Recent events have moved business continuity management to the top of corporate agendas. Between March and May 2020, organizations were, through no fault of their own, plunged into survival mode. Business continuity plans (BCP) were enacted, employees were moved off-site and strategies were refined — sometimes in real time — in order to maintain some semblance of business as usual in circumstances that were anything but.
Business continuity and BPO
Despite the twin pressures of executing their own business continuity plans in order to maintain operations while continuing to manage client organization operations and any unique mandates that applied to their business type, the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry rose to the occasion. And this was because the industry had a business continuity planning head start, so to speak.
Thanks to the fact that many of the leading players already had mature remote agent networks, the technology, tools and processes were already in place to support the shuttering or partial closure of brick-and-mortar contact centers while continuing to meet client needs in the face of a threat to business continuity. In many cases, BPO organizations were able to move the overwhelming majority of their global operations off-site within weeks.
When a business continuity plan has to be enacted, then clearly, the veracity of a procedure created in theory is stress-tested in practice. However, in the case of COVID-19, the very strategic thinking behind business continuity plans was also tested because, to be successful, a BCP must enable an organization’s people to safely continue conducting their roles, no matter the circumstance.
What is a business continuity plan?
If business continuity is ensuring an organization can continue to function following an incident such as IT failure or a meteorological event, a business continuity plan is the clearly articulated set of steps to take and procedures to follow in the wake of such a disruption, so that an organization has the greatest possibility of recovering and operating at an agreed level of performance.
However, until recently, the business continuity strategy that informed the formulation of any business continuity plan focused on the steps one would follow in mitigating risks related to operations, functions, processes and the physical environment, and less so on the people undertaking said functions and following the plans. Traditional approaches to business continuity didn’t always clearly recognize employees themselves as a business-critical operation, nor the fact that a person could potentially, through illness, represent a risk to business-as-usual operations.
Are offices a physical threat to business continuity?
The realization of potential shortcomings in relation to traditional approaches to business continuity strategy and business continuity planning has raised many questions. And as we contemplate the future of work and consider the benefits employers and employees have enjoyed from working off-site, one of the most pertinent is, “Why do people need to be in the office in the first place?” So many of the business continuity issues that had to be addressed over the course of the past two years would have been automatically nullified if physical office spaces had never been part of the business equation.
The fact is that the need for a physical office can actually negatively impact on an organization’s ability to maintain business continuity, even when there is no external threat to operations.
Business continuity is business agility
Just within the BPO sector, at the beginning of 2020, when the majority of CX delivery was conducted from physical contact centers, the simple act of ramping up or down to meet increases in contact volumes could pose a host of logistical challenges. If the ramp-up was an unexpected spike, space would need to be found within a facility and then seats would be allocated while agents were redeployed or new talent recruited and trained.
This process could take weeks or even months if the ultimate goal was to increase the number of agents in the same physical space that were competent at issue resolution across all contact drivers.
However, when agents are untethered from a physical location and are instead spread not simply across the country, but potentially around the world as a virtual network, two business continuity benefits emerge.
The first is in terms of classic definition of business continuity. Traditional external risks to business-as-usual operations such as a severe weather event, an infrastructure issue, local political action or a compromised power supply are instantly mitigated as employees can work without having to travel to a fixed geographic location in order to do so.
The second benefit is around resilience and agility, which should also be considered forms of business continuity. Having a distributed network of top-tier contact center agent talent on tap allows outsourcers with the right technologies in place to instantly flex to client needs — no matter where in the world that client is based — in terms of planned or unexpected contact volume spikes as well as ensuring seamless ramp-ups in line with campaign timelines.
And, of course, there are other, persistent micro-risks to business continuity, specifically within BPO that revolve around employee engagement, absenteeism and retention that working from home can mitigate.
Flexibility and productivity
Organizations have seen firsthand how the simple act of giving employees the opportunity and flexibility to work from home has improved productivity and performance while increasing employee engagement and reducing negative elements of the modern working life such as work-related stress or the inability to balance professional with personal responsibilities.
Existing employees have made it clear that they want to be able to maintain a flexible approach to working. Likewise, business results have also made it clear that the extra work-life balance afforded by not insisting on employees being present in order to do their jobs has been instrumental in improving the employee experience and reducing persistent issues such as absenteeism and attrition that eat into productivity.
The contact center as business continuity center
However, this doesn’t mean that outsourcers are about to start decommissioning their contact centers in order to elevate their business continuity strategy. Physical sites will still play a key role in ensuring productivity and a positive employee experience and in ensuring the capabilities to mitigate a host of business continuity risks.
For instance, a physical contact center provides an extra layer of security and data protection for clients operating in industries such as healthcare or banking and financial services. Such organizations will, understandably, continue to insist on some level of on-site operations alongside remote agents, for the foreseeable future.
Furthermore, many organizations that were new to the concept of remote working discovered that one of the few potential drawbacks of moving to a 100% remote distribution model has been trying to use digital tools and channels to maintain company culture and that sense of connectivity and belonging that comes from in-person interaction and collaboration.
Business continuity and business culture
Physical offices and contact centers should be leveraged to meet this important need for creating opportunities for engagement and for training and support. Even with the continued capabilities available through eLearning, one of the best ways of mastering a new skill or of improving performance in a role is by working alongside others in the same position but with more experience.
One final reason for maintaining a physical footprint is the fact that not everyone wants to work remotely. For one thing, there are few things like the buzz and energy that emanates on a contact center floor that’s hitting its KPIs. It’s also easy to forget that not everyone is in a situation where working from home is practical. This is particularly true for organizations with genuinely global operations. In many countries, the necessary infrastructure even for providing reliable, high-speed internet is still in its developmental stages outside of major metro areas.
All of which is why within CX delivery, the future of work and employee experience is about taking an approach to operations that blends on-site and off-site agents, and does so across geographical borders to ensure optimum business continuity and resilience alongside ultimate flexibility for client organizations.
Furthermore, for such an approach to work, it’s important to identify the right combination of technology, training and support. Otherwise, connectivity and engagement can suffer within the existing workforce, while expanding operations as new employees join could prove unsustainable. Business continuity is about maintaining performance, while mitigating any risks to delivery. To learn more about the role of business continuity in shaping organizational strategy, as well as the other factors set to influence future business operations, download the latest Sitel Group whitepaper “The future of work & employee experience: How How CX Everywhere delivers benefits everywhere.”