Telecommuting: Definition, Benefits & Practical Tips

What is telecommuting?

Telecommuting or remote working is a setup for work, where employees don’t have to commute to a central workplace that their organization uses. While telecommuting, the employee might be working from home, out of a co-working space, or potentially at any place that they deem conducive for working.

Telecommuting is no longer only a strategy to scale up your customer service or globally distributing your support teams. It’s a growing necessity that is more about future-proofing your customer service against business-related uncertainties.

Apart from being a developing global necessity, the need for telecommuting also entails the preferences of workers. According to a FlexJobs survey in 2020, 86% of workers felt that remote work reduces stress and 65% were more productive with their jobs while telecommuting. 

Benefits of telecommuting

Successful tech companies like Zapier, Invision, and Basecamp have been fully remote since their inception. They never saw the need to move to a traditional office space despite scaling up their business and workforce over the years. So what are the benefits of telecommuting that inspired these companies to remain fully remote?

  • Access to global talent: Hiring doesn’t need to be limited to the geography of your business. There’s a lesser chance of missing out on talented professionals just because they can’t relocate to your physical location. This will make your organization culturally rich and diverse.
  • Increased productivity and flexible working hours: Employees can focus on tasks in their own terms by figuring out their productive hours. Commute time is completely ruled out and there are fewer distractions at home with workplace chatter and additional collaboration times reduced.
  • Lowered cost of running a company: Employees from a telecommuting company tend to earn more because of the overhead costs that the company saves from real estate and maintenance. Workplace perks can also be replaced by cost-effective remote working allowances.
  • Better work-life balance: The flexibility that telecommuting offers lets employees literally feel at home while working. Telecommuting in the comfort and safety of home and family gives employees an immense sense of belonging with your company. According to Crain’s Future of Work survey, 78% of the respondents cited flexible schedules and telecommuting as the most effective non-monetary ways to retain employees.

Now that you’ve got a glimpse of its benefits, let us dive into what needs to be done to have your customer support teams adapt telecommuting, without suffering through growing pains. 

Navigate the blog:

    1. Get IT into the telecommuting conversation at the outset
    2. Invest in cloud-based support software to make the transition easier
    3. Collaborate and over-communicate
    4. Define support roles with clarity to route issues to the right team
    5. Make an exhaustive onboarding plan when you hire remote agents
    6. Use the right productivity tools, track metrics, and KPIs
    7. Have scheduled catch-ups with your teammates over video call

#1 Get IT into the telecommuting conversation at the outset 

Having been used to collaborating in the workplace, support agents may not find it easy to transition to telecommuting without a proper plan and IT infrastructure. Since support agents depend on a lot of tools and technology to manage their tasks, they need to be able to rely on the same ease of operation even while telecommuting. 

Since this is a shift from a familiar workplace atmosphere to remote work, here are the measures that IT should ensure to make telecommuting a sustainable practice:

Bring IT into the decision-making process 

In our adapt series interview with Prasad Ramakrishnan, the Chief Information Officer of Freshworks, explains how to set up your IT to enable telecommuting:

  • Have a discussion with managers and function heads to take stock of all the essential tools that support agents need. Provide centralized access to them from a common cloud to avoid. This will help avoid multiple points of failure and make the IT team’s job easier.
  • Enhance your privacy by adding more layers of security considering how a home network can be susceptible to cyber threats. Setting up single sign-on and SAML, monitoring Soc 2 reports, and using VPN servers are some effective ways to add an extra layer of security to telecommuting.
  • Create a virtual desktop environment within your server farm to onboard and offboard employees safely even with their own personal computers.

#2 Invest in cloud-based support software to make the transition easier

On-premise solutions and non-scalable workflows could end up having your agents start all over again, while cloud-based software allows an overnight rehaul of your work situation while leaving all processes intact. Legacy organizations end up retrofitting their obsolete, on-premise systems–that was barely surviving in a traditional workspace– with the latest technology. The problems only pile up as the result is two systems that don’t talk to each other.

Chakravarthy Srinivasan, Senior Director of Customer Support at Freshworks, helped telecommute the entire support team consisting of 200 agents who handled over 30,000 customers, overnight. 

According to him, the early adoption of cloud products and tools is what made this telecommuting transition seamless. Cloud-based telecommuting software gives you the complete flexibility to readily switch to a remote working environment 

The support team at Freshworks uses its own 360-degree suite of customer service tools under Freshdesk – including Freshchat for chat support and Freshcaller for call center support. Hosting all customer conversations and engagement functionalities in our cloud gave us the cushion to shift to telecommuting in a hassle-free manner.

You can also check out our detailed listicle of 30 must-have remote work software that will make your telecommuting smooth.

#3 Collaborate and over-communicate

Traditional workplaces are dependent on in-person communication, meetings, and collaboration to get things done. To make up for this, even in times when this isn’t possible – over-communicating is a great way to stay on the same page with co-workers and not let conversations slip through the cracks. 

For instance, a team manager can appraise his/her team about the allocation of tasks, customer issues to attend, or important minutes of virtual meetings through every channel possible. 

Here are a few systematic ways to ensure better communication and collaboration:

Foster cross-functional collaboration while telecommuting

Support agents are usually tasked with collaborating with multiple internal teams for customer issues. They have to route a customer to the billing team when there’s a refund claim; technical account manager when there’s a feature request; third-party vendors when there’s a field service or software integration problem, and so on. It’s relatively easier to go back and forth in a workplace, but to virtually run behind all the accountable teams would make the agent’s job even more tedious. 

A support software with a comprehensive cross-functional collaboration functionality would make telecommuting a breeze for support agents. For context, below is a screengrab of Freshdesk’s nifty team collaboration feature through Freshconnect, where a support agent is creating shared ownership of a ticket to a member from another team to resolve issues in parallel.

collaboration in telecommuting software

Detect agent collision

Make sure that there is a workflow to detect when two or more agents end up working on the same customer issue. While telecommuting, there are a lot of chances for white noise and repetition of tasks. If you’re using a cloud-based support tool, look for an agent collision detection mechanism to notify agents when multiple people are working towards resolving the same issue. A similar workflow should be set up for unresolved queries as well.

Leverage the right communication tools

Proper communication is key to success for any telecommuting team. Using the right communication tools will allow support teams to maintain transparency, minimize errors or delays, and streamline workflows.

Video conferencing software like Zoom and Skype can facilitate face-to-face communication while messaging/productivity apps like Slack and Google Hangouts help ensure that every team member has access to the latest information. 

Slack also offers numerous shortcuts, reminders, and integrations for swift communication and enhanced productivity. Trello and Freshconnect are examples of inter-team collaboration tools that keep assigned tasks and common goals in check. 

#4 Define support roles with clarity to route issues to the right team

A remote workforce might quickly fall into anarchy when there is no clarity and transparency in roles and responsibilities. Simply put – if everyone’s responsible, no one is. If you have customers across multiple time zones, allocate dedicated telecommuting support teams to each region and time-zone, so no customer is made to wait for too long. To further fine-tune the allocation of resources, create agent groups within your support software based on their skill levels, product expertise, and work experience.

An intuitive telecommuting software will come in handy to configure and automate such tasks. Make the most out of your support tool’s flexibility to create customized groups, which emphasizes personalization to both customers and agent level. Create a work culture where adherence to SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and support quality is never compromised.

Pro-tip: Revisit your escalation workflow and make it standardized enough for using it as a one-stop reference while telecommuting:

manage escalations while telecommuting

#5 Make an exhaustive onboarding plan when you hire remote agents

Onboarding remote agents is a vital part of telecommuting as an organization, especially when your business is doing it for the first time.

Product knowledge through solution videos

Video customer support is fast catching up among customers as their go-to learning channel. Interactive videos of support tools are used by customers to wrap their heads around a new product. Similarly, solution videos can be extended to new hires in remote support to get a detailed view of all the tools they’d be using and to blend into the new role.

video customer service for telecommuting

Quick learning and customer handling with knowledge

A customer service knowledge base is a one-stop repository of resources that has answers to most customer queries. Knowledge base is a part of a self-service portal, preferably hosted by a customer support software containing FAQs, solution articles, and customer communities. Instant access to a knowledge base while having a conversation with a customer would make finding relevant easier to newly onboarded remote support agents.

Agent assist or internal chatbot features can make fetching information for customers even more faster. It can be as simple as plugging in a solution article to the customer by typing in a keyword. All that support agents need to do is program the agent assist bot or internal chatbot to pick up those cues and keywords to find out the right information resource that would help the customer.

Empathy training through video conferencing

It can be difficult to remotely ramp up new employees on the customer service culture that your company has fostered over the years. But nothing should come in the way of instilling a corporate culture of service excellence. Prioritize empathy and workplace ethics training through video conferencing, as these are virtues that customers equally prefer along with technical expertise.

#6 Use the right productivity tools, track metrics, and KPIs

Use time-tracking tools that allow support teams to analyze where their efforts are going and how they can be more productive. Keeping track of time may not be particularly easy when you are telecommuting. For instance, status-update tools with time-tracking can pinpoint a particular instance where support took a long time. It could be a product bug, returns and refunds, or account upgrade to name a few. But the idea is to learn about them and get to the root of the issues.

Metrics and KPIs define how effectively your customer support teams function. Track all metrics revolving around team performance (first response time, resolution time), customer satisfaction (CSAT, NPS), and business-level KPIs (churn, peak load, CES).

Brownie points if your telecommuting software offers robust reporting capabilities of your customer service performance. Retrieve data from those reports to detect various ticket trends that rule your team’s performance.

#7 Have scheduled catch-ups with your teammates over video call

Team meetings can give you and your team the motivation that you miss out on when you’re working from home. Being on the frontlines, support agents are likely to have bad days or difficult customers to deal with–but to have no one to talk to about it can really hurt their morale. Team catch-ups are a great way to revisit targets, assess performance, and celebrate successes. These meetings don’t have to always be work-related, think of them as check-ins to ensure agent wellness in your team.

A few lifestyle tips to follow when you are telecommuting

It is entirely possible for the lines to blur between work and life when you are telecommuting. Create a healthy routine to take care of yourself physically and emotionally when you telecommute from home.

  • Set up a permanent workstation at home to give yourself a comfortable atmosphere conducive to work.
  • Use ergonomic furniture while working to avoid physical stress.
  • Get all the hardware and software necessities checked to make your work smooth.
  • Have social interactions for leisure to take your mind off work when you need to.
  • Set clear expectations about your work schedule to avoid burnout.
  • Minimize distractions like television and mobile phones during your work hours.
  • Use to-do lists and planners to feel sorted with the tasks that you have to look into.