For companies considering introducing an outsourced work-at-home element to their customer service, it’s important to consider the three distinct work-at-home models:

Contractor – agents are contractors to the partner, they aren’t an employee and are paid only for the hours they work.

Employee – this is seen in two forms:

Contract hours – agents have an employment contract with guaranteed hours. The agent is an employee of the partner.

Zero-hours – agents have a contract of employment but are not guaranteed paid hours. While they are classed as employees, they are paid only for the hours they are given

Each of the models has its own limitations and benefits, which companies are wise to consider when deciding on the best approach for them.


As a contractor, while agents receive training for the work they’ll do, they are responsible for the cost of it, even to the extent that they may be asked to pay to access modules. So, they may complete their training, at their own cost, and end up with no paid income at the end of it.

With the employment model, training time is paid and delivered by the brand or outsourced partner, though in some cases zero-hours employees may be asked to complete training unpaid.


In many cases, contractors and zero-hours employees must provide their own equipment. The partner will provide the minimum required specifications and run tests to ensure compliance.

While cost-effective for the company, this means that agents may invest their own money in equipment and then not work enough hours to recoup the cost, or may find through a required upgrade that their equipment can no longer be used.

Bring your own device (BYOD) also introduces technical uncertainties which may result in unproductive hours that they are not paid for.

Under the contracted-hours model, equipment is provided, and full support, and the employer is responsible to maintain it.

Hours & Income

When work is consistently available, many agents work happily as contractors or on zero hours contracts for years. However, during an economic downturn, the outsource partner has no obligation to provide them hours and income, while they are still contracted to the company.

As contracted-hours employees, agents know the hours they will be paid for each week, and that their employer is responsible to pay them for those hours. When it comes to working extra hours, employment laws differ across Europe. In some cases, additional hours above their contract cannot be offered and in others, if more work is available, agents will be offered the extra hours.

The three models are different, but this is not to say any of them are wrong.

From the brand’s perspective, the contractor and zero-hours models work well if their business is volatile and flexibility is needed to meet unpredictable demand. However, as contractors can work for whoever they choose, you may find they’re unavailable when you need them.

Many brands that haven’t previously used work-at-home for their customer service, are likely to be looking for a model that closely aligns to an in-centre operation. The contracted-hours employee model is most suitable in this case. It provides them with support in both training and equipment, as well as the reassurance that they will receive their contracted hours.

With SYKESHome, all our work-at-home agents are contracted-hours employees. This model has the greatest benefits for our clients, our agents, and ourselves. To find out more about how we can support your company into work-at-home, please get in touch.

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