What does customer service leadership look like as companies adopt work-from-home policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? According to research firm Gartner, they should prioritize changes in their approach to communication, workforce management, and incentives and rewards.

“A work-from-home workforce, if managed and nurtured properly, can raise productivity, engagement and employee retention,” says John Quaglietta, senior director analyst in the Gartner Customer Service & Support practice. “Overseeing a team of work-from-home employees doesn’t come naturally to many leaders who are accustomed to engaging with service reps frequently throughout the day. This will require changes in leadership and management approaches to ensure engagement and productivity, but service leaders should understand that most day-to-day functions will remain relatively the same.”

An April 17th survey of 59 customer service and support leaders revealed that 80 percent of customer service and support leaders plan to increase work-from-home programs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The survey also revealed the top areas of concern for service leaders regarding work-from-home include environment (64 percent), new hire onboarding (64 percent) and employee well-being (58 percent) at the top of the list. Technology issues are the least of their concerns (36 percent).

As service leaders plan for a more remote workforce, Gartner analysts suggest prioritizing changes in their leadership approach. Communication is one of the key differences when shifting to a work-from-home approach, so service leaders must ensure they communicate clearly and often with their workforce. Gartner also recommends a proactive approach to work-from-home culture building, inspiring teams to collaborate, and communicate and provide avenues and opportunities for teams to express feedback and participate in work-from-home program development.

To effectively monitor performance with a work-from-home workforce, Gartner advises service leaders to take a “trust but verify” approach. Implement standards, controls and management systems to enable teams to stay accountable while being able to thrive in this new setting.

In regards to incentive and rewards programs, Gartner recommends service leaders rethink how to best motivate team members through different means. Those incentive and reward programs that worked onsite may now be irrelevant in a work-from-home setting. Instead, recognize team members for qualities and behaviors indicative of successful work-from-home employees, such as productivity, accountability, collaboration and communication. Rewards programs will need to be augmented as well.