Foster a Virtual Communication Feedback Loop in a Work-at-Home Environment

Change is continual in business, as there is an ebb and flow to what the market demands from contact center organizations. Seasonal surges and product launches can challenge contact centers to drive successful KPIs even under normal brick-and-mortar situations. New technologies and software platforms are launched. New organizational structures and new leadership development training are implemented. In addition, employees’ lives are evolving. New rules are on the horizon, and emotions are running high.


Change will always be part of business. How can you drive change successfully when you can’t see your team and their reactions to what you are driving? How can leadership drive change that won’t negatively impact performance? The key is to understand why driving change is so different from the brick-and-mortar environment.


In the work-at-home environment, people can’t see each other and talk like they did in the brick-and-mortar environment. Below this obvious fact lies the key - it is the actions of leadership and the emotions of the employees that represent the dual struggle for companies. The key is to duplicate the brick-and-mortar feelings for employees in the work-at-home environment. The actions of leaders and how they drive change are critical for this transition.


One of the most critical components to driving change successfully in a remote environment is communication feedback loops. These loops help to drive change successfully and are the key to understanding the emotions that drive employee actions. Equally important to understand is the speed at which negative gossip and discontent can spread—sometimes in just ten seconds. People can talk on the phone, chat, and text faster in a virtual environment than they can by getting out of their chairs and walking over to someone else. To add another challenging component, the negative gossip and discontent can’t be seen like it can in a physical environment. Leaders may not even know the negative gossip is happening until some metric shows up on a spreadsheet and the executive or contact center director is asking what’s happening.


Communication feedback loops, when driving change in the virtual/work-at-home environment should mirror the brick-and-mortar actions and emotions. While most organizations use email or notices on their intranet to make announcements, best practice inside the work-at-home environment is to duplicate the brick-and-mortar environment and utilize video.


In this video, it’s best to give an overall summary of the change and say that more details are coming. Components in a video are excitement, explanation from a strategic perspective of why the change is happening, and acknowledgement of any emotions briefly that the employees might immediately feel. During the video, assuring employees that leadership will acknowledge and answer all questions is a vital component. Reaffirming the team of the strategic importance of the change is equally important.


Next, make sure there is a place for questions and comments—a discussion board, team meeting, or a special chat room.


In addition to these channels, utilizing one- to three-question surveys can help drive engagement. When utilizing surveys it’s important to have an open text box for comments. This lends to employees feeling they are being heard.


All these communications channels will spur discussion. Remember, any employee who has a negative feeling is going to share it with someone. By providing a company place for that and fostering the discussion, leaders can see what’s going on and address it. Comments that can be taken as negative will be accepted and will spur additional comments, mirroring what happens in a brick-and-mortar environment.


The third step is addressing both the positive and negative comments in another video. Wouldn’t a leader do that in the brick-and-mortar environment if they were cornered in the hallway or breakroom? So duplicate that in a virtual/work-at-home environment.


The format for the second video is motivation and recognition. Name the employees that had great suggestions and thank them. Acknowledge a few of the comments that could be labeled as negative, without naming those employees. Thank everyone for their comments.


You can handle the next step by either asking for additional comments on giving one of the suggestions. This will spur more discussion among employees. Or take a negative comment, thank the team for speaking up, and ask for help in overcoming that obstacle. Ask for more discussion on the discussion board, in the chat room, or at team meetings. Send out another quick survey.


The fourth step is to go back out in another video and address additional ideas or concerns. The communication feedback loop continues until the organization works through the issue. This can happen as the change is driven and gaps are identified by the employees and acknowledged by leaders, who again ask for suggestions and discussion. Employees feel listened to and that the company values them. Leaders can gain great insight to the virtual operations floor when utilizing this process.


Yes, this can be time consuming, but leaders will be able to minimize interruptions to business when they learn how to lead differently in a work-at-home environment. A leader’s time is spent either on the front end utilizing best practices and fostering engagement or on the back end doing damage control, which can cause performance metrics to slide, absenteeism to rise, and runaway attrition to grip the organization.


Once the communication feedback loops are part of the mindset in your business unit, they become second nature. Everyone gets on board, is heard, and feels part of the decision-making process. Even when you can’t give employees exactly what they want, once you acknowledge those ideas in a video and explain the business reason why you can’t do that at this time, they will understand why the decision was made—even if they don’t like it.


The communication feedback loop mirrors the emotional and communication components employees are used to in a brick-and-mortar environment. It brings employees comfort that they understand what is going on in the work-at-home environment. This type of process also brings about more positive employee engagement and easier implementation to change management, which can actually increase performance metrics and decrease absenteeism and attrition.


Work-at-home is here to stay. Companies that embrace this change will have a competitive edge in the market and be better able to retain their employees. Successful change always takes great leadership. A big mistake companies make is to think just great project management drives successful change management. It’s really about inspiring and motivating employees through the change that makes or breaks the successful change implementation.