The Power of Design and the Promise of a More Elegant BPO

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We have gathered remarkable information with regard to the impact of design in the subsequent success and employee favorability of business process outsourcing (BPO) companies. There is more to the BPO business than just a name, a reputation and good financial resource. The BPO should have a strong foundation with which it could anchor itself. By foundation we do not mean some intangible concept, but rather a literal, physical structure that influences the atmosphere within. This is exactly what is lacking in several outsourcing companies, especially BPO call centers. They do no not have conducive environments to sustain much of the happiness that most agents seek.

As observed by Andy Feinour, a developer from Atlanta who has put up big-time call center offices, “Call centers were traditionally designed as sardine factories, packing people in as tightly as possible. You can only imagine what kind of service that environment engenders.” His statement is an acknowledgement that the architecture and interior design most BPO call centers adopt are detrimental to the well-being of their own workforce. If you have been to a few call centers in the vicinity, you will see that most of their workstations do sport a “sardine factory” set-up. In one row, there could be ten or so divisions wherein ten or so agents would be dialing. The worse design a BPO call center could adopt is one with back-to-back workstations that look as if agents share only one wall panel.

BPO companies are under the impression that sardine factory model is cost-efficient, because it saves up a lot of space and the stations can be used by more than one agent. But you have heard what the expert said. In your own viewpoint, what kind of service have you imagined BPO call centers engender? Do you think it looks attractive to anyone hoping to join the BPO? Feinour said that it gives all the more reason for agents to seek employment elsewhere. The real challenge for BPO call centers is to utilize a design that can induce agent satisfaction while simultaneously keep costs to a minimum and maintain efficiency.

Design must take precedence to BPOs before they start building. BPO work, especially in the call center, is highly routinary and oftentimes governed by quotas. Thus, agents and other BPO employees are exposed to high pressures. The pressure in the environment is exacerbated by bad furnishings that cause all sorts of body aches and pains. End result is compromised comfort, which may obstruct their attendance at work and cost the company a lot for that day. BPO call centers may be able to avoid such a bleak scenario by putting more value on good designs.

So what makes a good design and what does not? In the context of BPO call centers and such, good designs fulfill the following criteria:

Comfortable. Since agents spend the bulk of their working hours sitting, employers should see to it that they are given not just any chair – but one that exudes comfort and mitigates the onslaught of back or neck pains. What makes a chair particularly comfortable is not just the fluffiness of the padding. Other characteristics include a high back, an adjustable height, and some wheels to make movement fluid and not stoic. In line with this, as much as possible, workstations must also be padded so that whenever an agent leans for support during a call, they would not contract soreness due to hours and hours of leaning.

More Breathing Space. It is indeed suffocating to be just a few inches apart from your fellow agent. As you stretch, you end up hitting her shoulder or face while she is on the phone. This could be downright disastrous, whether in terms of performance or comfort. BPO call centers should provide space where their agents can have more freedom to move. Packing them up like sardines will physically and emotionally constrain them. As if the pressure of being an agent is not enough. Let them breathe for once.

Flexibility.Adjustable work surfaces, keyboard trays, and monitor arms are also important,” said Feinour. Flexibility in the interior can very well induce a lot of agents to stay longer in a BPO call center. Although this alone is not sufficient (ideally flexibility in the nature of work must also be taken into consideration), proper furnishings and office equipments that provide physical comforts to agents would make them feel that the company is really looking after their needs. You will not be surprised that despite the metrics, some agents will still keep up with the standards. Feinour added that this level of “flexibility becomes even more essential in multi-shift operations that require agents to share workstations.”

Even just through the interior furnishings, BPO call centers should find a way to make each agent feel that they are valued and not just dispensable faces among a throng of soldiers. Because honestly, workstations these days look as if Stalin and Mao are still alive, dictating (not supervising) their agents to perform well. If they fail to do so, it would “off with her head” for them. And yet the physical environment of the office is itself a cause of discomfort. How could BPO firms expect their workers to do well if the furnishings they provided have not been utilized resourcefully?

The expert Feinour analyzed that the “intelligent use furnishings” actually has an impact on increasing BPO efficiency. Using Herman Miller’s studies, he was able to establish that “more open work environments – with their tradeoff between enhanced collaboration and reduced satisfaction with conversational privacy—are key to better performance.” This is not simply myth; there were results produced to prove his point.

A message to BPO call centers if I may: when you want to have a better, more elegant BPO, do not just stick to the basics or to traditional office models established by your predecessors. That is the problem why a lot of BPO call centers experience high turnover rates. They lack a daring to be different. They are not very bold in their designs nor are they willing enough to defy BPO customs. So long as they pursue the same path their competitors and fellow companies do, the dream of stability, and reduced staffing problems will remain a dream. Isn’t that a tad bit unsophisticated? Perhaps there is more promise for BPOs that have high tolerance for the psychedelic.