent updates and training on new product releases. A lot of

call-centers in the country provide extensive training to its CSAs, which

enables them to handle voice-based calls with the right accents. This may not be

possible in the case of virtual call-center. Even if the agents taking the calls

at home are trained to do so, the company will have to spend on additional

infrastructure to monitor them, which defies the purpose of saving cost.

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So the best service a virtual call-center agent could provide could be

limited to general inquiries with standard, unvarying scripts and, therefore, do

not require daily hand-holding. These are jobs that can be monitored easily and

productivity measured as well.

While many call center managers remain unconvinced that they can get quality

service from remote agents, call center managers that do buy into telecommuting,

need to ensure they hire agents suitable to the job: those comfortable with the

work-at-home environment and who have the discipline to separate work from

personal distractions.

OPPORTUNITIES



For solutions providers who have grown big with large customer base, the

usual practice has been to provide technical support and telemarketing

activities with a large work force. In many cases, they have even opened their

own call-centers within their office premises to do this. Some have even

outsourced their support activities to other firms. Setting up in-house

call-centers involves tremendous cost. Telecommuting can be a feasible option

here. Solution providers can think of telecommuting for its support activities

and apply its existing work force for other productive work.

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Similarly, a number of vendor companies believe that spending big money on

call-center activities can adopt telecommuting for their own needs. Even BPOs

currently having call-centers can expand their enterprise by embracing the

telecommuting business.

According to William F Marren, Senior Project Manager with Colorado-based

Telecommuting Success, call-Centers are an ideal environment for telecommuting.

Call-center employees adapt well to telecommuting and are accustomed to

performance measurement based upon Automatic Call Distributor reporting and

monitoring systems.

Each project can be different, with scopes ranging from phone work to data

entry projects. Call center projects can include order processing, reservations,

enrollments, customer service, sales, market research, technical support, etc.

"For a telecommuting program to be successful, and the results sustained

over time, the telecommuting program within the call center network requires an

Integrated Approach to program establishment and ongoing administration.

Balancing and blending the people, technology and work environment factors are

the key components that differentiate a successful telecommuting program,"

says William.

GOVT CAN CHIP IN



The Government should actually promote telecommuting for the simple reason

that it has environmental benefits too. Besides the benefits that business

houses and customer service agents have. If telecommuting becomes popular in

every business and not just call-centers, it would mean fewer vehicles on the

road, creating a less polluting environment.

In some countries, the state governments are taking note of the benefits of

telecommuting and giving tax benefits to employers encouraging telecommuting.

Rising real estate costs, increasing competition, better life for CSAs and need

for increased productivity are some reasons why enterprises should explore

telecommuting.

 NELSON JOHNY

TELECOMMUTING: GO FOR IT



  • Saves real estate and infrastructure cost
  • Attracts more skilled and qualified workers
  • Wider options to provide 24x7 service
  • Flexibility in working hours for agents
  • Improves productivity and profits
  • Increases employee retention rate
  • Scope of workers increases
  • Fewer vehicles on the road benefits environment
  • Reduces disruption of work due to commuting calamities

FEASIBILITY OF VIRTUAL CALL CENTER

Hyderabad-based HyperSoft Technologies is one of the first few companies to

have evinced keen interest in starting home-based call-centers in India. While

HyperSoft is actually a publicly traded software development firm, it started

call-center activities to make use of the unused office infrastructure during

night times. Now, Dadi Bhote, Director of HyperSoft wants to explore the concept

of virtual call-center perhaps in another six months of time when India will be

ready with a robust broadband infrastructure.

According to Dadi, there are few challenges in setting up a virtual

call-center business. Recruiting freshers as agents for virtual call-centers can

spell disaster in terms of quality requirement. "Freshers won't

understand the quality requirement and may not take the job seriously. And

hence, our plans are to recruit agents with experience in the BPO segment

initially."

Dadi says the concept of virtual call-centers can work out to the company's

advantage only if certain type of customers and specific segment is serviced.

Companies should take care that these are not regular customers where continuity

of service is a must and where high level of commitment is involved.

A typical type of telecommuting activity would be telemarketing, data entry

or transcription, where performance can be measured in quantifiable terms. If

critical jobs have to be put on telecommuting network, then the cost involved in

monitoring would be very high, making it less viable.

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