Is remote CATI fieldwork actually better in the long term?

Most businesses have had to rapidly re-evaluate how they operate. For market researchers, reliant on call centres to undertake some fieldwork, we had a challenge.

We found that our usual outsourced suppliers for CATI research were all unavailable, mostly because they were at capacity with customer service and NHS work. With contracts to fulfil, we had to adapt. But could we do so in a way that actually works better and may become the new normal?

Setting up a fully remote call centre to undertake market research surveys

You can’t have a physical call centre at the moment (and for who knows how much longer). Everyone’s gone remote. But when life returns to normal, is a remote operation actually preferable?

Is it more effective to have staff conducting telephone fieldwork from home, than in an office?

So, we took on a project and decided to run an experiment (because we are market researchers, after all).

First, we chose four categories that we would asses.

1 – Recruitment and HR

2 – Training and IT setup

3 – Quality Control

4 – Performance

Recruitment and HR:

In the past we needed to use a mix of traditional job websites, referrals from internal staff, recruitment agencies, partnerships with universities and Job Centres to recruit.

But the restriction to a specific geography was always a challenge – you’re limited to the people available within a commutable distance. And with the short-term nature of the work, it was always difficult to maintain consistency of quality and reliability.

The economic impact of Covid has left many people stuck without secure employment, with many businesses changing their model to have smaller numbers of staff in physical location and many people working from home.

This time, we only advertised on job websites. Shortly after going live, we got 400+ CV’s per day, and the quality was unbelievably high. This is partly due to a larger number of over-qualified candidates on the market, but also the removal of geographic restriction allowed us to access a larger pool.

This allowed us to choose the best potential agents to interview for positions – and we had much more choice than before. We filled the positions within days.

Initial Training and IT Setup:

Now we had the agents, the challenge was how to train them on our processes and IT Systems remotely.

The first priority of anyone conducting fieldwork remotely is one of security. How can you ensure data is secure when everyone has different hardware, security settings, software, etc?

The answer is fortunately quite simple: simplify your systems.

Nowadays most fieldwork companies and research agencies who conduct CATI will be using a cloud-based system. Most are simple and have access controls as a standard. They invest heavily in their security settings making them trustworthy partners.

Our particular dialler is great, and we have been working with them for many years. It is accessible on most browsers and from both Mac and PC operating systems. We know our way round the system and how to troubleshoot any issues.

It took 1 hour per new agent for us to show them how access the system and how to connect to make VOIP calls. We have a two page document with FAQ’s and some simple visuals/videos on how to troubleshoot common issues.

We used Zoom to make this much easier and were able to have productive 1:1 sessions with each agent to ensure everything was in working order before calls started.

Quality Control:

Quality control is a huge factor for fieldwork operations. No one wins from badly collected data.

We adopted simple and manageable team structure that could easily scale to any size operation.

For every 10 market research agents we had:

1 * Team leader who was responsible for:

  • Managing the calling data in accordance with all regulation
  • Ensuring demographic quotas were achieved
  • Dealing with IT issues
  • Second line call handling
  • Communicating with the agents any notes / improvements required

1 * Quality Control administrator who was responsible for listening to the recorded calls to:

  • Check the agents were completing the calls accurately
  • Look out for a consistent friendly and professional tone from the agents
  • Observe positive trends and recommend to the Team Leader that other agents do the same
  • Observe negative trends and recommend to the Team Leader appropriate action

By using commonly accessible resources such as WhatsApp, Zoom, and email we are able to stay in constant communication with our agents.

These 12 person teams reported directly (via the Team Leader) to the Project Director and Fieldwork Director.


We found the overall level of performance started slow, but then rapidly increased as agents got used to the remote set up and quality control measures kicked in. It then stayed at a high level for the remainder of the project.

Conventional call centres are very distracting places, not only the sounds of 100+ agents on the phone, but managers, IT staff, quality control agents, directors, clients all conducting quiet conversations.

This is all removed when agents are calling from home. We found productivity to be slightly behind a conventional operation to start with. That’s because there are different distractions at home. This is the downside of a remote operation.

But productivity soon exceeded the traditional set up. How?

We chose a stunningly simple method to keep our agents engaged. It isn’t complicated and works almost every time.

Pay them more. Simple.

In our experience agents who are paid more than the market rate are considerably more engaged with the job and perform at a higher rate.

Not only do you save money in the long run as performance is high, but you keep your best performers. As more companies move their operations to a state of permanent WFH, it is important to maintain your talent.

Plus, the revenue saved by not operating a full-time office with all the associated costs is more than sufficient to pass the savings on to both your clients, and staff, while maintaining a sustainable margin.


We think this could be the future of CATI fieldwork, even when offices open properly again. A wider recruitment pool, reliable IT and strong quality control processes ensure quality remains high. The absence of fixed property costs means you can pay agents more, without compromising margins.

And for firms that didn’t have a physical call centre in the first place, the savings are immediate.

Have you used a remote operation during the crisis? Or are you thinking of outsourcing to one? Drop us a line, tell us your experience.

Michael Hantman
About the author
Michael Hantman
Former Managing Director of 150 agent contact centre focussing on B2C data collection. Over 10 years of operations and project management experience in campaigns and fieldwork.