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DSC Tech Library

Call Center Solutions

telecommunications software solution This section of our technical library presents information and documentation relating to Call Center technology and Best Practices plus software and products. Since the Company's inception in 1978, DSC has specialized in the development of communications software and systems. Beginning with our CRM and call center applications, DSC has developed computer telephony integration software and PC based phone systems. These products have been developed to run on a wide variety of telecom computer systems and environments.

The following article relates to call center technology or customer service best practices and techniques.

Why Telecommuting Makes Sense for Call Centers

William F. Marren


What is Telecommuting? The term "telecommuting" refers to the ability of workers to either work out of their homes or drive only a few minutes to reach a telecommuting complex in their immediate neighborhoods. Telecommuting describes several variations of non-traditional working environments:

  • Work at home - using computer, telephone and communications technology, the employee is linked to the office and work is delivered and completed at the employees home.
  • Hoteling/Free address - shared space where the employee is assigned a workstation for the day. Based on the workers needs, the appropriate level of technology support is enabled for that workstation for that day.
  • Remote Centers - a hoteling/free address company complex that is located near the homes of multiple commuting employees. For example, the General Service Administration (GSA) has deployed a remote center to replace the federal office building workspace destroyed in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Who is Telecommuting?

Many types of information-based jobs are telecommuting today. Sales, human resources, technical support, customer service, and "back office" work predominates telecommuting today. Most organizations are transitioning away from management by process or physically monitoring workforce habits (such as reporting time, dress code, mood, personality) to a focus on management by results or product output. This change, coupled with telecommuting, can yield excellent increases in productivity. Planning, forecasting, executive staff, remote management, help desks, legal, accounting and information technology are job families where increases in telecommuting are expected in the near future. The list of companies telecommuting, in one of its various forms, comprise a Who's Who of today's leading companies: AT&T, IBM, Ernst & Young, Arthur Andersen, Hewlett-Packard, Indiana Bell, Southwestern Bell, Pacific Bell, and Intuit are just a few examples. This report focuses on telecommuting from call centers. Call centers are a rapidly growing segment of business and product delivery, and the telecommuting workforce. Predictions indicate the number of call centers will double in the next five years, and that 25 percent to 40 percent of all call center agents will work from home as telecommuters.1 Companies that have established call center telecommuting programs include America West Airlines, Virginia Power, J.C. Penney, Intuit, Chase Manhattan Bank, and Hilton Hotels.


Need to Increase Productivity

As the corporate culture embraces telecommuting, productivity gains are commonplace and are an expected result of telecommuting programs. The shifting focus from physically monitoring employee behavior to measuring employee performance through results redefines the criteria for acceptable employee performance. In the call center environment this is easily accomplished through the use of Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) reporting systems that measure employee performance in multiple call handling tasks and availability. An immediate benefit from converting to an ACD-based employee reporting and compensation system, and away from the traditional time clock, is the elimination of "shrinkage" or that time lost traveling between the time clock and the workstation. Telecommuting call center agents have also shown increased availability as a result of decreased or eliminated absenteeism, fewer distractions from call handling tasks, flexibility in work hours, elimination of commuting delays, immediate availability for overtime, and preparedness to handle weather and natural disasters.

Real Estate Utilization

Real estate and real estate development factors are primary drivers for the increase in call center telecommuting programs. Today's trend is toward smaller, regionalized call centers. Using this as a base, the company can use the smaller call center as a hub of operations and multiply its agent staff through the use of telecommuting and in-office employee team rotations.

While the call center industry is facing explosive growth with some estimates placing growth at 20 percent per year for the next three years,2 real estate planning and cost absorption are not keeping pace with changing requirements. Many companies write down call center capital costs over a twenty year period. Through increased business competition, ever changing product mix, and competition for suitable call center employees, the useful life of the call center real estate investment may be less than five years. As planning and forecasting are inexact sciences, many companies have chosen to hedge the investment in major call center real estate investment by establishing telecommuting programs. The "facility seat cost" (the cost to establish a call handling workstation in a new call center) is currently in the range of $30,000 to $35,000 per workstation.3 Telecommuting workstations can be provided at less than one half of this cost.

Attract and Retain the Best Employees

The investment a company makes in hiring and training employees is easily lost through excessive turnover. This issue plagues the call center industry now more than ever before. Some firms report high call center turnover which translates into additional recruiting and training cost. These costs often exceed $10,000 per new hire employee. While this may seem exceptional, no firm is immune. A recent survey4 indicates that fully 25 percent of the employees surveyed would change companies if the new company offered a telecommuting alternative. Firms offering telecommuting programs for their call centers are witnessing surprising numbers of prospective employees attracted to the company by word-of-mouth advertisement of the firm's telecommuting program. By offering telecommuting programs, a company also broadens the potential employee demographic base. Untapped markets include the physically challenged, senior citizens, homemakers, college students, military dependents and rural residents. Part time work has become mainstream and beneficial for call centers for flexibility in scheduling, reduced benefit costs, and preparation for full time employment.

For the employee, telecommuting offers "quality of life" changes that can help retain the best employees in the workforce. Generally, companies that allow employees to work at home select the top performers in the organization. Trust has been established with these employees and the employer "feels" better about the telecommuting decision. By allowing these trusted employees the opportunity to telecommute, collateral benefits include a better balance of work/family time, and an overall reduction in employee stress associated with the traditional in-office workplace. Telecommuting also provides an indirect pay raise that has been estimated at $4,000 for each employee in the program through reduced needs for business clothing, food, and commuting expenses. The result is decreased new hire costs through improved employee retention.

Disaster Preparedness

A telecommuting call center workforce protects the employer from the vagaries of weather, natural disaster and widespread inability to commute. The examples of how this works to the employers benefit are numerous and obvious. Specific examples include:

  • The lack of a telecommuting program for federal workers after the Oklahoma City bombing resulted in massive losses in employee manmonths and the establishment of a telecommuting program in the weeks and months following the bombing.
  • The Northridge, California, earthquake that spurred the development of telecommuting for Pacific Bell employees and other firms in Southern California.
  • The Blizzard of 1996 on the East Coast resulted in the complete shutdown of many call centers, and massive losses in revenue and customer service.

The proliferation of nationwide, inbound 800 numbers for sales, marketing and customer service removes the regional identity from many call center operations. While many callers to these inbound 800 numbers were unaware of and unaffected by the events cited above, the failure of the company to answer the phone, despite the employee commuting problem, causes negative public perception of the company, business lost to competitors prepared for these events, and the complete loss of sales for products with perishable shelf life such as transportation seat miles.


Telecommuting has its negative aspects as well. Isolation, procrastination and boredom can affect some inappropriately selected telecommuters. Temptations such as neighbors who think work-at-homers aren't really working, the lure of household chores, and family distractions can undermine others. According to a survey completed by AT&T5 in late 1995, many workers would like to telecommute but are afraid to. Six out of ten said they would like to telecommute, but hadn't approached their bosses. They were worried that their companies might think they were less committed to hard work. Worker safety under OSHA guidelines extends beyond the office door. The legal and liability issues associated with the home workplace require the specific definition of the worksite within the home, as well as the tasks that are to be performed therein. The best protection a company can provide itself is to recognize the potential negative aspects of telecommuting and formulate an effective plan for telecommuting employee selection, performance expectations, worksite configuration, training and communication.

Telecommuting employees must be supported through the company culture in addition to ongoing technical support, training and performance management. Development of a telecommuting policy and procedure, as well as a well thought out company-employee telecommuting agreement significantly reduce the risks and drawbacks of telecommuting.

Specific call center telecommuting issues that deserve further consideration include:

  • Performance measurement - use of ACD-based reporting and compensation systems allows performance management that is equal to in-center agents.
  • Loss of control - this issue plagues many managers, but in the call center environment agent service observation via technical means is an established management practice. Staffing systems and shift assignments function as well for telecommuters as for in-center agents.
  • Employee satisfaction - company telecommuting policy and procedure must include a "career ladder" that protects the telecommuter from being ignored, production incentives must be equal to in-center counterparts, and training must be appropriately devised, scheduled and reinforced for the telecommuter. Call center teaming must be reinforced through in-office rotation and regular supervisor contact with the telecommuter.
  • Security - in some industries (financial services, defense, high technology) data security will be a primary concern. Fraud and infiltration by organized crime can have a significant impact on a company's financial status. Company policy and procedure must be used to address these considerations. Most companies in this position believe that the integrity of data security and company trust in their best employees are synonymous. Data encryption techniques, while not foolproof, also deserve due consideration before telecommuting systems are selected.
  • Safety, ergonomics and OSHA - by selecting appropriate telecommuters with adequate home office worksites, supplying ergonomically designed furniture systems for telecommuter deployment, and carefully crafting the company-telecommuter agreement, companies can define the workplace in the home and protect themselves and the employee from excessive risk.
  • Inability to sustain telecommuting programs - telecommuting programs require ongoing program management, employee administration and management attention if they are to be successful in the long run. While an attractive work alternative, telecommuting can fail if ignored after initial implementation. Recurring telecommuter training and ongoing telecommuter support in all technical and human resource areas must become priorities for operations management for long term program success.


Competitive Factors

  • Leading companies in many industries are moving forward with telecommuting programs and will attract those prospective employees who desire this workplace alternative.
  • Unit costs for calls handled are reduced for call center operations that employ telecommuting (two to three agents can be equipped for telecommuting for the same cost of one in-center position). This results in a better cost/benefit ratio and return on investment, especially so for contracted call handling firms where unit costs and call quality are significant differentiators.
  • Ability to handle unanticipated fluctuations in call arrival patterns as a result of marketing efforts, product changes and external factors such as competitors labor strikes and service disruptions.
  • Telecommuting employees indirectly receive an average annual raise of approximately $4,000 as a result of reduced commuting expenses, clothing, lunches, etc., and at no cost to the employer.
  • Total office space reductions and real estate cost containment at firms that employ telecommuting provide for lower overhead cost structure. More draconian measures, i.e. individual employee space allocation reductions, are avoided or reduced.
  • Customer Service Enhancement Quality of calls handled improves as the firm has access to higher skilled workers.
  • Flexibility in staffing allows the firm to handle more calls in the normal call arrival pattern and reduce the percentage of calls that receive busy signals or long queue time.
  • Dependence on computer-based interactive voice response (IVR) systems is reduced through increased availability of live agents. When given the choice, most callers prefer human interaction over IVR's.
  • Cross-trained telecommuters can handle a variety of call types versus product dedicated call handlers. This provides an emergency outlet for all call types when the call center experiences weather and natural disasters.
  • Telecommuters sharpen their focus on call handling tasks when in-office distractions are eliminated.

Telecommuting Enhances Team Performance

  • Structuring telecommuting teams separately from in-office teams results in supervisor concentration on their telecommuting team and the needs of the telecommuter.
  • When managed as a telecommuting team, the performance results are equal to, or in most cases, better than the in-office teams. While telecommuter selection from the top performers has direct bearing on this, the elimination of in-office distractions and time lost to commuting and absenteeism more than outweigh the differences in top performer versus average performer work habits.

Disaster Preparedness

While this topic has been discussed previously within this document, the ability to continue normal call handling operations despite weather and natural disasters is a key differentiator for call handling operations that employ a telecommuting program. Revenue and service protection are provided by telecommuting as well as improved public perception of the firm.



Technology must be viewed as an enabler for telecommuting and not as a reason to telecommute. The technology required to institute a telecommuting program encompasses the user home equipment, such as a PC, laptop, modem, telephone, fax machine, printer, and the network equipment/services such as dial-up telephone lines, ISDN and appropriate enterprise network access nodes, such as ACD's, PBX's, LAN servers and routers. The level of technology sophistication required for telecommuters is dependent upon the work performed by the telecommuter and the comparable in-office technology service levels of the firm.

  • Automatic Call Distributors from industry leaders such as Rockwell Switching Systems and Aspect Telecommunications provide telecommuter support through specific home agent products.
  • PBX manufacturers such as Lucent Technologies (formerly AT&T), NORTEL (Northern Telecom) and NEC provide various levels of telecommuter support through OEM products such as off-premise EXTenders from MCK, as well as through third party product providers.
  • Data systems are increasingly able to support telecommuting. Mainframe dial-up has long been available and the latest developments in client/server architectures through LAN gateway servers and routers and network software produce a data delivery environment that equals in-office systems. Some of these solutions are beginning to provide remote telephone access along with remote data.
  • The proliferation of Internet use, Intranet use and e-mail provides communication channels that were seen as "bleeding edge" by the mainstream user just a few short years ago.
  • Availability of data and voice connectivity products through the Regional Bell Operating Companies is robust and diverse in most metropolitan, suburban, and many rural communities. The firm developing telecommuting program plans must consider these elements as well as data/voice security, and develop the appropriate mix of hardware/software/connectivity that supports the tasks assigned to the telecommuter. The cost/benefit relationship of telecommuting is more than the simple sum of its parts. An integrated approach to telecommuting results in a better cost/benefit model, and incorporates the costs of technology and support, weighed against the benefits of performance increases, reductions in employee turnover, etc. In this way, technology becomes a single supporting factor rather than a make or break corporate decision point. Finally, integrating the telecommuter technology mix into the existing corporate Information Technology structure and providing prioritized telecommuter technology support services, is essential for the long term success and sustainability of a call center telecommuting program.

Impact on Teams and Culture

Several team and cultural issues are key to the success of a call center telecommuting program. Issues that require close examination include:

  • How will the telecommuting program work within the existing culture and enhance call center performance?
  • Shared responsibility for the at-home workplace between the telecommuter and employer facilitates mutual accountability.
  • Many firms will be required to change their management perspective regarding performance measurement. Results driven measurement will have to replace physical accountability.
  • Channels of communication will change between the employer and the employee. While some amount of face to face interaction will remain vital to telecommuter well being, face to face time will be reduced and replaced by new approaches including teleconferencing, e-mail and on-line communications.

Scaleability and Sustainability

To be successful in the long term, a call center telecommuting program must be able to ramp up when business dictates and at a speed that matches demand. To address the corporate needs beyond the current time frame, the well managed telecommuting program will also be able to sustain the firm's business activities of the future and support the telecommuters' needs along the way.

  • Moving from a telecommuting pilot program to a mainstream work arrangement requires distinctly different approaches.
  • The firm must focus on telecommuting within the existing business objectives and consider telecommuting as a tool for process improvement rather than a magic solution.
  • The firm will need to build and communicate telecommuting success stories internally to further corporate acceptance of this initiative and to sustain the long term benefits of telecommuting.
  • An integrated approach to telecommuting that addresses the organizational, cultural, operational, technology, human resource and performance measurement issues is the best and most efficient way to ensure the success of a telecommuting program.


An integrated approach to telecommuting blends and balances the often competing areas of people, technology and work environment. Strength in one area does not guarantee success in all areas.

  • Appropriate employee candidates for telecommuting are the firm's proven performers.
  • Failure to support any of the telecommuter's requirements in one area may cause employee alienation and failure of the telecommuting program in all areas.
  • Equity with in-office counterparts must be established and reinforced on a continuing basis.
  • Ongoing company communication with the telecommuter must be a priority.
  • For a successful implementation, a telecommuting program must be properly planned and managed. The organization and culture must adapt to the new method of working, the right mix of technology and the right people must be selected, training must be timely and address the new way of working, performance and compensation must be measured using new methods, systems and furniture for the telecommuter must be appropriately selected and installed, and the telecommuting program and its deployment must be managed as a whole.
  • The full cost/benefit model for telecommuting incorporates the firm's employees, culture and organization, real estate, technology, performance and results measurement, and customer service effectiveness.
  • Far too often, well intentioned telecommuting programs go astray because of a lack of internal resources to support a telecommuting project and the turf issues associated with the various internal forces assigned to the project.


Call Centers are an ideal environment for telecommuting. Call center employees adapt well to telecommuting and are accustomed to performance measurement based upon Automatic Call Distributor reporting and monitoring systems. Real estate costs, competitive factors, customer service enhancement, gains in team performance and disaster preparedness are driving the establishment and expansion of call center telecommuting programs. With double digit growth projected in the demand for call centers and for call center agents, telecommuting becomes a viable alternative to creating expensive, new call centers while attracting and retaining a more diverse and a more highly skilled base of call center agents.

Telecommuting programs require measurement through a full cost/benefit model that incorporates much more than simple costs of technology versus real estate cost containment. Cultural change, customer service effectiveness and positive employee life style changes are cost/benefit components that require equal attention.

For a telecommuting program to be successful, and the results sustained over time, the telecommuting program within the call center network requires an Integrated Approach to program establishment and ongoing administration. Balancing and blending the people, technology and work environment factors are the key components that differentiate a successful telecommuting program.

William F. Marren is Senior Project Manager with Telecommuting Success, Inc. (, an Englewood, Colorado company that specializes in telecommuting consulting, implementation and management. TSI works with organizations to develop telecommuting solutions that integrate technology, people, work processes, and work environment in programs that can be scaled across the enterprise and sustained over time. In addition, TSI works on a consulting basis with call centers in design, project management and performance improvement. TSI also has offices in Philadelphia and MountainView, California.