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In most call centres, call patterns vary over the day, and from day to day, week to week, and season to season. Some companies have a pre-Christmas rush, where other companies like travel agents have their main advertising campaigns starting immediately following Christmas and have their busiest call handling month in January.

Each call centre has to decide how many staff to provide for handling calls on the busiest day of the busiest week of the busiest month of the year, therefore how much equipment and office desk space they should provide on this day.

If we assume that 100 agents are needed to handle the biggest calling day of the year, then usually companies buy a building which can take 100 people, fitted with 100 desks. By the nature of call centre this usually means that on the 364 other days of the year, less than 100 desk spaces are required and some building space is being wasted.

In fact the busiest day of most weeks may only need 60 agents, and even then, the 60 agents are only needed during the busiest hour of that day. Since building costs are usually second only to payroll in terms of monthly expenses to a company, many companies are now moving toward homeworking for some or all of the agents.

Typically they will start with a trial of a few homeworkers, and then might end up with an arrangement where the office is reduced to say 50 desks, with the annual peak load being handled by 50 agents in the office and 50 agents working from home.

Apart from reducing the building costs by 50% this also means that homeworkers are much happier to work a shorter shift pattern (and even split shift pattern) than they would be if they work in the office. Nobody wishes to work a 1.5 hour shift if they have to travel an hour each way to get into the office, so usually the minimum shift office based agents will accept is five hours. This short shift pattern will not suit all agents but there will be some who like it, and this allows a reduction in the number of shift hours that have to be paid, if the call pattern has the typical peaks and troughs throughout the day, that most call centres have.

A side benefit from having some staff working from home includes the ability to ask for volunteers to quickly log on and start taking calls during unexpected calling peaks, or when some of the office staff have had difficulty travelling to work. A further saving that can be gained is that the main call centre building can close earlier at night with late night calls being handled by homeworkers.

In the example of travel agents, they have found it very useful to have agents available for live customer enquiries late into the night, where homeworkers are already at home and happily volunteer to take calls, and office staff have not have felt safe travelling home from their town centre offices late at night. One travel agent trialled homeworking just for taking calls after 9.00 pm. This proved so successful that their offices now close at 6pm and they are in the process of replacing one of their two buildings with homeworkers.

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About Richard Pickering

Richard co-founded NewVoiceMedia with Ashley in 2000. Previously to that he was part of the Genesys Labs start-up that was sold to Alcatel for $1.5bn. Richard has over 30 years exprience working in call centre technology markets, including 24 years at BT where he designed many of thier internal call centres. Richard has considerable experience applying call centre technology to solve business problems and plans to share his thoughts on these and other issues through his blog.

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