Leadership Spotlight: Managing Operations in a Work-at-Home Setting

As brands continue to migrate their CX delivery to work-at-home operations, we decided it might be time to check in with our leadership team and offer companies some advice for building a successful SmartVirtual™ operation.

As Head of Operations at Activus Connect, Marc Robinson is responsible for maintaining operational efficiency throughout our entire SmartVirtual™ network. Marc has been in the BPO space for more than 25 years, with at least 15 of those dedicated to work-at-home operations.

Before focusing on work-at-home, he utilized his master’s degree in cybersecurity to strengthen the technical aspects of brick-and-mortar contact centers and manage several IT projects, as well as gaining experience in professional services, training, and employee development throughout the years.

Today, Marc is 100% committed to work-at-home, lending his knowledge and expertise to drive the success of Activus Connect. We sat down with Marc to learn about the challenges of managing SmartVirtual™ operations and how work-at-home CX could permanently improve the industry.

How do the responsibilities of a work-at-home operations leader differ from those in traditional brick-and-mortar?

MR: For me, the top focus is on developing communities and environments specific to virtual workers. Our tools and capabilities are all designed to ensure that our work-at-home Ambassadors can communicate with each other and embrace our SmartVirtual™ culture.

Creating that virtual “water-cooler” effect is a top priority when trying to elevate employee experiences. People should never feel like they are isolated from the rest of the company, so everything should be centered on the virtual employee, first and foremost.

When you look at a physical contact center, their foundation is always built on brick-and-mortar operations with work-at-home bolted on as a secondary offering. With the pandemic, most BPOs have been forced to offer work-at-home as brands scramble for business continuity, so operations managers are under huge amounts of pressure to deliver reliable virtual service delivery with no prior experience.

I’ve been lucky enough to be at the forefront of the work-at-home opportunity for years now, so it’s something that I’m extremely passionate about. The ability to offer employment during times of crisis is especially important, and a great opportunity that must be protected for the sake of our employees and our economy.

What are some of the challenges that come with managing a pure-play work-at-home operation?

MR: The hardest thing is probably on the employee side. People sometimes struggle to understand that working at home is not a vacation.

Oftentimes, when work-at-home is a new experience for people they can see it as a chance to relax, work less, or ignore their responsibilities. In reality, when it comes to customer experience delivery it’s no different to being in a large facility—you’re just at a different desk performing the same tasks you would in an office, so it’s not an excuse to slack off.

To solve this issue, providers need a strong recruiting process that enables them to hire the right people from the beginning. Throughout the U.S. and even globally, there is a huge pool of mature, experienced talent available that is ready and willing to work and already has the right mindset to embrace the work-at-home lifestyle responsibly.

On the client-side, there’s an illusion that brands have more control over security in a brick-and-mortar environment than they could with work-at-home. The reality is that pure-play work-at-home providers now have more visibility than traditional players. Technology allows us to see exactly what our Ambassadors are doing, monitor 100% of customer calls, and pinpoint any potential security risks instantly, making it much more difficult to commit fraud or steal information.

In the end, bad people are going to do bad things, regardless of whether they’re at home or in a contact center. However, when providers follow stringent recruitment measures and leverage next-gen monitoring technology, the work-at-home environment is much more secure than any brick-and-mortar facility. Period.

Describe a “day in the life” as Head of Operations. What are some of your key responsibilities?

MR: Overall, I need to be available to my Team Experience Coordinators—also known as supervisors—and ensure their needs are met so they can adequately support our front-line Ambassadors. I’m also on-hand to support the Activus leadership teams when they need me, as well as coordinating with clients in support of their individual projects.

On a more granular level, I get pulled in several directions every day. One moment I might be planning how to overhaul the operational strategy of an entire project, while another I’ll be updating somebody’s social security number. It’s really all hands-on deck at Activus and we’re all happy to get our hands dirty when the situation calls for it.

I generally communicate with our teams every day to make sure they’re getting what they need to perform their jobs as effectively as possible. Equally, I have to hold them accountable to their responsibilities to ensure we’re exceeding the expectations of our clients and their customers.

What are some of the cultural elements of a pure-play SmartVirtual™ operation? How does Activus Connect’s culture impact people’s lives?

MR: It’s very important that our team members feel like they’re part of a family. Unlike some large boiler room contact centers, we don’t look at them as disposable or replaceable workers, but as integral assets within our company—we want people to stay so we bend over backward to keep them in the team. Even if a project ends, we will always try to make sure our Ambassadors stay employed and actively participate in other projects, which is not a common aspect of traditional BPO.

There’s a real sense of community and a sense of belonging at Activus. What Felix, Minerva, and the rest of the team are doing is really special, so it’s hard not to be fully invested in what they are trying to accomplish. Our Ambassadors love what we do, understand our mission and vision, and fully support us in reaching our objectives, so we strive to help them reach their goals too.

What are your ambitions for Activus and how do you plan to reach them?

MR: It’s simple really, I want us to continue to grow and help Activus become one of the power players in the outsourcing space. If that means being on-hand to take sales calls, meet with prospective clients, or anything in between, I’m ready to take on any challenge.

With our technology, Ambassadors, work culture, and visionary leadership, everything is already in place to allow clients to grow alongside us. We provide the same level of engagement and support to all of our customers, regardless of their size and footprint. It’s all about creating a community with our partners, as well as our Ambassadors, and delivering the service that companies have come to expect from modern CX delivery.

On top of that, I believe we can really shake up the industry with our approach to operations, recruitment, and employee experience, so watch this space.