The fact that our nation has been struggling in the cold, hard grip of snow for much of the New Year has drawn into sharp focus the need for more flexible ways of working.

For example, many UK call centre businesses are looking at location-independent operation where more agents work from their own homes rather than going to their call centre. High-speed networks and greater Voice-over-IP (VoIP) coverage enable agents to plug into a virtual call centre to hook up to their company’s network. They use VoIP-based client software to control calls and receive screen pops on their PCs so they can do the same job as if they were in the office.

It seems that everybody wins – the call centre remains operational at all times (and it can even save on office costs); the agent has the benefit of working from home – and the customer receives an uninterrupted service.

VoIP is certainly making a much bigger impact in the UK now. Ken Reid of Rostrvm Solutions commented, “2010 will see increased use of VoIP by call centres as they adapt to meet the changes this new decade is starting to demand, whether it be investment in homeworking or at the call centre itself.”

Products such as the rostrvm Switchless Call Centre, which uses off-the-shelf VoIP components to deliver advanced call centre functions, were installed in several contact centres last year.

Another innovation that has attracted interest by those requiring greater flexibility but without excessive investment is the SIP softphone, such as the rostrvm ScreenPhone. This softphone converts a multimedia PC and headset into a fully-functional telephone, supporting call centre activities such as ACD call queuing and interfacing to a predictive dialler system, such as rostrvm OutBound.

Ken Reid explains, “ScreenPhone is not obtrusive – when the agent isn’t on the phone, ScreenPhone is simply an icon in the system tray.”

It will be an interesting year as contact centres balance the need for flexibility with the bottom line on their budget sheet but cost-effective technology is out there and, with the increased competition created by the recession, no one can afford to stand still.