Enabling call centre employees to work from home can raise productivity and lower costs – yet South African companies have been slow to embrace the opportunity.

This is according to Bruce von Maltitz of 1Stream, who adds: “Most call centres experience peak traffic for a couple of hours a day. If you staff to meet the peaks, you end up with idle capacity for the rest of the time. You’re not only paying a salary, you’re also paying for an extra desk, chair, computer, network capacity and all the rest. The overheads are high.”

In addition, says Von Maltitz, “every employee who works full-time on site is entitled to an hour-long lunch break and two tea breaks. For every eight-hour shift, you’re doing really well if people spend four and a half to five hours actually on the phone.”

Using home-based workers to meet peak demand is the most cost-effective way to solve the problem, he says. “There are thousands of mothers in particular who would welcome the opportunity to earn extra income during the hours while their children are at school, and who would make superb call centre workers. Enabling them to work from home means you cut out the expense and time of commuting, for both parties – many contact centres pay for employee transport, especially after hours. “

Yet many South Africans don’t seem to trust that home workers will actually work, says Von Maltitz. “You need a mature workforce and a mature management style to make it viable – but there is a great deal of technology to make the job easier.”

Connectivity is getting better all the time, says Von Maltitz, and hosted call centre suites mean home-based workers have access to exactly the same systems as if they were sitting in an office. “And managers have access to exactly the same information as well,” he adds. “Whether an agent is sitting at the desk next door or at the other end of town, you can monitor their performance in just the same way – right down to listening in on calls.”

In future, says Von Maltitz, South African call centre operators should include home agents in their planning. “A lot of thought goes into where to place call centres – and even if you find suitable premises close to public transport nodes, South African public transport tends to be unpleasant and unreliable. Setting up a number of home offices may be a better option.”

“The technology platform already exists,” says Von Maltitz. “If someone makes the decision to enable home working today, the systems could be up and running in a few days. All it takes is the management and willingness to try something new.”