Now don’t worry I am not suggesting that you down tools and ask your colleagues to start sticking their bums out with a little shake – although that may improve colleague engagement. What I am talking about is ‘Teleworking’! Giving people the freedom to work from home.

So will we really see more UK tw’rking! Well I think we may do and so we should. With the announcement by the UK government in June this year about Flexible Working – in that from the 30th June all employees have the legal right to request flexible working, not just carers and parents will this give employers the opportunities to work differently? Will more employers support this, as long as this suits the needs of their business. Want to read more click here flexible working.

I had the pleasure of opening up with the headline presentation recently at an event hosted by Plantronics UK at their UK head quarters – all about flexible working. I have been an avid follower of homeworking (which really does provide that flexible working option) – particularly in the field of Contact Centres. I even trialed one of the first UK pilots over 20 years ago when I was a call centre manager at the RAC.

Why? I hear you ask…

Well because we had ‘all’ the same challenges as we do today! Matching resources to call demand just when you need it, service level pressures, space shortages, employee attrition, absence and, and, and … All the pressures that operational leaders face today. So the pilot was set up, some people put their hands up to be involved and we set them up as ‘tw’rkers’ – did it work? NO, we brought them back in house and kept it in place as contingency.

So why didn’t ‘tw’rking’ take off 20 years ago?

  • Technology Barriers – back then it cost approximately £8,500 per person to set people up (all the kit and ISDN line etc) – Dr Bob Crichtin of HOP associates suggested that a BT trial around the same time cost BT approx. £30k per person in the highlands and islands of Scotland for directory enquiries.
  • People Barriers – the supervisor had to spend days on the road going to the colleagues homes, to sit and look at pieces of paper with statistics on. They couldn’t monitor as many calls as this was done ‘side by side’. Training had to be done back in the centre. Communications now sent on memo’s in the post. You get the picture!
  • Stakeholder buy in – it all seemed like a good idea, but could we really show real results, back then? there were more barriers than benefits

However I wasn’t put off…

I was determined that ‘Tw’rking’ could work! Technology has changed so much and people’s attitude to work is rapidly developing.

So I have avidly followed those businesses who have continued to explore this, BT being, probably, one of the biggest advocates. I also looked to other countries such as the US. Then 6 years ago (I was the Group Customer Experience Director for Shop Direct Group) I came across a model that really got my attention. The self employed model that was taking the US by storm. In 2008 I met with a US company Arise Virtual Solutions – I flew out to Fort Lauderdale to see their model. I spent time with many homeworkers, those serving Disney, AAA, Home Shopping Network, Sears and all so passionately. Some were working for 2 or 3 different clients. They loved the work life balance and the variety that came with the different clients. I came away from that visit – completely sold that this was the future of work!

In 2008 it all started to happen – we were about to get Tw’rking!

So back to the UK, I built a case with my team for a pilot of 50 people to support the retail peak – where normally we would bring in hundreds of temps. I set the teams off with a project of a pilot and I spent the next 6 weeks with all the key stakeholders (legal, IT, risk, audit, HR etc.) convincing them I hadn’t gone mad and that ‘what was the worst that could happen?’ really? If the pilot didn’t work we would stop. Within 6 weeks we were up and running, we made a few changes, tweaks here and there – we learnt a lot from how to lead virtual teams. It was a huge success. We grew this to 300 then to 600 and had 1200 at retail peak in 2009 the following year. The results were staggering:

  1. Homeworkers loved it (those that liked to work from home, its not for everyone)
  2. Cost savings were -30% on that of bricks and mortar
  3. Utilisation was in excess of 90% – recent study by Forrester suggesting on average utilization of bricks & mortar is 56%
  4. We changed our thinking: from people management to performance facilitation; side by side to remote feedback; communication by poster and desk drops to talking to people and asking for their feedback…

…And the biggest complaint from the homeworkers – we weren’t keeping them busy enough! They wanted to speak to customers. I couldn’t remember ever getting that complaint from my internal teams.

So would I do this again? Yes ! Would I do this differently – Yes!

The biggest learning for me was around the recruitment. This requires a certain kind of person: a self starter; passionate about service; wanting to continually improve; likes flexibility. This isn’t for everyone. Katy Forsyth from Red Recruitment echoed my views. Her latest research of Homeworking Colleagues vs Contact Centre Colleagues showed the following drivers:

Homeworking colleagues: work life balance; job satisfaction and to help people
Contact Centre colleague: flexible hours; salary; brand working for

So you decide what is important to your business and your customers!

So I am advocating a complete shift to ‘Tw’rking’ – NO, NO, NO. This as with everything is about balance – you will probably need a combination of the two ways of working.

So why aren’t more companies promote “Tw’rking”?

There are still some perceived barriers. The recent CCA Global research highlighted that of their member surveyed, 62% stated technology or broadband reliance as a key concern, with security and compliance (47% & 45%) as the secondary concerns.

Surely it is easier than now?

Technology whilst still a concern has developed immensely. Platforms such as tPoint Solutions offer cloud technologies – all home workers need is a decent PC, headset and broadband connection and a way to virtualise key applications. Headsets that are wireless from providers such as Plantronics UK. Outsourcers now offer this as a solution too.

So it’s now easier and with the new government regulations on flexible working – as Dolly Parton would say (or sing) working 09 till 5 is really fast becoming a thing of the past!

Nicola CollisterNicola Collister, Managing Director of Custerian.
A strategic transformation partner who drives cost out and embeds CE best practice in to increase revenue.
A practitioner and thought leader, having been one of the UK’s first main board CE Directors with significant experience gained delivering some of the largest and most complete Customer Experience based transformation programs in the UK in industries such as Retail, Logistics, Service Delivery and Financial Services.

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