Work at Home Agent Adoption
Work at Home Agent Adoption
Whether you are a service provider or a buyer of services, you can benefit significantly from a relatively new delivery model in the services ecosystem — outsourced in-home services.
Why is it attractive? The in-home model leverages the labor arbitrage idea but applies it in a different way for even greater benefits.
Over the last 10 years companies learned that if they moved work to the people rather than moving people to the work, they would get a much lower cost of labor. For instance, moving software programming work from New York City ($150,000/year job) to Bangalore ($25,000/year) produced a big labor arbitrage. The in-home model takes the work to people, but they work from their own homes instead of being concentrated in an office, factory or call center. This model gives providers access to a much larger talent pool at a more affordable rate.
The in-home model works in locations such as India or the Philippines, but providers are deploying this model primarily in the United States or in region. In the U.S. where people are politically sensitive about sending work offshore, this is a particularly attractive model to consider.
Three critically distinct advantages of the in-home model
The first benefit of deploying the in-home model is access to a wider, richer and more diverse talent pool at a cheaper labor rate. At the same time, this pool is willing to work at a substantially discounted rate compared to workers in a central office, factory or call center. They have strong reasons for preferring to work from home, which are a trade-off for the lower price of their labor. Typically these preferences arise from:
All of these preferences for working from home are very important choices in today’s world. They lead to two other major advantages of deploying an in-home model:
Because people in this talent pool prefer working from their houses instead of commuting to an office or factory, they tend to be more loyal to the employer that facilitates this need and more focused on ensuring they meet or exceed the employer’s expectations for productivity.
In a nutshell, the strong attraction for providers to the in-home model is access to a completely different talent pool that is cheaper and often more loyal and more productive. So it’s not surprising that the in-home delivery model is showing tremendous growth.
Impact of work-management tools
Management tools to allocate and manage work in a virtual environment are transforming this space. These tools now are inexpensive as many are SaaS apps that enable providers to pay for them on a consumption basis. The SaaS model often makes these tools the same or even a lower-cost investment than tools needed for remote management in locations such as India.
Prominent areas of adoption
The in-home services model is quickly growing in voice services, especially in the call center and customer spaces.
It also has great applicability in rare skills such as programming. One of the very significant dilemmas in today’s digital world is aged-out technology languages that still need to be supported. For instance, it is very difficult these days to find COBOL programmers as programmers see it as a dead-end career.
The in-home services model eliminates the turnover problem and increases motivation and productivity in COBOL work as the greatest number of qualified, highly productive COBOL programmers are retired. They are willing to work but not in a central office or factory and not full time. They can supplement their income while living a retired lifestyle, and the provider gets superior quality, highly productive, very reliable support at a discount.
Another skill area that is ideal for the in-home model is legal services. In fact, we use this model for Everest Group’s outsourced legal services. In today’s world the major law firms have raised their rates to an unconscionable level, making the cost of legal services very high. Many firms are starting to tap into the in-home model, outsourcing work to ex-partners who have opted out of the legal race because of lifestyle issues. Rather than giving the work to a less-experienced associate, they have access to seasoned, credentialed lawyers whose turnaround time is faster and quality of work is better. And the price point is half or a third of the price for utilizing a partner in a major law firm.
It’s a win-win-win
Clearly the in-home model for outsourced services is a win for those who want to keep jobs in America, a win for workers who want to allow for a culture of self-actualization or are handicapped, a win for the service providers and their customers that get better services at lower cost. You can’t beat it — it’s a win for everybody.
This outsourcing model is gathering a lot of consideration around the world. I’ll discuss it in more depth in my upcoming presentation on “A New Paradigm — Truths and Myths” at the CORE conference on November 5 in Toronto.
Photo credit: Matt Crawford
Our last blog on contact centers focused on how next generation technology can drive new sources of savings in contact center operations. Now let’s turn our attention to how cloud-based contact centers create the opportunity to fundamentally rethink the traditional staffing model.
Hosting a contact center in the cloud removes certain technical limitations that dictate the location of your workforce, in particular the need for a centralized working site for employees and equipment. The consequence of this new freedom is the ability to decentralize your workforce, replacing traditional call center employees with work-at-home (WAH) agents. Among contact center services providers, such as Alpine Access, Transcom, and Xerox, we already see WAH agents as part of the delivery model. While a WAH model can significantly reduce the capital costs associated with renting and maintaining a facility and IT equipment, the more interesting – and to some organizations, highly enticing – implications are in its inherent flexibility.
Cloud-based contact centers eliminate the geographically imposed restrictions of physical call centers, allowing employees to simply login from wherever they may be. Thus, in a WAH staffing model, the pool of potential workers is limited only by the availability of skill sets. In fact, the pool for specialized skills becomes larger as workers with unique skills located out of the reach of centralized call centers can now integrate into virtual contact centers through the WAH model. Removing the geographical limitations of call centers also presents opportunities for workers who may have had challenges joining or remaining in the workforce due to age, physical disability, or the need to stay close to home. Due to both of these phenomena, the WAH model reintroduces domestic sourcing as a viable option.
Cloud-based contact centers also allow businesses greater staffing flexibility, as full time employees (FTEs) can be augmented with contract or temporary labor to meet fluctuating capacity requirements on a daily or seasonal basis. This approach also reduces cost obligations such as healthcare, retirement, and other benefits required by FTEs. While organizations may choose to use a high ratio of contractors or temps, Everest Group recommends they retain a minimum level of FTEs, WAH or otherwise, to ensure their ability to provide a base of capacity.
There is another more ambitious possibility for businesses willing to brave a next generation business model. A cloud contact center could be paired with a third-party staffing agency to provide the required number of agents on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. These sorts of relationships are already forming in the marketplace. For example, staffing and talent firm Manpower Group has a specialized contact center recruitment practice. Using next-gen forecasting tools to anticipate demand and utilization, a company could embrace a total ”as-a-service” approach to its call center/s, wherein both IT capacity and the staffed call center agents are dynamically scaled against demand, people, and platform-as-a-service (PaaS.) Theoretically, this approach would attain the greatest possible efficiency, matching costs of call center agents and IT bandwidth to demand.
The WAH model has long been associated with additional benefits, such as lower attrition rates, access to specialized and hard-to-find skills, and the ability to offer 24/7 service at lower costs. However, until now, the technical challenges of managing a large number of WAH agents have limited the scope of adoption. We expect this to change, with more organizations using WAH agents in new ways, enabled by the ease and cost-effectiveness afforded by next generation contact center technologies.
Photo credit: Markus Spiering