How to Scale your Support Team with Part Time Employees

If you’re feeling the strain of a busy inbox (and who hasn’t) you’re probably thinking about ways to lessen the burden and scale effectively. Perhaps you’re thinking of expanding into a new territory, or you’re already finding your inbox full when you start work in the morning (I blame those users down under). There’s not enough work for another full time employee, but something has to be done.

Enter the world of part time employees. They offer the possibility of adding as much (or as little) capacity as you need to get through your workload. And hiring part time can be very cost effective if done right.

You might think it’s tough to find great part time workers, outside of students. But that’s simply not true anymore. In 2017, 32% of workers reported having a side-gig on top of their full time employment. And this number is growing. More and more full time, qualified employees are looking for side hustles.

In this article, we’ll walk through when you should start thinking about part time employees, the drawbacks of part time, and how you can make it work for your team.

When does hiring part time employees make sense?

There’s a lot of advantages to part time workers over full time staff. They’re often more flexible with working schedules. Casual workers can fill in a few hours a day, outside of work hours, and even on the weekends.

Languages can be tough to staff for, especially if there’s not a lot of demand for one language. Part time workers can login to work from anywhere in the world, so you have access to a whole new talent pool. Maybe you just need four hours a day of Spanish support?

Not ready for a full-timer, need a specific skill, time-zone, or flexibility? Consider a part-timer. Click To Tweet

Part time help is also great for seasonal or event based businesses that experience inconsistent ticket volumes across seasons, launches or months. For example, an ecommerce business might bring in part time staff just for the Christmas rush. A SaaS company might bring in part time help for a big promotion when they’re expecting a lot more new customers.

They are a smaller commitment than a full time employee. If you just need a little extra help, it might not make sense to bring on another full time customer support agent. Part time workers provide just a few hours of additional support to give you breathing room. You can pay hourly, which definitely helps with the budget as your grow.

Sounds great.Are there any drawbacks to part time employees?

The biggest drawback to part time workers is the cost of onboarding and training. If your product is extremely technical, or things change quickly, part time workers might be more hassle than they’re worth. They won’t work frequently enough to stay up to date, and you’ll be spending a proportionately longer time training them.

If your onboarding time is very long, it makes more sense to invest that time in a full-time employee.

Part timers can also involve a lot of administrative overhead. You’ll need to keep track of hours worked, manage their workload and deal with all sorts of HR related stuff. If your company isn’t mature enough to have payroll processes in place, it might make sense to build that up first before bringing on more staff.

You can also work with third parties that handle the payroll for you. For example, ZeroChaos provides an Employer of Record service, which means they do all the paperwork for you, but the contractor reports to you.

Recruiting and Hiring Part Time Support Agents

You might be surprised at how easy it is to find qualified part time workers. There’s tons of reasons why people look for part time work, including:

  • Wanting a side hustles to make more money
  • Transitioning from parental leave back to the workforce
  • Having health related reasons to not work full time
  • Searching for a work/life balance
  • Supporting their entrepreneurial endeavours

When you’re recruiting part time workers, ensure your customer service job description is clear on the job requirements including the exact hours you need coverage in. Can they work whenever they want, as long as they keep up? Or are you trying to cover a specific 2 hour time frame on Mondays and Wednesdays?

In 2017, 2% of workers reported having a side-gig on top of their full time employment. Click To Tweet

It can be tempting to be somewhat laissez-faire about hiring part-time workers. After all, they aren’t going to be around all the time — they aren’t a “real employee”. But approaching it from a “warm body is better than nobody” perspective is the wrong attitude. Part time customer support workers will be just as critical as your full time employees. They work on the front line after all. Even a few poor responses can put your great customer service reputation at risk.

Part timers also need to be driven, focussed and able to help themselves. If they are covering support in off-hour time-zones, they will often be working by themselves. They will need to be comfortable with searching for answers and making decisions without needing to ask permission for everything. Hiring “just anybody” won’t actually help give your customers better support during these off hours.

There’s no need to lower your hiring standards for part timers. In fact, they might even have to be the sharpest workers on the team to keep up!

Onboarding Part Time Employees

The time and energy it takes to onboard new part time employees is one of the drawbacks of hiring part timers. In order to make it as efficient as possible, it’s key to have a plan in place. Relying heavily on documentation means that your new employee can get a running start, because they don’t need to rely on a supervisor for hands on instruction.

Approaching part-timers a “warm body is better than nobody” perspective is the wrong attitude. Click To Tweet

Secondly, just because they aren’t full time employees doesn’t mean they don’t need a full orientation. They will still need to know when they get paid, who to go to for HR issues, where to find information. Take the time to introduce part timers to the rest of the company (along with what their hours are) to make them feel like part of the team… because they are!

Managing Part Time Employees

The biggest challenge with part time employees is communication. Because they aren’t working consistently, they might miss updates that seem obvious to full time employees. To combat this potential knowledge gap, it’s important to over communicate information to your part-time team.

Invite them to team meetings, if it’s convenient for their timezone. They will also benefit from hearing how the team is doing, what the priorities are for the week and get tips on difficult situations.

Keep all updates in the same place, so it’s easy for them to read through at the start of their shift. Maybe it’s a daily email, maybe it’s a #meta channel on Slack that only contains updates. Regardless, don’t let important information get chaotically scattered across channels. Keep it easy and quick for contractors to get the information they need to do their job.

Check in frequently. You probably onboarded new part time help because you were busy. But don’t get so busy that you never check in with your team. Ask how things are going, and if they have any questions. Because they are only there for a few hours a week, you have to work even harder to build a working rapport with them.

Have a Part Time Party

Part time agents are useful for covering a wide array of coverage gaps. Whether you’re just not quite ready for a full time employee, need a specific skill set or time-zone covered, or just need the flexibility of contract workers, it makes sense to consider a part time option.

As more and more workers embrace the need for alternative schedules, the pool of part time talent will continue to grow. Being able to take advantage of this trend and incorporate part time employees into your support team strategy will keep you growing gracefully.

Sarah Chambers is a Customer Support Consultant and Content Creator from Vancouver, Canada. When she’s not arguing about customer service, she’s usually outdoors rock climbing or snowboarding. Follow her on Twitter @sarahleeyoga to keep up with her adventures.




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