Let's face it, 2020 has posed all sorts of challenges to those of us working from home: your child is only thirsty when you're on a call, your dog snores the loudest when it's your most important meeting of the day, your botched DIY project (even if it's your hair coloring) is on full video display.

Now imagine if you led a call center that traditionally worked in a cubical maze. As a leader you walked the floor, overheard calls, knew by the posture, sighs, or frantic waves that your assistance was needed, and were able to map your gut with your gaze at the level of engagement.

The next week you had to quickly figure out a work-from-home model amidst unprecedented call volumes from customers who were experiencing their own new norms.

As a leader thrown into a rapid trial by fire and going from 4 to 1200 walls surrounding your team, do you fight, flight, or freeze? The reality is probably a mix of all three, which is understandable. We're all in this together.

The lens through which we may have viewed our call center employees pre-pandemic may have been one dimensional: the customer had a question and the employee answered the question. Now we may see a sharper view of how critical call center employees are to the front line to our business; they are often an empathetic voice to customers who are also experiencing uncertainty and concern.

So, how do call center leaders keep their teams engaged with the right messages and tone to bring customers along on the journey? Here are some best practices on how to drive engagement through the new norm of virtual call center teams:

Stay Connected

It's human nature to amp down communications when we feel our team is adjusting to change. However, leaders should increase both the cadence and structure of communication with virtual teams by:

1. Host daily video huddles to check in with the team and share news or areas of focus for the day. Consider the power of three – three things each employee should share such as 1) best customer interaction yesterday (positivity opens up communication); 2) goal for today 3) any challenges to achieving the goal.

2. Share talking points with the team leads to reinforce each week. This might include products or services focus areas, marketing efforts, and any related PR stories in the news that could create a frame of reference or put things into context for the employee and/or customer.

3. Conduct weekly coaching 1:1s Relationships matter most when it comes to engagement and productivity. We now have a window to the call center agent's world at home, which could expand the scope of conversation to kids' and pets names, hobbies and accomplishments. Weekly 1:1s are ideal to check in on a deeper level, answer questions, and provide coaching:

- Share data points, dashboards, and monitoring

- Flip the script: Ask the call center employees 'What' or 'How' questions; for instance, 'What would you say if the customer asked…' 'How could you handle this situation differently?' 'What is your transition statement?' 'How do you pull out the consumer's value statements?', etc.

Launch a Competition to motivate employees and drive revenue

These times inspire us to try things we may not have done before and to take risks. Couple this with how, during change, employees need added accountability to create a sense of belonging and self-purpose. While customers are still calling, consider this is an opportunity to inspire the front line call center employees in helping the business, while building deeper relationships with customers by matching what they value to additional products and services.

- Set the goal: What can the call center employees upsell or cross-sell? What promotions and new products or services can they can offer? What does your business uniquely offer that can best help the customer?

- Find ways to track: What measures gets managed? What dashboards are needed? Determine how to track progress to the employee and team level. Is there a field or box they can check with each interaction to capture progress towards the goal?

- Create incentives and/or gamified performance initiatives: Determine incentives and/or gamification strategies to drive the behaviors intended. When possible, create teaming opportunities to foster working across call center aisles.

- Make a key to entry: What are the necessary pre-learning requirements needed to make the team ready to compete? Consider making this training mandatory to get in the game.

- Communicate outcomes: Create communication channels to share results, tips collected from the winners on how they were successful, and key things to remember for next week. Leverage system banners, dashboards, and messaging to fuel the pace of the competition with real-time updates and encouragement.

Foster Learning

During change, employees need to feel as though they have control. Provide learning opportunities to encourage cross-functional or deeper product and service expertise.

- Leverage Learning Management Systems: Uncover capabilities to create a new learning experience rich with surveys, voice, video, or recorded responses to scenarios. Especially in a call center environment, there should be opportunities to practice responses in a simulated way rather than trial by customer.

- Create micro-learning modules: Call center employees are often scheduled for training to re-route calls during this time. To keep up with the pace of incoming calls while creating an easier way to absorb learning, create brief videos and talking points followed by an employee response or interaction.

- Tie learning to competitions and performance goals: Allow employees to control opportunities for recognition, incentives, and growth.

The work-from-home model presents a dramatic shift in the way call center employees conduct their work and their leaders drive engagement. In this new normal of working, there are opportunities to develop stronger relationships with employees and customers through a framework to better equip the front lines of the business. Call center employees can drive value and revenue while taking control of their own career growth.