Leading Remote Teams: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters More than Ever
As the coronavirus pandemic lingers worldwide, more call
center workers are finding themselves suddenly -- and in some cases
indefinitely -- thrust into remote settings. These circumstances require agile leaders
with the skills and capacity to unite and sustain their teams.
By Sonya Buckley
Call center jobs are vital to the modern economy and provide
an essential entry point to the workforce for many employees. Yet, even in
ordinary circumstances, the work can be challenging and stressful, resulting in
chronic churn and absenteeism. Employee turnover is comparatively high in the
industry – anywhere from 17% to 44% according to a study in Daily Pay.
On a typical day, six percent don’t report for work (10% for outsourced
centers), a Cornell University industry benchmarking study found.
When the pandemic drove large numbers of call center
employees into work-from-home scenarios, seemingly overnight, they took these
challenges home with them -- and faced a number of new obstacles, too. The
newly WFH force joined the approximately 25% of the North American call center
workforce that already worked from remote locations.
In the evolving and uncertain scenarios brought by the
pandemic, and as remote work becomes more widespread, agile and affiliative
leadership has much to offer. Here’s what a leader can do to be effective:
Provide a Vision.
Call center workers face barriers in self-management and
goal setting. Many can feel caught between sometimes conflicting forms of measurement
– such as the need to deliver high customer satisfaction results and the need
to resolve an issue fast – typically within three minutes.
Remote settings can intensify this perspective.
Affiliative leadership can help counteract the impersonality
of feeling over monitored or under surveillance that can affect call center
workers – especially ones working in isolation from others. An affiliative
approach to these challenges includes listening to understand underlying questions
and conflicts workers face. The approach begins with a leader’s trust and
belief that their team is made up of people who want to be successful and will
work hard to achieve meaningful goals.
Look for ways to involve team members in setting clear goals.
Take time to ensure each team member understands and feels equipped to achieve
them. Talk through the KPIs they are being measured by and help them set
priorities to know how to best to achieve the best outcomes.
Convey this vision and take practical steps to realize it. Show
your support and understanding of the efforts they make and let them know you
appreciate and champion their successes inside the organization.
Build a Team Culture.
“The essence of agile leadership is creating the right
environment for self-managing teams,” according to Peter Koning’s Agile
Leadership Toolkit. Set the tone for all to contribute. Gather using
digital platforms to creatively explore new and effective strategies. Consider
a session on the challenges of remote working itself. Solicit feedback on best
practices for leading virtually. Involve the team in owning and shaping the
Having fun and managing pressure is vital in any job and especially
in an industry in which burnout can be real. Games can also be fun ways to grow
functional skills. Try “chat and chews” over lunch, a virtual happy hour, or
regular half hour “short bites” of learning. These can reduce stress, resolve
problems and forge deeper connections within teams.
Feeling overloaded, unsupported and undervalued are common
issues for call center workers in any setting.
The pandemic not only drove many on-site teams to remote workplaces, it
simultaneously increased both the volume of calls and the complexity of
challenges many workers faced.
Working alone, it’s easier to feel overwhelmed, easier for
frustrations to grow, harder to make a connection than when a manager or
co-workers are working side by side. It’s especially important for managers to
invest the time to help each team member succeed. Schedule and keep regular
coaching sessions to help remote workers to address any issues they face.
Mentor Future Leaders.
Affiliative leaders not only coach teams to success, they advance
careers by developing talent. Contact center workers often report finding their
work monotonous and with little chance for advancement, yet they leverage
multiple skillsets to do their jobs. An outbound call worker tasked with
driving sales is typically rewarded for closing deals. To do it, they must first
make hundreds of cold calls, present dozens of sales pitches, identify and overcome
objections, persuade, and often negotiate and close or refer sales. Identify
the potential for these skillsets to build your organization. Mentor talent and
engage them in training and development programs that provide a vision for
||Sonya is the Chief People Officer for Hire Dynamics and a Staffing Industry Professional with over 20 years of experience in the Atlanta market. She brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise as a Senior Executive leading talent acquisitions, training and development, and HR. Sonya has a proven track record for leadership in professional recruitment, branch management, business development, and account management.