Opening Up About Contact Center Design
Harold Hambrose, a partner at LiquidHub, a Philadelphia-based digital customer engagement agency, agrees. “You really want to look at the dynamics of your people and your culture and compare [them] to the physical environment that you’ve got or are about to install,” he says.
Hambrose notes that half of LiquidHub’s design team is made up of behavioral scientists who look at floor plans in conjunction with natural human tendencies and potential cultural scenarios that are bound to arise within a company. Though break areas might be installed with good intentions, they could be taken over by specific teams that might distract other people working in the area, he points out.
Whatever design or layout a company chooses, employees will need to be content within that setting. This means making sure that workers are physically comfortable: They should have chairs that can sustain them for an eight-hour workday. They should also have somewhere to store their coats, bags, and other personal items.
Oracle’s Wartgow, who began his career in a large, open contact center, said one problem he encountered was keeping the work area clean. Investing in proper janitorial services can be especially important in 24-hour call centers with rotating shifts.
Similarly, high-quality, noise-drowning headphones are strongly advised—first, because they can act as a signal that an agent doesn’t want to be disturbed, and second, because they can create a barrier where there is none. White noise generators are also recommended, as are noise-reducing foam sprays.
Another popular office design model is the pod or honeycomb, where groups of specialized teams are assigned to small clusters. This design is practical because it allows people working on similar tasks who often need to speak to each other to be in close proximity and able to keep their voices at a minimal volume, according to Pearce.
But no matter which type of floor plan is ultimately chosen, larger companies, particularly those with global reach, cannot simply duplicate what has worked in one geographic location and apply it to another. A call center situated in a cold and snowy climate, for example, will have to provide employees a space to store their winter coats and boots. Hambrose says this came up during a recent contact center design project for a company in Toronto.
Whether a prospective employee will mesh well with an existing office environment should be factored into the hiring process, says Raul Navarro, chief operations officer and general manager of the Americas at Acticall Sitel Group, a contact center outsourcing services provider. Overall, Navarro opposes a completely open office layout, stating that “associates should have the ability to have some level of separation.”
Relatedly, the availability and allotment of natural light within an office space should be considered. There’s a high correlation between happy employees and their exposure to natural light, so it might be better to have window-adjacent real estate occupied by workspaces rather than break rooms, where employees spend only a small percentage of their days.
Air levels and comfort are also important to monitor, experts agree. For instance, those sitting near the air-conditioning might be more or less comfortable or distracted. It’s important to make sure it’s not a nuisance. “Very often, even air-conditioning, if it’s not distributed evenly, can create disturbing noise,” Navarro points out.
And then there is the use of chat apps, like Slack, Jive, or Yammer. Though they can be useful collaboration platforms where agents can communicate with one another without creating a lot of office noise, it’s often more efficient to simply have a quick conversation to resolve certain issues, Garfinkel says. She notes that a lot of time can end up being wasted with back-and-forth messaging.