TD has moved 9,500 call center agents home. Some may stay there.

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Toronto-Dominion Bank is moving almost all of its call center employees from 15 different U.S. and Canadian cities to their homes in response to the coronavirus.

It has been a logistical challenge to shift more than 9,000 people but it's working so well Toronto-Dominion may continue to offer it as an option in the future, a signal the pandemic may have long-term ramifications on everything from work to commercial real estate.

Signage is displayed outside a Toronto-Dominion bank branch in Vancouver.

"Just 30 days ago we couldn't even imagine having our contact-center agents working from home," said Greg Smith, the senior vice president who oversees the centers in North America. "And 30 days from now we will have over 9,000 agents working from home."

The agents work 24/7 to serve Canadian banking, wealth and insurance at North America's sixth-biggest bank by assets, along with its U.S. lender TD Bank, whose branch network stretches from Maine to Florida.

The initiative is similar to programs at other firms including American Express, Capital One and Synchrony in rushing to equip customer service representatives to work from home amid a pandemic that has claimed more than 78,000 lives worldwide and shut down a raft of businesses.

Social distancing

Other Canadian banks are also ramping up efforts to send call center staff home. Bank of Montreal, for example, is enabling over half of its call center staff to make the move, and has dramatically lowered the number of on-site staff in each remaining location by sending them to alternative sites, including closed branches to help maintain social distancing.

At Royal Bank of Canada, 85% of its call and operations center employees in personal and commercial banking are already working from home, and the Toronto-based bank has a goal of reaching 95% by early next week.

Toronto-Dominion is able to shift about 350 employees in Canada and 150 in the U.S. each day, and by the end of April almost all of its 9,500 call center staff will be working from home, aside from those with less than three months experience.

"The whole business working together really made this happen: the logistics, the risk component, the technology, the deployment," Toronto-Dominion's Smith said. "We have people working every single night, all night long, every day of the week to make this happen."

The effort hasn't been without its challenges, including deploying all the laptops and monitors — nor risks.

Flexibility embraced

"We know that it is a little bit different working from home — we can't control everything that you can control in the office, so we had to become comfortable with the way we mitigate our risk," Smith said. "That was a big obstacle that we overcame."

Working from home has been embraced by the employees, according to Smith. Workers get an extra 10 personal days to help with day care issues and the ability to change schedules and do split shifts.

When the Covid-19 pandemic ends, Toronto-Dominion expects to keep work-from-home as an option for call center staff.

"There's no telling what this is going to look like when we're all done and how people are going to feel, but I would like to continue to allow agents to work from home even after the crisis," Smith said. "And that would be solely for flexibility."

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