Setting up a call centre requires very careful planning because otherwise employees are often exposed to disturbing noise levels. Today’s article deals with the basic rules that need to be observed to ensure effective working in the telecommunications industry.

Meeting the demands of call centres

The main task in a call centre is to provide advice over the telephone. In terms of office planning, this means that sufficient discretion must be ensured to create a good level of concentration. Special attention must therefore be paid to ergonomic elements such as room acoustics, but also to atmospheric elements such as lighting and design.
In general, a call centre should always have several workplaces that can fit many employees. Usually these are group workplaces, sometimes open-plan offices or open office landscapes. The furnishing should be considered taking this into account. Also, it is important to bear in mind that, theoretically, no cupboards are needed, since few documents and hardly any changing work areas dominate here. Special consideration must be given to the personal individual workplace, since up to 8 hours are spent here without much change.

Choosing an office space for the call centre

Abgetrennete Bereiche sorgen im Callcenter für mehr Konzentration

Separated areas ensure better concentration in the call centre

Before starting to furnish the office, the right office space must be found. Of fundamental importance here are the factors of external noise, ventilation, and possibilities for expansion. The ideal office space is not located directly next to a main road. Noise can still get in even if the windows are insulated against noise. Trucks and emergency vehicles can cause unwanted background noise in a call centre. Especially in summer, the choice made for the office space can prove to be wrong. Offices with a lot of glass and large windows may increase the well-being of employees, but they have a negative effect on temperatures. If the sun can shine unhindered into the offices during the summer, even good air-conditioning systems are stretched to their limits.

Cable shafts and a good infrastructure are essential for the smooth operation of the call centre. Computer, monitor, telephone, desk lamp and other devices have to be wired. An uncontrollable cable tangle can quickly accumulate. Exposed cables are trip hazards and provoke avoidable accidents.

Complying with the regulations for the prevention of accidents is also indispensable. Planning the cable runs in perspective facilitates later expansions and modifications. In large-scale offices, cable runs cannot be avoided. Cables that cannot run along the wall must be secured. For this purpose, the trade offers flat cable ducts that can be glued to the floor and removed again.

Pay special attention to the arrangement of workstations. Avoid direct sunlight that could dazzle you. Workplaces that are placed too close together are not advantageous during daily business. Ideally, a minimum distance with a radius of two metres should be maintained.

Setting up the telephone and server system

The telephone and server system are at the heart of every call centre. To save money on its accommodation can have very unpleasant consequences. Ideally, the telephone and server system should be located in a separate lockable and well-ventilated room. Often, an air-conditioning system is needed to protect the sensitive technology from overheating. Also, a hand-held fire extinguisher is essential. Telephone and server systems are located in earthed metal racks that stand securely. Only the IT management and the executives should have access to it. In order to comply with the legal provisions of the GDPR, the room must be generally secured against unauthorised entry.

Acoustics is the key element

Call centre offices often have to provide space for at least four, but often many more employees who are on the phone non-stop. This means that every employee in a call centre is exposed to constant noise pollution, which must be kept as low as possible. Therefore, it is good to know how acoustics work in a room. It means that the noise source radiates widely into the room. The level is reflected from all smooth surfaces, whether they are laminate floors or cupboard walls. To improve the acoustics in the room, the surfaces that the noise hits must be equipped with absorbers.

Here is a brief explanation of why this is so important:

The rule is to keep the noise pollution per workplace as low as possible. As an example of this: for intellectual activities, the level should not exceed 55dB(A); for routine work such as data collection, it should not exceed 70 dB(A). At a continuous sound level of 80 dB(A) or more, irreversible damage to hearing can occur. For comparison: heavy road traffic and motorbikes have a continuous sound level of 80 dB(A), a circular saw reaches 90 dB(A) and a discotheque even 100 dB(A).

Noise-reducing elements

When setting up a call centre, it is especially important to consider background noise. Noise can also come from outside. Are the walls and windows well insulated? Because the higher the background noise, the higher the speech level. Did you know that a person’s speech level is 54 dB(A) when speaking in a relaxed manner and up to almost 80 dB(A) when speaking in a tense, raised manner? This makes it all more important not to disregard the aspect of acoustics.

This means when setting up a call centre office, the floor should be carpeted and the ceilings and two walls that extend across the corner should have soundproofing elements. Thus, a basis was created for the office. This is because the absorbers are there either to fully absorb the reverberating sound in the room (with a sound absorption coefficient of α = 1) or to reflect it to the lowest possible degree. Real materials usually have a sound absorption coefficient of α = 0-1. This value depends on the frequency. This means that if a material of an absorber has a frequency of 4000 Hz, it can reflect up to a value of α = 1. This depends very much on the fibres, whereby especially at low frequencies voluminous sound absorbers consisting of glass wool and foam are necessary.

Callcenter: Beispiel für den Aufbau von Absorbern

One example for the structure of absorbers

For this purpose, manufacturers now offer numerous options, panels for ceilings and walls in various thicknesses and designs. Curtains made of solid fabrics can also reduce noise somewhat. Partitions divide areas in larger offices, give some privacy and also protect against excessive noise in the workplace. In addition to these points, panels, whether for the wall or as dividers, also provide atmospheric elements. Various shapes and designs offer personalised design options to suit your company.

Ergonomic workplace equipment in call centres

Due to the way call centres work, many people do not consider that a workstation must still offer enough space. Here, the desk should also not be less than 160 cm. This has to do with the work surface on the one hand, but also with the freedom of movement under the desk. If two workstations face each other, the tabletop may also be slightly less than 80 cm deep, but not less than 60 cm. Here it is important to ensure that the eyes are at a sufficient distance from the screen.

For a single workstation, a simple desk with sufficient space for technology and the usual utensils is sufficient. Desks should have an opening through which cables can be passed from below. The computer should be placed under the desk and never on top of it. A mobile metallic bracket serves as a support for the computer to avoid contact with the floor. It is connected to the desk and gives the computer a secure hold and protection against possible water damage.

You don’t necessarily have to buy the overpriced designer chair. However, we would not recommend getting the cheapest model from the furniture discounter. First and foremost, an office chair must be robust, practical and comfortable. Chairs with ergonomically shaped backrests increase the well-being of employees and reduce absenteeism due to back problems. Double-sided armrests in an upholstered version are a must.

Setting up a call centre - what to pay attention to 2

In addition, it is important that footpaths are not disruptive factors. Particularly in call centres, offices with many employees, desks are aligned in such a thoughtless way that any passing by can be disruptive. It is recommended to place no more than three tables next to each other. Then a passageway should be kept clear. This also applies to the area behind one workplace, where a distance of at least one metre should be kept.

Setting up a call centre - what to pay attention to 3

A workplace in a modern curved design

It is also important to include light sources such as windows and, if necessary, align workplaces accordingly. The desks are placed in such a way that the window is next to it, not in front of it or behind it, in order to avoid glare. If there are too few windows, sufficient light, preferably daylights, should be provided.

Cupboards are not absolutely necessary, as the work in call centres is geared towards telephone counselling. But sliding-door cupboards or shelves can also be used as room dividers and acoustic solutions. They can be used to store information material and personal items that could disturb the workplace. Lockable cabinets are particularly suitable for desk sharing, which is often found in this profession.

It should also be taken into account that there is not much movement possible in call centres. Being tied to the workplace is indispensable here. For this very reason, height-adjustable desks should be used in these areas (with working hours of minimum eight hours). Talking on the phone while standing at the desk stimulates the circulation and the mind. It also keeps the body moving and the counselling seems more relaxed over the phone if the employee can walk a few steps.

The atmosphere in the routine work enviroment

Especially since few personal materials are needed at the workplace, it is even more important to provide some atmosphere in call centres. Wall panels, as already mentioned, can be used for this.

Setting up a call centre - what to pay attention to 4

Wall panels with a natural and colourful design

These are now also available in the form of pictures or with moss, which is nicely framed. Plants offer alternative options. These not only ensure a good room climate, but they also give a cosy feeling.
For table dividers, there are often organiser rails in which personal items can be placed nicely. Mugs with slogans can motivate, personal pictures leave memories.

Orgatec 2016: Trennelemente am Schreibtisch

Dividing elements at the desk

Otherwise, you could use colours in your interior design. The walls do not always have to be the centre of attention; uniform or matching accessories such as flowerpots, picture frames and lighting elements also create a coherent picture.

A touch of personality in the office also reflects a sympathetic and trustworthy image to the outside world. Especially when customers are on site from time to time, an appealing image should remain. Discreet details such as nice humidifiers or fruit bowls also leave a friendly impression.

It is important not to disregard this aspect, particularly in the call centre. The grey, dreary image of the call centre is changing more and more, and the improved working environment also has a positive effect on a telephone conversation and in consultations.

Conclusion: setting up a call centre

When setting up a call centre, mistakes can already be avoided during the preparatory planning. Perspective planning that takes all eventualities into account pays off. The investment costs are easy to calculate and, in the best case, pay for themselves very quickly.

When setting up the call centre, keep the following things in mind:

  • elect sufficiently large office space
  • be aware of ambient noise
  • Does the office get too hot in summer? Is air conditioning installed?
  • do not place too many people at group workstations
  • observe the prescribed minimum sizes of work areas
  • make sure that escape routes are available and large enough
  • also remember that fire extinguishers are available
  • carpeting helps to reduce noise levels
  • use absorbers and dividers for better acoustics
  • separate team spaces to reduce distractions caused by visual stimuli

The post "Setting up a call centre – what to pay attention to" written by:

Sophie Voigtländer

Expertin für Bürogestaltung und Ergonomie

Sophie joined deskonia at the beginning of 2021. Since then, she is mainly responsible for translating all kinds of texts into English.

She studied International Communication and Translation.

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