empty call center, where social distancing is a challenge

How Social Distancing can prevent a contact/call center disaster

By Dale Lawrence

While many companies have moved most workers to work from home or built-in social distancing, contact centers typically have a challenge with social distancing due to the concentration of configured desks in a relatively small space. Apart from cubicle pony walls, most agents can normally reach each other and frequently stand up, walk around and go for breaks together. This means that if one person carries the virus, it doesn’t take long to spread to others. Ideally the agents would work remote, however, many contact centers are unable to access all of the necessary technology to allow for remote working-from-home. 

recent scientific study of a call center in South Korea found that Coronavirus spread quickly but also how layout and quick action can prevent a much greater health and business problem. The call center was situated in a popular mixed residential/commercial tower and was situated on an entire floor. 

Source: CDC medical journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases

Luckily, when the spread was discovered, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sprang into action and discovered one side of the call center had already experienced an outbreak. Any more delay would have seen the other side have the same fate. In addition to the call center floor, the health authorities tracked everyone who had visited the entire tower and tested for the spread of the virus. Their quick action likely greatly reduced the spread.

Source: CDC medical journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases

There are lessons to be learned by any contact center operational leader as we all plan how to configure our workspace during the next 18 months.

Build in social distancing where possible. This includes at least one empty workstation as a buffer between workers. Don’t forget that call center agents work in rows and often back-to-back. You need to build in at least 6 feet between worker and allow for them to get to their desks without being to close. Remove unused chairs to allow for extra space.

Clean frequently and especially in-between shifts. As the Coronavirus can exist on materials for hours or days (see CDC for guidance), the contact center has many plastic, metal and hybrid materials that the virus can exist on.

Many of your metrics are out the window. Agents need to focus on the core activities while keeping themselves and others, safe. 

Minimize social proximity. There are usually many touchpoints and coaching activities in this environment. Talk on the phone where possible.

No shared foods. Having tables with cookies, donuts and other snacks is a very common thing in call centers. This must be eliminated.

Avoid the shared spaces. This is tricky as agents frequently go to the kitchen area to grab drinks and lunches from the shared fridge. Having disposable bags for everyone to surround their lunch will help contamination.

Leverage any testing capabilities. While Korea is far more advanced in testing citizens and tracking spread, do what you can to have any employees who believe they are ill tested. Implement an immediate internal review of possible contamination.

Track everyone who visits the call center. This is critical as it will be very important to know who to immediately contact.

Build in redundancies and split up teams. Many call centers keep agents with shared capabilities, experience and skills together. Think about what would happen if an entire floor of agents had to be quarantined. Do you have a backup plan to prevent a major disruption? Can any agents work from home?

Assess airflow. Recent studies are showing that air conditioning may increase airborne contamination. Request HVAC experts to look for improvements and filtration options.

These are challenging times, but careful planning, common sense and rapid implementation can minimize the risk to your workers and business. The Propulo team is experienced at work design and human performance. We can support your preparation, business continuity strategy and customer experience service design. 

At Propulo, our focus has always been on Customer Experience and Operational Excellence.


Moving to the Growth Zone During COVID-19


Rapidly Evaluate Your Customer Experience During the Massive Business Disruption