Homeworking firm Sensée is looking to hire 100 staff from the Isle of Wight due to demand for working remotely there and the availability of super fast broadband.
The firm which supplies customer services support to leading brands, including Argos and Aviva, contacted the island’s Chamber of Commerce about potential jobs.
“The Isle of Wight offers untapped potential for homeworking,” says Steve Mosser, CEO of Sensée. “It’s one of the most connected areas of the UK – if not Europe – and its highly educated population makes it an attractive destination for homeworking. It also has a great tourism industry that is friendly and welcoming, and these skills can be easily transferred into a customer service environment.”
The move follows the island’s recent Government-led fibre rollout project – 99 per cent fibre broadband coverage is expected over the coming years.
Sensée’s model originated in the US with a company called Willow which pioneered homeworking there. Mosser worked for Willow.
Willow wanted to bring homeworking to Europe, but at the time the technology was not advanced enough to support it. Steve eventually left Willow and decided it was still worthwhile trying to set up a similar homeworking company in the UK.
Unlike other homeworking customer service companies, all Sensée’s homeworkers are employees rather than self employed.
teve started up the company with his partner Brigitte Gratton and one major contract and it has grown rapidly since then, in big part due to its agile, homeworking model. It now has over 700 employees and hopes to be at over 1,000 by the end of this year.
“The homeworking model is gaining more and more momentum,” said Vince Bourke, senior vice president.
He adds that all Sensée employees, except three staff who do pre-employment screening, work 100% from home and he admits the model does not suit everyone, but adds that it allows Sensée access to a much broader pool of talent, from people living in rural areas to people with disabilities to working mums. Twenty per cent of its employees have a disability. Some 70% are women and 70% are parents.
They tend to be older than the average call centre worker. The average age of employees is over 40 and the oldest member of staff is 72. Many do other jobs, such as working as musicians, and their Sensée job offers them a bit of security.
Vince says that when he talks to new and existing clients they all recognise that homeworkers are more productive than office-based staff. Everything the company does is online.
That ranges from recruitment to training to management. Staff taking part in training can hear and see each other through the company’s online training room.
Homeworking is supported through a virtual live desk. This means managers are on hand to help out and can also monitor staff activity. There is also an IT helpdesk for any technical problems. Team leaders are in daily contact with their team members so they don’t feel isolated. They can also help agents out during calls by giving their advice.
Vince says new recruits are put through a very rigorous process to test their aptitude and attitude so the company knows they are right for homeworking. The process ensures that there is a low drop-out rate, he adds.
They are shown videos of homeworkers, upload their cv online and are then rung by the recruitment team on the phone. Psychometric testing is also being introduced. Candidates are then invited to virtual assessment sessions where they get to talk to team members about the benefits and pitfalls of homeworking.
After that comes a one to one interview. “We need to be sure that they are committed,” says Vince. Employees are encouraged to move up through the ranks, from homeworking agents to team leader or manager level, and offered suitable training.
In addition to homeworking, staff can sign up for the hours they want as long as they are over the company’s minimum contracted hours. Indeed during the recruitment process they state their preferred hours.
“We are committed to being flexible,” says Vince. Employees are informed two weeks in advance of the hours agreed with clients and they can pick which hours they work on a first come first served basis.
Days are broken into 30 minute chunks and can include evenings. Although the company cannot guarantee everyone will get the hours they want, every week every agent fills in a questionnaire where they are asked about how happy they are with their hours. The level of satisfaction is generally high. If it is not, managers investigate.
Every agent has a weekly coaching session with their manager and also feeds back any concerns about them, for example, if their coaching session was missed for any reason.
Vince says the number of big brands interested in Sensée’s homeworking model is growing. Some want to do the homeworking in house and Sensée offers its tools and experience, rather than staff.
“We can support them,” says Vince. “We don’t want them to do it badly and then for it to fail so they say that homeworking doesn’t work.“
Their experience has taught them what does and doesn’t work. For instance, they know the most sceptical people in a company are usually the operations and workforce management staff and that homeworking doesn’t work well if it is imposed from above by those who are more reluctant, says Vince.
”You have to take them through a journey. We have 10 years of experience and built most of our systems. We want others to benefit from it and the demand for homeworking is definitely there. We get more than 3,000 visitors to our vacancies pages a week.
We are keen that as we grow we grow carefully, without sacrificing any quality.”