The idea of working from home is no longer novel or "exotic" as it was a decade or more ago, according to Peter Ryan, principal at Ryan Strategic Advisory.
In fact, the front office and business process outsourcing (BPO) analyst stated that more companies have explored transitioning to the WAHA model.
Additionally, whereas the work-at-home agent (WAHA) experience was limited to the United States, the model has spread to Europe, Australia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
“I know that there have been experiments done in the past where brick-and-mortar operators have tried to identify who they saw as their best agents and then give these individuals the option of working from home,” Ryan explained, during a webinar chat with itelbpo’s Executive Chairman, Yoni Epstein.
In the webinar, dubbed 'Digital is No Longer Futuristic — it's the Home-Based Agent', Ryan noted, "… outsourcers that had home-based agent capabilities were ranked incredibly high relative to their competition".
He was referring to the 2018 Ryan Strategic Advisory Front Office BPO Omnibus Survey, in which over 350 enterprise contact centre decision-makers in the US, Canada, UK and Australia were polled.
Epstein, for his part, explained that the increase in demand for virtual agents coincided with the need to cut costs in the post-recession era, resulting in the model becoming a more viable option for companies involved in outsourcing.
“When we moved out of the 2007/2008 financial downturn, everybody looked at just saving costs,” he stated. “What we’ve seen some 10, 11 years later is that people still want to save money, but they want, obviously, value for that savings.”
Describing WAHA as the “new frontier”, Espstein, who founded itelbpo in Jamaica in 2012, said the model allows companies to improve their operational efficiencies by balancing overhead costs with keeping staff hired. This is so because when compared with solely brick-mortar-operations, companies which have adopted the WAHA model do not need to bear operational expenses such as internet, utilities and security.
In other words, the virtual agent model makes contact centre operations more scalable, which means that the number of agents can be adjusted to the demand for seasonal labour.
Since acquiring United States-based Granada Corp just last year, itelbpo has increased employment in its WAHA operations, itel at-home, by 35 per cent. Virtual agents are hired from several different states in the US with varying academic and professional qualifications, including licences, certifications and bilingual capabilities, to serve a diversity of industries such as health care, insurance, retail and travel.
Ryan believes that the quality of work from virtual agents is one of the key drivers of growth for the WAHA model.
“One of the things that I find to be a true motivator for many enterprises is the quality of the labour force. The typical work at home agent is very different from the agent that would be working in a brick and mortar centre,” the BPO analyst stated.
“For instance, we know that the typical home-based agent tends to be a homeowner, as opposed to a renter or potentially living with parents. We know that their level of education tends to be high school graduate generally speaking; there are many who have university degrees. They also tend to have much more work experience, which tends to make them a much more stable employee and you don’t necessarily run the same levels of attrition as you might when you’re working with bricks and mortar agents,” he continued.
Epstein pointed out further that WAHA is not only beneficial to itelbpo, but itel at-home agents as well. Being a more flexible model than nearshore and onshore premised-based operations, virtual agents have the advantage of working split shifts or fewer days per week, while still fulfilling the minimum 40-hour work week, as well as saving time and money on commuting.
However, Ryan noted that there are impediments to the growth of WAHA, in particular, “deliveries, doorbells and dogs” and data leakage.
Responding to this point, Epstein said there are certain recruitment policies at itel at-home which must first be met before home-based agents are hired.
“Some of the things that we ensure our agents have are that they are in a room, that they are by themselves, it’s locked off from the rest of the house and inside there’s that peace and quiet so that you don’t have those problems of delivery doorbells and dogs.”
Secondly, computer security, efficiency and internet speed are tested remotely by itelbpo’s information technology (IT) team to ensure that agents’ devices are up to date. To take it a step further, once agents log on to the itel at-home virtual desktop integrator platform, the BPO takes control of the machine until the agent logs off the platform, thus limiting the incidence of information fraud and compromising data security.
With IT security issues addressed, itelbpo has begun testing the model in The Bahamas. When asked if WAHA will be expanding throughout the Caribbean, Epstein replied that as long as services such as electric power and internet can be supplied on a consistent basis, the possibilities are endless.