Employee engagement whilst homeworking

As we continue to share stories from the contact centre sector, we caught up with Nichola Shields of Northumbrian Water to find out how they are maintaining employee engagement, well-being and performance whilst working from home.

Tell us about your role

“I am the operations contact centre manager for Northumbrian Water (which includes Essex & Suffolk Water). My team is an essential service, to protect customer’s water and sewerage network. We have c50 people across two sites receiving inbound calls from customers with operational water and sewerage emergencies. Our service operates 365 days a year between 7am – 11pm”.

Testing our Business Continuity Plan

“We already had 10 contact centre staff working from home. This was to test the  Business Continuity plan we’d put place in the event of extreme weather conditions. Bad weather leads to a spike in calls, but also causes difficulty for our people to get into the office. Those working from home were set up on a laptop, the idea was to rotate the 10 across the team.

When the government announced social distancing measures, we ordered more laptops so all of our vulnerable employees could work from home. This happened really quickly. Within a couple of days we had 35% of our people home working.

My planning team consists of 45 people. They didn’t need the telephony solution so we got them mobile telephones, and were all working from home within 1.5 weeks.

This was followed by our Information Service and Workforce Management teams working together to provide a solution which enabled advisors to take their computer terminals home and receive calls. We managed to mobilise the whole team to home working within 2.5 weeks.

There have been some issues with technology and WiFi strength, but overall we have maintained good performance, supporting our customers during these difficult times.

Northumbrian Water also have a billing contact centre in Durham, and one in Suffolk with approximately 170 people in total. All of Suffolk are now working from home. 70% of Durham are now homeworking with the aim to get the other 30% home as soon as technology allows”.

Employee Engagement, well-being and performance

“Employee engagement and the health and well-being of my team is of paramount importance. Regular communication with our leaders and advisors would prove vital in keeping up morale and our ability to continue to provide an essential service to our customers.

I set up a WhatsApp group on day 1 to communicate with everyone. The group is led by the advisors who share important business information and hints and tips for healthy working from home. They also use the group to share hobbies and recipes to help each other through lockdown. For those who do not have WhatsApp (yes there are a couple) we follow up with an email.

I have a daily Skype meeting with my team leaders who then cascade any information or updates to the advisors.

Performance is managed as normal with virtual one to ones taking place over Skype twice a week. Advisors have sight of their performance dashboard so know where they are in terms of target. The only thing that has changed is that they are carried out virtually rather than face to face.

We have further supported our colleagues who suffer from mental health issues with a daily check-in. They have also found the WhatsApp group a great way to keep in touch.

The business have arranged online mindfulness sessions once a week to support the well-being of all employees. Other employee engagement activities have included a virtual quiz and bingo”.



Social distancing and self-isolation 

“As we work shifts between 7am and 11pm and 10 of our people were already working from home, we found it easy to put social distancing measures in place. We were able to leave a desk in-between each advisor, and didn’t have anyone sitting within 2 metres of anyone else.

Initially, we saw an increase in people self-isolating but now we have no-one self-isolating, and a good attendance rate”.

Preparations for returning to normal

“We are only attending essential works so need to plan how we manage any back logs of work once government restrictions are lifted. We have opted to call customers back so we can try and prevent a deluge of calls on day 1.

What we do know is that in the event of having to move to home working, we now have the technology and competence to do so at very short notice. This is a great positive for us as it means we can continue to provide excellent customer service from anywhere”.