Education comes at a price. And while earning a degree is hard enough, graduating in debt and with no job prospects is even tougher.

If that’s the case, you’re already living the headlines:

That’s grim news—even with the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook 2014 survey expecting employers to hire about 7.8% more graduates than the Class of 2013.

We live in tough times with degrees from the school of hard knocks, where more than 1.6 million graduates with four-year degrees soon will be competing for jobs.  They’ll join the ranks of earlier graduates now unemployed or underemployed, still reeling from the Great Recession. Add to their numbers well-educated, but sidelined professionals who would welcome work that uses their skills.

Virtual Jobs Take Workaday Skills

Like other jobs, virtual work requires hard skills and soft skills—the qualities that all employers want.

Most of all, it takes workaday skills. The fundamentals that apply to any company or industry, such as:

  • Can you listen?
  • Can you connect?
  • Can you continue to learn?
  •  Can you master the technology?
  • Can you bring new ideas to the table?
  • Do you work well with others—and alone?
  • Do you know when to step up—or back away?

At the end of day, can you put them all together, perform the job and serve clients and their customers well?

If you can, the virtual workplace could use your talents.

Given this economic woe, how do you give so much talent a home? One way is with virtual workforces that move with the times and morph to the marketplace.

Consider this Option—Working Virtual

Consultancies, websites and surveys are devoted to workforces that are remote, mobile or virtual. In fact, Global Workplace Analytics went through more than 500 telecommuting studies, reporting on the pros and cons of working this way for companies.

The advantages include:

  • More opportunities for the underemployed and unemployed—citing “18 million Americans with some college education aren’t working.
  • Businesses options to scale up and down—stating “having access to flexible at-home workforce allows call centers, airlines, and other to add and reduce staff quickly as needed.”

While the benefits are many, there are concerns, such as:

  • Remote work is not for everyone—believing workers “should be comfortable with technology or arrangements should be made for remote tech support.”
  • Keeping work secure—although “90% of those charged with security in large organizations feel that home-based workers” are not a security concern.

Working from home—whether as a professional agent or a corporate telecommuter—has come of age. Independent workers make up 30% of the American workforce today. And that number will continue to increase, where an estimated 63 million Americans will telecommute by 2016.

Becoming a home-based agent is a proven work option, but do your due diligence. Research any company well. How thorough is its training? How does it pay and reward people? Know what you’re getting into beforehand, and decide if the culture and chemistry are a good fit. It’s worthwhile to check out what employees and agents are saying about a place, such as on Glassdoor.

Tapping into Talent and Technology—Virtually

A virtual workforce draws its strength from diversity. For example, Working Solutions serves clients and their customers in 32 languages across multiple time zones—all done from inside the United States.

Like any workplace, agents’ backgrounds vary. They include college graduates, military spouses, retirees, and people whose careers changed and their skills remained sharp. Some work full time and others part time. It all depends on their needs and client requirements.

Regardless of demands and demographics, there’s a lot of talent—young, older and in between— outside of corporate America these days. It’s vital and sought after, but being used in more creative and productive ways, enabled by cloud technology. But the cloud means nothing if you don’t have the right people, processes and methodologies behind it.

We’ve invested in the talent and technology for nearly 20 years as a pioneer in the virtual contact center and service industry, transforming the way the world sells and supports clients and their customers.  From an industry standpoint, we see sophisticated and well-connected consumers reshaping the customer experience in their own images—throughout the entire business cycle.

Better-informed consumers require a savvier, more tuned-in and educated workforce to serve their needs—from buying goods to ensuring delivery of services to resolving customer issues. Raising the stakes elevates the conservation about how and where commerce is conducted and business gets done.

Connecting the crowd to the cloud brings new fluidity to the workplace and the marketplace. The dynamics redefine how organizations and workers interact—and companies and consumers engage.

Against this backdrop, a more mobile and increasingly independent workforce moves, evermore in demand and expanding across generations of talent. Perhaps it’s a place for you.

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With organizations poised to spend approximately $100 billion on cloud technologies this year, we know that virtualization is of great interest, particularly with the benefits of higher productivity and cost savings. However, it’s not only technology that is heading to the cloud, but professionals who want to manage their own careers as well. Recently, Working Solutions was featured on Yahoo! Finance discussing this topic and what can be done to prepare for this new “world of work”.

What is Happening

There are three primary movements that impact the way professionals are working:

  • Work is being fractionalized
  • Technology is being virtualized
  • Talent is globalized

Educated, talented professionals who want to make money off their skills and take more control over their careers are capitalizing on these trends, providing services to organizations looking to make the most of a workforce moving toward the cloud. Companies moving to this trend do so because they need people with specialized skills, certifications and education. Another reason to utilize this workforce is to focus on organizational core competencies and outsource those tasks that are necessary but not part of the competency of an organization.

How Does Someone Get Started?

There are ample opportunities for professionals to begin their on-line careers with companies like oDesk or Working Solutions. For our organization, we look for educated professionals who desire flexibility, prefer to have their own business and work as an independent contractor, and have strong skills in specific functions or industries. These professionals also need a good PC and broadband connection.

By focusing on strengths and technology, workers can monetize skillsets in ways not available before the advent of cloud technology. At Working Solutions, we have thousands of at-home agents who provide capabilities and knowledge to enhance our ability to deliver high quality services to our clients and their customers. This is critical with the trend toward more complex transactions. Again, technology steps in providing automation for simple transactions, leaving the more complex ones for agents. It requires a dynamic thinker to properly manage this level of transaction; coupled with our ability to access this stronger talent pool without geographic boundaries.

Wave of the Future

While office buildings are not going away, more of the workforce will continue the move to the cloud. It’s a social, digital, mobile world we live in, meaning organizations and workers will need to adjust to keep up. Ten years ago there were very few independent contractors. Now one-third of the workforce utilizes this model, ensuring they have more control over their environment. While unemployment has supported the trend, so has continued innovation of technology coupled with the desire to access a globalized talent pool.

The physical “workplace” is becoming more and more limited. Making the most of technology, companies are now able to split projects among different people, allowing one to pick up where the other left off (fractionalize), people can work from anywhere and make their own career path (virtualize) and talent can be sourced from anywhere at any time (globalize). Organizations and workers who succeed will adjust to these trends, giving them more and better opportunities for growth.

To learn more about the trend of workforce moving to the cloud, check out the Yahoo! Finance video, or look at my recent book The New World of Work: From Cube to the Cloud.

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Engaging a virtual audience can be a challenge, particularly when your audience can be easily lost to thoughts about errands to run, things to do and generally anything other than the topic at hand. Fortunately, this does not have to be the case. By utilizing well thought-out presentation techniques, you can successfully engage your audience.

Keep It Focused

Multiple topics, no goals and a scattered presentation are an effective way to lose your audience’s attention. Design your presentation with a clear topical focus and objective. By keeping the information focused, it can be presented in multiple ways for effective knowledge transfer and retention.

Use Powerful, Interactive Presentations

It’s not just how the material is designed and delivered; the presentation also needs to be engaging. (Remember the teacher that you had in high school that just droned on…and on…and on? That’s who you want to aspire not to be.)  Enthusiasm is contagious; if you’re not excited about it, why would your audience be? And ask questions to encourage active participation and discussion.

Because your audience will be looking at a screen during the presentation, the content needs to be visually clear, yet interesting. PowerPoint presentations are one vehicle for information; they are easy to create and to be creative with. Large blocks of text are difficult to read; try bulleted lists instead. Use an image to illustrate a point, instead of words on screen. Multimedia such as videos can be added for additional visual interest. But be careful; there’s a fine line between interesting and overboard.

Make It Fun

Get people excited so they’ll want to participate. Contests and games can both impart information as well as check for understanding. Play music to emphasize a point or for a silly “get loose” break. Don’t forget to laugh!

Recognition is also part of the fun. Use on-the-spot kudos to recognize your audience and remember that positive praise goes a long way.

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The people who dedicate themselves to defending our country are to be applauded. However, it’s not only the men or women who enlist, but their families who also dedicate themselves to our country. A great example is the spouses of military personnel who must move frequently in order to support a military career. The constant moving can make it difficult for spouses to find their own career, primarily due to the level of flexibility required. Therefore, virtual careers are an ideal opportunity for military spouses. We support and invite military spouses to apply with us today.

Current Statistics

According to the Department of Defense, 85% of military spouses want or need work, and are highly skilled as evidenced by the information below:

  • 84% have some college, 25% have a bachelor’s degree, and 10% have an advanced degree.
  • As many as 85% of military spouses are seeking out opportunities to earn income for their families, and there is a 26% unemployment rate among them (1 in 4 spouses are without work).
  • 750,000 active duty spouses currently available for job opportunities.

Military families move 14% more often than their civilian counterparts, making more traditional work environments difficult for military spouses to maintain.

Military Spouses Can Go Virtual

Fortunately, today’s corporate environments can be more flexible, particularly with contact center positions and multi-channel environments. The advent of cloud technology and virtualization has created secure environments for individuals to work remotely, even from home.

Working Solutions pioneered the remote agent model, which provides an ideal opportunity for military spouses. The benefits include:

  • Flexible schedules – allow for pinpoint accuracy of a schedule and leaves plenty of time to take care of other family obligations.
  • Work at Home – having the ability to work from home means the ability to work from any base or location.
  • Be Your Own Boss – as a professional independent contractor running a business, there is greater flexibility in setting your own hours.
  • Be Part of a Strong Community – military spouses are already part of a community, but it’s nice to know there are others you can lean on. The Working Solutions agent community thrives on long-lasting friendships and interacts consistently through online tools. The tools certainly provide opportunities for agent development, but also allow for bonds to be built.
  • Challenging and Exciting Opportunities – the agent community is comprised of professional, experienced agents, many of whom have been contracting with Working Solutions for years. These agents in our community provide various types of sales and customer service support. The work is engaging and challenging, making it well suited for experienced professionals desiring more flexibility.
  • Change of Pace – opportunities are available to work with clients from many different industries performing varying types of work. Working Solutions is fortunate to have clients that partner with our organization to ensure success of the engagement. Those individuals with strong experience in travel, finance, utilities, or technology may find at-home agent opportunities a good fit.

Military personnel and their families make many sacrifices to keep our country safe and we are thankful. However, that sacrifice should not keep spouses from having the opportunity to build a sustainable business. We support and invite military spouses to apply with us today. Agents enjoy working with us and we are always proud to add more high-caliber agents to our community.

 

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The Olympics are in full swing and there is nothing more exciting than watching athletes who have dedicated so much time, effort and energy to being the best. These people believe in what they do and are willing to show up and compete on behalf of their countries. But the road to Sochi, or any other Olympic event, is not easy. It’s filled with tears, sweat, injuries, recoveries and a spirit of pushing beyond adversity so that person can simply become the best.

Granted contact center agents are not Olympic athletes, but the spirit and desire of those who want to be the best is similar. They are dedicated to their craft, believing in providing the very best customer service, delivering outstanding information and ensuring resolution to transactions in an expedient and friendly manner.

Whether it’s Olympic athletes or agents, the following steps ensure that you create gold medal teams:

  1. Pick the Best Talent – with athletes, the talent scouts evaluate performance, statistics and look for potential. It is similar with agents. We must ask the best questions, evaluate potential and look for the right skills and attitude.
  2. Make Improvements – even the best athletes have room to grow, and so do agents. Once the best talent is selected, it’s time to implement a knowledge transfer methodology that gets the agent, or athlete, up to speed more quickly. For agents, this includes classes, role playing and testing. For athletes, it’s training, testing and more training.
  3. Continued Coaching – a critical component of an athlete’s success is having the right coach. It is similar for agents. Coaches ensure the right information is delivered so that the athlete, or agent, can make appropriate adjustments and continue the journey to being the best. Our data shows that agents receiving continuous coaching through quality assurance are able to improve more quickly and maintain the improvements longer.
  4. Developing the Right Processes – talent and coaching are foundational elements but can only go as far as processes and tools allow. Think about the bobsled teams. They don’t always have to practice in the snow, and they do not always run the bobsled in training. They have varying processes that ensure maximum athleticism, flexibility and teamwork. The same is true for contact centers. Ensuring the right processes, tools and methodologies are in place provides an environment for success.
  5. Analyze, Evaluate and Move Forward– coaches using the right processes, tools and methodologies provide feedback to athletes who can then analyze and consequently improve their performance. Together they will determine the best course of action for continued training. This process moves beyond the coach / athlete relationship into other areas. Think of an Olympic hockey team. The general manager, trainers, and coaches will evaluate the team as a whole to determine course corrections.In a contact center, the quality assurance and development teams begin the process with consistent feedback to the agents. The operations team will ensure continued communications with the client, which then creates a 360 degree communication cycle to ensure agents are consistently provided the right feedback. The analyses of the project, metrics, customer feedback and agent performance form a solid process that can be evaluated for opportunities to improve and maintain continued growth.

Olympic athletes and top-tier performing agents actually have a lot in common, particularly with their winning mindset. When you combine that with the outstanding coaching, strong processes and right tools, you too can have gold medal agents in your contact center!

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