What does the „at-home model” mean? What does it mean to work without limits, in an open environment, where only competence matters and diversity is fundamental? For leaders, it is a serious challenge to effectively keep together, control, motivate global, virtual teams. United Call Centers’ leaders speak on the matter in an interview by Bernadett Hadobás, author of HRPortal.hu.
“Maybe five years from now everything will be done by robots, and you can control the robots from your home?”
– Zsolt asks the rhetorical question, as the CEO of United Call Centers, because five years ago nobody could imagine 90-95% of the world to work from home. In his opinion, it is only a matter of time, before in the area of work procedures not doable from home – such as manufacturing – there will be a technological development that will enable a cloud-based hybrid solution.
“Deepwater for professional swimmers only” – Zsolt Máté Juhász, Operative Director at UCC describes the complex world of remote work as such. The company employs hundreds of people in Hungary only. Finding, recruiting, and contracting foreign employees is different from one country to another, and it is a very complex process, which is further complicated if, let’s say, a German citizen is working from Malaysia for them. “Since every country has different labor legislation, and because quite often these are areas outside Europe, we always establish the frame of employment according to the local requirements. We are talking about a process which requires a lot of administrational coordination and significant focus – continual fight, if you like, with a monster of bureaucracy speaking a different language every day.”
UCC however is a professional swimmer in the world of remote work, since the mid-2010s, when the labor market procedures went under changes, and the continually increasing demand increased the employee’s requirements on the supply side, they switched to home office as a natural evolutionary process. „In those times now well-known phrases such as „well-being” and „employer branding” started to spread. If you like, we started to use these methods before we even heard these phrases. Then around 2017, we extended the home-based business model to the international market.” – says Zsolt Máté Juhász about the early days.
How can you still sustain a well-functioning system despite bureaucracy continually being on the lookout? Zsolt Szmolinka sees the their successful business model’s three pillars in the harmonic cooperation of people, procedures, and technology. In other words, they need leaders who can effectively manage remote working colleagues. They also need operators who can provide abilities and added value which enable a healthy synergy of supply and demand for employees as well. In addition to human resources, there also needs to be a technological infrastructure, transparent procedures, fine-tuning different programs and applications, back-office systems, which can be used for work force management, or quality monitoring. All of these are the fundamental tools of professional customer service and establish the foundation of a well-functioning home office, or as UCC prefers to call it: the at-home model.
What are the difficulties of establishing at-home systems?
Based on UCC’s experiences a company with an international reputation must be persistent enough to start such a complicated implementation, often hindered by bureaucratic procedures. It is not surprising then, that companies lacking experience rather outsource their at-home activities. One thing is sure, remote work today is the most accepted in the USA and the more developed regions of Western Europe. Even though developments can be seen in this direction, the third world countries do not necessarily possess the level of technological and infrastructural development which can enable effective work on a daily basis. „It may happen for example that we serve a Kenyan client from Bulgaria. So a rare language can be supported by a colleague living on another continent. These situations must be treated with a solution-oriented attitude, and the challenges must be considered as opportunities.” – adds Zsolt Szmolinka.
The pandemic reinforced the notion that the companies that are most adaptable to changing environments survive. For a company of progressive spirit it is a part of corporate culture to not only follow but also dictate evolution – or at the very least recognize from others’ examples the direction the world progresses towards. „A Hungarian SME which wants to thrive internationally needs a lot of energy and know-how which is not found in school books, it can be only learned via experience. It is easy to imagine that in the not too distant future employees will have even more freedom, even via project-based employment.” – says Zsolt Máté Juhász.
IT-related and customer service positions – help-desk, or customer care services – are the most popular among remote workers, and Zsolt Szmolinka adds sales to the list. „You need to communicate well, not only via online marketing. Human voices are still essential to building trust. There are many automated solutions, we are working on such development as well, but in this area, the human element will not be replaceable for a long time.”
Is diversity really implanted in the DNA of remote work?
70% of leaders are female at UCC and there are colleagues from all over the world, so there is diversity in the team. „People who are working in such an environment almost represent their own subculture, and you need to let them do what they do best. The community is absolutely open, there is not any kind of differentiation, only competence matters. Our job is to provide the infrastructure for this and make integration easier for anyone joining us.” With such a diverse team new dimensions open almost every day for the company and its workers. What is the secret? As Zsolt Szmolinka says:
„You need to find the natural common language and value system, by which everyone can speak up. Part of this is empathy, corporate social responsibility, technological innovations, which reduce the burden on our environment because employees like this find it important that the world advances.”
In light of increasing sensibility, they put a significant emphasis on effectively integrating disabled colleagues and working mothers. For them, part-time work is attractive, because they can bring their children to daycare, kindergarten or school, and the end of their shift is the same as when they have ample time to take their kids home before these institutions close. As Zsolt Máté Juhász simply notes: „We recognized a long time ago, that the more satisfied an employee is, the better they perform. Of course, this is an enormous euphemism, but it can be completely supported by evidence of our churn rates, and our regular eNPS surveys.”
Job hopper vs remote work
Among those who consciously choose remote work job-hopping is almost an unknown term, not only that, but the way UCC’s leadership sees it is that those who work remotely usually remain part of the team longer than those who usually do this activity in an office. Retention in the cloud is at most the half, or even third of what was usual in traditional, brick and mortar type companies. On the one hand, many colleagues have worked in a classic call center and appreciate the opportunity to work from home, because they have more quality time to spend with their families. „On the other hand, we are working with mature, 30-40-year-olds, they deem loyalty more important. Of course, I do not mean to criticize 20-year-olds, because it is a completely natural process that comes with age.” – explains Zsolt Szmolinka the low retention rate of their company.
Attractive and less than attractive factors
The attractive part of remote work is definitely the reduced amount of commuting and the reduction of costs. The other side of the coin is observable as a leader: it is more difficult to separate work from private life. Zsolt Máté Juhász gives an example from his own life: „Sometimes I miss, for example, having a coffee or a soda on the way home, and spend 30 minutes on letting work go for the day. At home you do not say that you need a few minutes until you switch from work mode to dad mode.”
From a leadership perspective, how can you effectively keep together, control, motivate virtual teams? Zsolt Szmolinka answers question this with the utmost eloquence: „You need to love your work, you need some kind of passion and commitment for what you are doing. If this does not happen, no matter what your goal or strategy is, the team motivation will not be appropriate. But if you talk with candid love about the current project, and lead by example, then people working around you will also take over the same habit.”
This interview was originally published on HRPortal.hu on 13th of May, 2021. HR Portal is a Hungarian online magazine for HR professionals since 2003, with main topics as the latest job-related news, case studies, job market information, employment, human resources. If you want to be up to date with the practical business world of the human resources profession and the latest news of the Hungarian market, please visit the website and the Facebook page of the magazine!
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