The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted society across the globe, with lockdowns radically changing how many people live and work. As part of this, it led to a rapid switch to home working for millions of people, including those who traditionally commuted to contact centres.

While this has caused enormous change, lockdowns and new working arrangements have delivered at least one benefit – pollution from car, train and plane journeys has dropped dramatically. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the world’s CO2 emissions will fall by 8% in 2020 – the largest drop ever recorded.

However, impressive as the drop is, experts warn that it needs to be sustained if we are to meet green targets, such as around limiting global warming. Before there was a growing drive to reduce emissions and limit environmental impact, led by governments, companies, and consumers. This demand has not gone away and indeed has accelerated. For example, Microsoft has committed to become carbon negative by 2030 and recently announced a goal of producing zero waste in the same timeframe.

The greener contact centre

Organisations across the world are therefore looking at how they can become greener, including reducing the environmental impact of their contact centres.

The stereotypical image of the bricks and mortar contact centre is of an enormous room packed full of agents answering calls and emails. Often situated on out of town business parks with difficult public transport links and operating in shifts, this meant that lots of people working in the industry commuted individually by car, leading to large scale carbon emissions. No wonder that analysis from Exony found that the UK’s call centre professionals generate an annual 1.3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions through their commutes. And that excludes the environmental costs of heating, powering, and cooling these large buildings with their substantial workforces.

Home working clearly has the potential to dramatically lower emissions by cutting commuting and building emissions. And the pandemic has driven an enormous increase in home working – according to Contact Babel 84% of UK contact centres are now operating remotely. Increased home working obviously has more than environmental benefits. Staff minimise health risks, avoid the need to commute and can achieve a better work/life balance while businesses reduce operating costs, helping the bottom line.

To support longer-term contact centre home working, while still meeting customer needs, organisations need to focus on two key areas:

1. Use cloud-based technology to enable successful home working

Cloud-based technology now means that contact centre systems can be accessed from anywhere – all that it is required is a laptop and a broadband/mobile data connection. Employees can logon and use exactly the same applications and systems that they are familiar with, with all the same functionality, whether working at home or in the office. Voice over IP solutions and enhanced connectivity can easily route interactions to the right person or department, wherever they are located.

At the same time organisations can retain management oversight and control through cloud-based reporting and monitoring technologies that ensure productivity levels remain high and any issues are quickly flagged and dealt with.

2. Enabling collaboration across the wider contact centre

One of the key advantages of basing all staff in a single contact centre is the sense of community it fosters. Agents can share their experiences, make friends, and ask colleagues for help when required. Having everyone in one place also helps build a company culture which aids recruitment, retention, and innovation.

Switching to home working doesn’t mean that this collaboration must end. Using tools like unified communications and platforms like Microsoft Teams to share materials and documentation and communicate within the group is key. Video conferencing technologies like Vidyo enable everyone to come together as a virtualized team to share their thoughts, helping foster team spirit and the interchange of ideas. These technologies can also be used to create social bonds throughout of hours meetups, virtual quizzes and even fitness classes.

These collaboration capabilities mean staff, particularly experts with specialisms in key areas, can work from anywhere in the world. This contributes to job satisfaction and helps retain their skills within the business.

Turning a crisis into an opportunity

While home working has been forced upon many companies and their staff, it does accelerate an existing trend and promises a range of long-term benefits in terms of enhanced flexibility, agility, and especially reduced emissions.

Given consumer demands for businesses to become greener and more environmentally sustainable, we are likely to see more large enterprises following Microsoft’s lead and create initiatives to help counter climate change. Increased and sustained homeworking will help ensure the contact centre industry does its bit to help reduce emissions and create a greener world for us all.

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