Dave Paulding, Interactive Intelligence’s regional sales manager for UK and Africa says that contact centres who are not at least considering a remote agent strategy are already behind.

According to Datamonitor, remote “at-home” agents will increase to constitute 7.5 percent of the total contact centre agent workforce by 2009.  Two key factors are driving this trend.  First, over the past few years, the contact centre industry has gained enough experience with remote agents to define best practices and quantify the benefits. Second, the flexibility and reliability of voice over IP (VoIP) has taken several steps forward, which means that the technology is more trusted to support successful remote agent deployments.
It makes sense for a contact centre to employ a remote-agent strategy on a number of levels.  In the competitive landscape, remote agents can be one of the most significant differentiators a contact centre can leverage.  By using remote agents, a contact centre business can protect itself against the ebb and flow of a costly labour market, and hedge against seasonal variations.  
Contact centres can also dramatically increase scheduling flexibility by incorporating remote agents, mostly because many at-home agents find off-hours to be preferable work time.  Geographically, remote agent networks in various regions and time zones also better accommodate global business and customer schedules.
It is a reality that for almost any contact centre, outages happen and planning for them is wise management.  Remote agents give a contact centre the ability to get back up and running quickly.  A remote-agent strategy also offers significant cost savings in facility costs, reduced turnover rates and training expenses.  
The benefits of a remote-agent approach are clear, and any contact centre not making strides to implementing it at least on some level is already behind.  Also, considering international trends, any business would do well to consider ways to accommodate, and even encourage a mobile workforce.
A national survey* conducted in the US found that out of 135.4-million American workers, 45.1-million worked from home, 24.3-million worked at a customer’s place of business, 20.6-million worked from their car, 7.6-million worked while on a train or airplane, and a staggering 15.1-million worked in a park or outdoor location and 16.3-million worked while on vacation.
With over 30% of the US workforce choosing to work from home, deploying a mobile solution can significantly expand a company’s labour pool.  A tele-work approach is also thought to increase productivity from 15 to 30 percent, and result in happier employees.  Companies have also found a decrease in sick leave and reduced employee stress.
And if the “softer” human resource benefits are not enough to convince a company of the potential of a mobile workforce strategy, perhaps the hard facts of facility expense savings will.  Through deploying a mobile solution, AT&T has reduced its costs by 50%, and IBM has saved $56-million.
The technology available today has made it possible for both remote agents and work-from-home employees to handle all media types, including calls, emails, chats, etc with no reduction in service levels.  In fact, with the right communications platform, such as one of the application-based all-in-one solutions, no special hardware is required and there is no loss of features or functionality.  A Windows PC and any telephone device delivers much the same functionality employees get when working in an office or call centre environment.  
Significantly, with the right communications solution, supervisors and managers retain the ability to monitor remote workers regardless of their location.  All the reporting and call monitoring capabilities would still apply.  
With the right technology in place and a genuine interest in reducing costs and creating a flexible work environment geared for the future, contact centres and businesses would be wise to adopt a mobile workforce strategy to stay ahead of their competitors.
Interactive Intelligence has launched a mobile version of its application called Interaction Client Mobile Edition.  The solution is standards-based (SIP), and media resources are software-based and license-driven.  Interactive Intelligence can scale solutions from 50 to 15 000 users.