Lessons Learned on Current Workforce Trends and Their Impact on Agents and Contractors

January 6, 2022 | Contact Center Industry | Flexible Workforce | Blog
virtual workforce

Recently, Liveops Senior Vice President of Marketing and Talent Acquisition, Ellen Hahn, joined the weekly live stream Sterling Live to discuss recent workforce trends with Sterling General Manager Vincenza Caruso-Valente.

Over the past two years, the global workforce has been forced to adjust to new and uncertain situations. Particularly for independent agents and contractors. As we embark upon 2022, many are reflecting on all the lessons learned and challenges faced from transitioning to a remote work environment, which has accelerated over the last two years.

The Necessity of a Contingent Workforce

In early 2020, as lockdowns and shelter-in-place ordinances were beginning to go into effect across the world, many organizations structured around physical, brick-and-mortar spaces were required to rethink their operations. Shifting to an omnichannel approach—one that relied heavily on a robust digital presence—resulted in the rise of virtual agents and contractors across a number of industries. In turn, virtual contact centers, receptionist services, and customer service providers have become more in demand than ever. 

In the wake of the pandemic, there has been a shift of the mindset of the workforce. Vincenza calls out four common themes among the consumer and workforce of today, that have been evolving over the last two years: The need for flexibility, overall balance, safety risks in the workplace, and physical and mental wellness. As people take ownership of their work lives, the contingent workforce is becoming popular among workers (about 35% of the workforce are contingent workers), and businesses are listening.  

“What we’re seeing is just an acceleration of what we’ve seen for 20 years,” stated Ellen. Liveops has been a fully virtual contact center since 2000. All independent contractor agents work from their homes and have the flexibility to build their own schedules. This model attracts agents who are experienced, and highly educated, and desire the flexibility Liveops offers.

“The pandemic really downgraded work as the centerpiece of people’s lives, which may be a good thing. So, this fundamental shift in how people think about work has been quite interesting,” Ellen said. “People [are] looking for more freedom and flexibility.” 

Much has been said of the Great Resignation of 2021. Workers across the United States are quitting their jobs in record numbers (to the tune of more than 4.4 million people), rethinking what they seek in their career.

“Worker sentiment has shifted. They are rethinking their careers, and this has driven a massive increase in contingent workforce demand,” said Vincenza. “The contingent workforce is bringing an element of resiliency to organizations to make sure they can meet the ever-changing hiring needs and filling the talent gaps.”

Changes in How Businesses are Attracting New Candidates

For many organizations, the key to attracting new workers in a post-COVID world is being able to understand how their lives have been affected by the pandemic and how their current needs should be taken into consideration. Many who are interested in flexible, remote work aren’t looking to necessarily work less hours. Rather, they want to be able to determine their work schedule in order to fit around their daily responsibilities.

“It’s not about [working] part-time. It’s about right time,” Ellen said on how businesses can view their workforce’s desire for enhanced flexibility. “People [say] ‘No, I don’t want that 4-hour shift. What I want is to be able to take my kids to school, or go to my doctor’s appointment, or take care of my parents. They want that flexibility because frankly, for the last 20 months, they’ve had it. When organizations start talking about going back to the office 2 or 3 days a week, there is a lot of resistance to that. People say, ‘We’ve been successful for the last 18, 20 months completely virtual. Why do we need to go back?”

In addition to flexibility, workers are also taking a closer look into company culture. Businesses that portray a strong set of values and possess a clear mission statement are more successful at drawing high-quality candidates.

“Purpose-led organizations, people are really attracted to those organizations. And I think that’s critically important,” Ellen said about how important a company’s mission statement is to the remote workforce. “At Liveops, our purpose is to improve people’s lives. And if you’re in the customer service business, that’s what you do day-to-day. Our agents are dedicated to this. So, if we’re not dedicated to improving their lives, it would be difficult for them to get on the phone every day to help other people.”

Making the Most out of New Communication Channels

Man smiling down at tabletBusinesses that refuse to leverage the ever-increasing communication channels at their disposal may be falling behind their competitors in finding new talent. More than ever, mobile text, instant messaging services, social media platforms are being used to boost communication with remote candidates.

“Individuals want information faster, simpler, and in a continual way and via preferred methods of engagement,” Vincenza said.

“I think one of the most important things is having ATS (applicant tracking system) that is first and foremost mobile-first. You want that mobile experience. That’s where everybody is.” Ellen said of effective strategies for reaching out to new candidates. “We used to text back and forth with our candidates about 135 [times] a day. It’s now three-fold that.”

Ellen also stresses the importance of being active on social media, and building those platforms into informative and engaging environments for those interested in your organization.

“Having that [communication] be as real-time as possible and making sure people know what’s next in their journey is really important.”

How Organizations Can Handle Remote Operations Long-Term

At the start of the pandemic, Ellen notes three areas impacting businesses when converting to virtual operations: technology, distance learning, and community. In order to thrive in a remote environment, businesses need to invest the right tools to ensure that their workforce isn’t left in the dark.

“Something that we had figured out a long time ago was how to have workers work remotely in a secure environment. And I think that if folks don’t have some kind of business disaster planning, that’s probably the first thing they realize they need to figure out.”

Working to engage adult learners at a distance is key for businesses, from onboarding new team members to maintaining knowledge among existing workers. Consider gamification, role-playing, and learning modules that cover company/job knowledge as well as brand culture. 

In terms of engaging workers remotely, Ellen believes that community is essential. “Our mantra is, just because you work at home, [that] doesn’t mean you have to work alone. Our agent experience team looks holistically and horizontally at the agent experience, ensuring that we can create a community where the agents can tap in, help each other, ask questions so that they are bonding together.”

 

For more valuable insights on current workforce trends and how they impact the agent experience, check out the full livestream on the Liveops YouTube channel.

 

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Ellen Hahn

Ellen is the SVP of Marketing and Talent Acquisition at Liveops. With over 25 years of experience across retail, health and wellness, hospitality and financial services, Ellen is a passionate thought leader for industry and workforce trends.