Blue sky thinking?
One week today marks the Summer Solstice - the shortest night of the year. The thought of the official start of summer being just days away is a cheery one whether you’re looking forward to Royal Ascot, strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, or packing your flip flops for the beach.
But what does the advent of summer mean in the workplace? For many, it means having to juggle staffing resources to cover holidays; making plans to gear up or down, depending whether your business experiences a traditional summer activity peak or a lull. It can also mean racing at full pelt to get big projects over the line before your clients and your colleagues head off to the sun.
When it comes to human behaviour in the workplace, a host of academic studies show that summer and all that it (hopefully) entails - longer, brighter days and warmer temperatures actually does have a bearing on how effectively we work and the quality of our interaction with customers.
Academics are particularly ‘hot’ on summertime behavioural theories and several have used call centres as testing grounds. So, if you are wondering what to expect as summer kicks in, here are a few nuggets with a sun-kissed flavour.
A scientific study on the effect of spending time in daylight or artificial light showed that greater exposure to daylight makes us more alert, improving performance - although perhaps not if you come to work bleary-eyed from waking up too early every morning. A study by Heschong Mahone Group found that more daylight and better views in call centres could improve call performance by up to 12% while a related study saw improvements of up to 25% percent in mental function and memory recall.
As the mercury rises outdoors, you need to maintain an ambient temperature indoors but beware of whacking the air con up too high: research by Cornell University showed that if employees are too cold, a resulting drop in performance costs employers 10% more per hour, per employee.
Researchers found that when the temperature in an office was lowered to 20 degrees Celsius, employees made 44% more errors and were less than half as productive as when the temperature was a more balmy 25 degrees.
Cornell did one test I relate to (as someone whose hands are frequently freezing) - people were asked to hold either heat packs or cooling packs in their hands before being asked their views on a hypothetical company. People with warm hands expressed higher job satisfaction and greater willingness to buy from or work for companies they were asked about than those with cold hands.
It shows that seasonal issues can impact more than productivity, they can also affect brand engagement and willingness to buy. Campbell’s soup marketeers famously created a “Campbell Soup Misery Index’ to work out local radio ad spend in relation to US weather patterns. Figuring out that people are more likely to buy soup in cold weather isn’t rocket science but the way the brand calibrated marketing efforts based on this understanding was a watershed moment.
Summer can also be a peak time for staff absence as people may be tempted to sneak an unauthorised day at the beach or bunk off to watch the Wimbledon final. We can never totally eradicate unauthorised absence but more enlightened thinking about flexible working solutions could go a long way to addressing these issues.
If you know both your customers and your staff are going to be glued to the TV watching a big match, you can schedule shift patterns around that. Blended solutions like hybrid workplace-home working shifts may be an option, allowing scheduling of split shifts to cover peak demand.
The split shift is less workable in traditional centres where people may have to commute long distances for short shifts and the employer has to pay for lighting, heat and auxiliary staff even if only a few employees are present. That is where remote workers or homeworkers can be a practical seasonal solution, a realisation dawning on more and more large corporations.
We’ve lined up a webinar on homeworking on June 25 hosted by Plantronics and we’re looking forward to fresh thinking on an area of growing interest. So dial in, unless of course you’re going to be too busy watching the tennis.