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Remote Work at AnswerFirst

Team Members
Tampa, FL
*As of June 2017
AnswerFirst Team

AnswerFirst Team

AnswerFirst Remote Company Q&A
Joan Stearns, HR Coordinator - Interview with Remote.co

We are an answering service that provides customer service and customer care solutions for our clients when they are unavailable.

When our client base continued to grow the need [to switch remote] became necessary. We had limited capacity in our building, limited parking, and an immediate need for more employees. We started with just employees that had a long commute and preferred to work remote.

Remote work is paramount to our success. Our customer service professionals are ready around the clock, ensuring our clients never miss a call. Our clients always have a live person to answer their calls.

Being able to provide a better work-life balance for our employees while still providing the excellent customer service our clients rely on.  

To allow for continued growth as a company we integrated remote work. The major benefits have been the redundancy of our operating system by not having all employees working in the same location and the ability to continue to hire to stay ahead of our growth as a company. Not to mention the benefits to our employees by allowing them to work from home.

We look for someone who is self-motivated, has a superior work ethic, is technically savvy, and has the ability to work without distractions in their own home. We tend to steer away from candidates who mention they work best in a team environment or need constant feedback. While we are a team, the environment is not a traditional team environment like it is in an office. The feedback is regular, but certainly not constant since they work independently with little to no direct supervision.

Currently, we hire locally and the interview is done in our office. We are prepared to do this in a Google Hangout or other virtual method as we continue to move forward with complete virtual hiring.

We use a third-party software that offers skill assessment evaluations to identify the required skills and attributes for this position. We do background screening internally.

Our current process for local hires is done in our office, but the actual onboarding is processed online. We will have a virtual process in the near future that replaces the in-office piece using a video presentation along with a Google Hangout with HR.

When working, our remote workers must always be in chat and respond as soon as they are able to (not interrupt their engaged call). We try to limit email communications and instead use an internal intranet for any communication to staff. Anything from announcements, new clients, procedure changes, recognition, etc. is visible to them in one central location. They are expected to keep up with information necessary for their position and can view this before their shift or during while they are not on a call.

No, we did try to do meet-and-greet lunches in various locations. There was little to no interest since those who work remote do this for a reason. They have their daily routines that remote work fits with. Many do not wish to or cannot alter their routine.

No, not unless they require it or volunteer to. We are able to communicate through virtual means to avoid asking our CSPs to interrupt their normal daily routine. We do have an annual holiday office party and usually one other office event that all employees are invited to attend, if they can. We also have volunteer committees that some of our remote staff are members of and they do attend meetings in office when they can.

They have KPI expectations for their call handling, quality, and attendance. They log in to a remote server for work that captures all of their activity.

Keeping them engaged through regular communication is most important. They should also have a clear expectation of their role and how vitally important it is to the company. Lastly, you should offer continued training and development so they don’t feel stagnant and have continued growth as an employee.

Making sure they are happy employees. You can’t see them and must rely on virtual communication, which doesn’t always reveal an unhappy employee.

Regular communication is key for remote employees to feel a part of the team and remain engaged. We also have recognition programs to recognize compliments or going the extra mile, in addition to virtual fun events every quarter.

Our remote workers must have all of their own equipment to qualify for the work-from-home CSP position. They must have a computer with a webcam and dual monitors, high-speed Internet with a direct connection, an audio source and a headset to support the audio source, a battery backup device, and a secure place to work with four walls and a door to simulate an office space.

We require 21 days notice for requested time off.

I would say more organically to begin with. We had employees volunteer to work remote to test it out. Then it became more formal over a period of time when we began to see the benefits to the company and our employees. At that time, the position was converted to a remote-only position.

Yes, with constant creative thinking on how to keep your remote staff engaged and connected to the office.

We consider our remote employees for any event we plan as a company. We limit office parties to only twice a year since remotes cannot always attend. Throughout the year we have virtual events that all employees can participate in like scavenger hunts, health challenges, and word searches to name a few. We also have a badge program to nominate remote employees for work achievements that ultimately factor in the selection of our employee of the month.

I would say if it makes sense for your business model then you should consider the benefits it offers to your employees and your business. You want to be sure it’s a good fit for your employees too. Working remote is not for everyone. They must work well independently, have a high level of self motivation, and a strong work ethic to enjoy a non-traditional work environment by working at home.

Identifying the right fit for the position has been the main challenge. You want someone who is passionate about customer service and is accustomed to call center work. At the same time you need a person who will succeed doing this work from home. Another challenge has been making sure those candidates have all of the required equipment to work from home. We have also experienced challenges with attendance. Believe it or not, we have experienced poor attendance in some employees when they begin working at home. They suddenly begin missing time due to distractions in their own environment.

Remote workers are always in a chat room with coworkers and supervisors who are available for support or just general conversation. That is the most effective way they communicate. We also use Google Hangouts for more personal one-on-one or team meeting communications.

There have been many positive changes to how we operate by enabling our front line to work remotely. We have more flexibility in scheduling, it has provided redundancy of service to our clients by having staff in different locations, and it has allowed us to continue hiring employees to stay ahead of our needs as a growing business. We have experienced some growing pains along the way that had the remote staff feeling the difference of not seeing us face-to-face each day. We had to learn to adjust how we communicate with them. We also adjusted how we plan events for our employees by always keeping our remote staff in mind before we decide on what to plan.  

Currently, all of our remote employees are in the same time zone. We are a 24/7 operation so we do encounter scheduling conflicts with our overnight employees when we need to meet with them. Our management does a good job with altering their schedule to give them the same attention as the daytime staff. There is always a supervisor on shift with them too.

No traffic to deal with or wasted time on the commute to and from work. You don’t worry about the elements outside or what to wear to work. You save money not just on the gas you save, but also on eating at home and your wardrobe.

I work in the office for the majority of the time. I do work remotely as needed. I do set boundaries for after office hours and handle only things that cannot wait until the next day. When I am specifically working remote for the day, I can do all of my work functions remote. You must have a life outside of work to be healthy.    

Be sure to have an active social life outside of the home. Even if you just do a routine walk through the neighborhood, that is enough to disconnect from work. Have a normal work routine that allows you to distinguish work time and your off time.

I like to tell our new employees that every call is an opportunity to change someone’s day/week/life in a small way just by being a warm and friendly voice on the other end of the phone.