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How contact centre design is pioneering new approaches to the workplace

Posted on April 2, 2015 by Charles Marks

It’s easy to take it for granted, but what the UK’s contact centre industry has learned over many years is how the design and layout of their offices can affect their performance and that of their employees. Indeed the two are closely interlinked as the happiness and productivity of individuals in the workplace has a direct bearing on the performance of the organisation. So, while contact centres may attract some criticism for their layouts, they are also aware of their responsibilities to ensure they create a working environment that fosters the wellbeing of staff. Although much criticised, the truth is that contact centres not only apply mainstream office design models to create a productive working environment, they are in many ways pioneers of a new and progressive approach.

The main focus of criticism of contact centre design appears to focus on its near universal use of open plan offices. But the truth is that this is the default office design model across nearly all sectors of the UK economy, because it has a lot of advantages. The difference with contact centres is that, unlike many other organisations, they have near very high occupancy rates at workstations. By definition contact centre work is far more desk based than many other sectors. This creates challenges, not only in terms of managing sound and privacy but also in terms of the performance of the building.

As Stuart Jones of Teleperformance explains in our recent case study of the company’s new contact centre at Baltic Place (top), the use of a well considered heating, ventilation and air-conditioning installation is essential in creating a productive working environment. So too is the provision of meeting, communal and break out space away from the core open plan of the building. This is no different to the way the majority of offices are designed now. The difference with contact centres is a matter of degrees.

In the same way, processes may be important in the way contact centres function, but that does not mean they have any less need for the sharing of ideas and information or teamwork. Some of this happens organically as a consequence of an open plan layout, but carefully designed meeting and collaborative spaces can enhance communication, open up lines of thought and the creation and sharing of ideas. The same spaces are also likely to include private work areas for specific tasks and social spaces so people can interact more properly on a personal level and develop relationships.

Similarly, training and development is essential in getting people to be good at what they do. Indeed for most contact centre environments, an investment in training underpins any commitment to a quality service. That is why most contact centres incorporate extensive training facilities and technology.

While many contact centres are still characterised according to an old stereotype of battery farms or white collar factories, the truth is somewhat different. Modern contact centres have evolved to become sophisticated, high-tech showcases of service, support, and sales. Meanwhile, the look and layout of call centres is changing to keep up with the new demands being placed on them.

There is also a growing recognition for their role in the creation of a multi-platform but still predominantly human interface between customers and the organisation. For many companies and their customers it provides the only interface they have with each other so it is essential that the contact centre functions as seamlessly and well as possible. This can only be achieved by acknowledging the importance of individual team members and how they can be supported by their working environment and the company’s culture.