To return or not to return? That is the question. From access to talent, the cost of office space, to staff satisfaction, work-life balance and re-engineering operating models, there’s plenty to consider for contact centre operators when it comes to getting back to the office.
There’s no easy answers, but there are plenty of options to help build a strategy that walks the fine line between the benefits that remote work has delivered, like talent pool and productivity, and reclaiming the best of the office – such social interaction and closer collaboration.
Here, we drill down on four key factors to look at when considering if the effort of an office move – whether it be establishing, setting up a satellite or a full blown HQ move – and on the positive outcomes for people, customers and the bottom line.
1. Talent time
While the shift to remote working and the rise of online collaboration tools has meant that where a person lives is a secondary consideration to the best person for the role, it’s still tricky to build a productive and well-functioning team from afar.
Finding a location that offers a large, ready-made talent pool ‘in situ’, along with being easily reachable by remote workers, gives the opportunity to have a significant proportion of your team working together physically on a part time basis, as well as getting together for planning, training and team-building events.
According to Mark Grimson, Economic Development Manager at Wollongong City Council, access to talent is the top concern of businesses considering a new office location.
Around 23,000 Wollongong locals commuted to Sydney daily for work prior to the pandemic lockdown, but increasingly they’re looking for local opportunities, meaning the city has a ready-made, highly skilled talent pool.
“Wollongong is a city well-placed to address the demand for talent. Its commuter workforce is highly skilled, both in managerial and professional roles and skilled labour roles including recruitment, insurance and tech.
“We know that many of these residents would prefer to not return to the daily three-hour commute, and rather work where they live, with organisations that have great opportunities to progress their career,” Mr Grimson said.
Graduates from the University of Wollongong ‘top up’ this group of professionals in the city, as thousands graduate from its highly rated programs each year.
2. The right space for the team and the budget
Enticing the team back to the office – whether on a part-time or full-time basis, will be an easier proposition with a space that offers a dynamic and social environment.
Meanwhile, the space should be fit-for purpose – whether that means a smaller footprint to reduce budget, or a flexible space to accommodate scaling for workstations or meeting spaces.
A key change in Wollongong has been the significant uplift in A-grade office space in the city’s CBD, with a number of recently completed commercial developments and more space in the pipeline, including offices that will have options for flexible floor plans.
The lower cost per square metre of commercial space in Wollongong is one of the considerations taken into account (alongside salary and staff turnover cost) in research that has shown Wollongong is the least expensive location for a 150 seat knowledge service centre operation, when compared to Sydney CBD, Parramatta CBD and Melbourne CBD*. In fact, the research showed Wollongong was a 30% more cost effective alternative.
“We know that in this post COVID environment, many businesses are looking to re-examine their business model. They’re looking at their accommodation needs, and whether looking to establish a new satellite office or any corporation looking to onshore its back of house operations, Wollongong is well placed to accommodate those requirements,” Mr Grimson said.
3. Staff retention and location
Attracting staff to your organisation is one thing, retaining them is an entirely different proposition. There are many factors that contribute to retention and there’s no ‘one size fits all approach’.
Most organisations invest heavily in retaining staff and it is particularly relevant in the contact centre industry, where recruitment is competitive and on-boarding training is significant. Big efficiency savings can be made when staff turnover is low.
Fifth Quadrant research showed that staff turnover in a typical shared service operation was significantly lower in Wollongong – at 8 percent, when compared to the turnover rate of contact centres across Australia (19 percent)*.
It’s a trend reported anecdotally by organisations already based in Wollongong, with the CEO of health insurer Peoplecare, Dr Melinda Williams, attributing this to the lifestyle that the coastal city affords.
“I know that lifestyle is a major reason for our low staff turnover rates,” Dr Williams says. “Staff that chose to come to Wollongong, they are drawn to the lifestyle and values, the work-life balance.”
By reducing the amount of time that your team spend commuting – a typical commute in Wollongong is between 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the transport mode – people can arrive to work more energetic, and productive, and feel more satisfied with their work-life balance.
Charisma, energy and a “willingness to go the extra mile, both for their colleagues and the business” are attributes of the team of almost 550 at Mercer Administration Services Wollongong office, according to its People and Culture Leader, Renee Whiteside.
“I think there’s a general sense of meaning and purpose in the locals. And by being able to have that work-life balance – family, career, hobbies, education, career – it means we have incredible retention rates,” she says.
4. Strategic location, staying connected
Exactly what the ‘new way of working’ looks like is unclear in the long-term, still shifting in the tailwind of the pandemic lockdown.
It’s likely though that connection to the big cities will still be important – whether it is to business HQ, to the offices of business clients or to travel onwards to other cities and countries.
Proximity to Sydney – whilst offering access to talent, to premium offices and a lifestyle that keep your team stable – is one of the major drawcards of the Wollongong CBD, when considering ease of connectivity and management oversight.
Just one hour’s drive from Sydney airport – as well as the planned second airport in Western Sydney, regular trips for business to Sydney is within easy reach.
According to Martin Braithwaite, General Manager, Business Transformation, Managed Services for NEC Australia, who is based in the global tech giant’s Wollongong office, a top benefit of the city is that “we are still close enough to Sydney to catch a flight, or travel to our Sydney NEC office for meetings”.
“I love that Sydney airport is only an hour away, and the local airport [servicing Melbourne and Brisbane] is 10 minutes away. I feel connected to Australia and the rest of the world,” Braithwaite says.