The challenges of post pandemic working and impacts on CX
The rush to get people working from home wasn’t a revolution.
The rush to get people working from home wasn’t a revolution. It was a reaction. For some, it’s been a dream and for others a nightmare. For some employers, the prospect of saving money on property is too hard to resist as many employees get used to and enjoy the benefits of home working. They have yet to process the implications of moving from 2,000 people in one building to 2,000 buildings with one person in, and all the variability they bring in equipping and supporting different configurations. For some, home working has been so successful, they’re considering replacing redundant disaster recovery sites with home working, and if they get it right will save millions. For many organisations the pandemic hasn’t changed their culture, it revealed it. Companies must not only address this but also acknowledge the impact this has had on their customer’s experience with them.
Let’s not forget employees have been asked to change the way they work in a few days; a process that previously took years, as their IT and HR services scrambled to deploy meeting technologies, health and safety guidance and support and new digital channels to service customers. These reactive efforts have a direct impact on how employees can deliver against the organisation’s targeted CX. For example, contact centre agents are particularly affected because of the need to serve customers in quiet surroundings. Not everyone has a private space or spare room in their home or internet speeds to support high bandwidth work applications. When coupled with homeschooling and both parents online in the same room, it’s easy to understand why that’s a nightmare. It is important for organisations to really consider: how much has this sudden shift in ways of working disrupted or benefited customers - are they being kept on hold for longer before their call gets answered? Are they receiving a more personalised genuine interaction as people are in the comfort of their homes? Have employees become more autonomous and is this being noticed by customers?
The easing of pandemic restrictions as vaccine rollouts scale and accelerate presents only a small window of opportunity for organisations to be proactive and create working environments that dramatically improve in-building and meeting experiences with remote workers. Executives are anticipating more waves, the spread of variants and further lockdowns, and however improbable, know the consequences of being unprepared next time around could be fatal for their business - with sick employees and understaffed teams leading to unhappy customers who end up leaving for competitors.
The BBC recently published a story ‘Covid: people are tired of working from home’, citing many of the reasons previously described, with the CEO of Goldman Sachs calling home working an ‘aberration’. There’s an inevitability about getting people back to the office because social and physical contact is the human condition. Without it, we can’t exchange the unwritten, unspoken, hidden vast storehouse of knowledge held ‘in brain’ by every human being, based on their emotions, experiences, insights, intuition, observations and vocation.
Also, without gossip, there would be no society 😊.
But the very purpose of offices must be challenged and needs special attention because the pandemic has created ideological differences within the workforce related to its perceived risk of infection. Employees sit on a spectrum of ‘I’m only coming back if spaces are cleaned every ten minutes’ to ‘I’m not coming back until it’s normal, and consequently have different attitudes towards vaccines. This calls for the design of ‘no touch’ to ‘high-touch’ environments and reimagined formats of physical spaces. In the United States, some organisations are changing the doors of meeting rooms to slide by pressing a foot pedal to avoid people touching a handle and others like Salesforce are only inviting vaccinated employees back to the office.
Vendors are upping their game with AI and voice-activated, no-touch, meeting room experiences. They’re also addressing what Dr Nicola Millard, BT’s innovation lead describes as horrible hybrids; meetings in which people have joined with a variety of methods and devices that disrupt flow, dynamics and the integrity we expect in meetings in the analogue world. When companies are designing their post-pandemic office, it is essential the overall employee experience is considered, understanding how people feel at different moments in the office to drive the design based on what their employees need to feel comfortable and happy - from the moment they walk out their house front door to the moment they get home.
Ultimately, organisations will need to give people choices and have a rare opportunity to get back in touch with their employees and customers and start a continuous dialogue to co-create new environments, spaces and ways of working. Leadership must also adapt to guiding and influencing in the virtual world. They’ve historically rejected ‘social collaboration’ apps and want them to go away. This is a mistake. Now fully adopted they come with a wealth of behavioural data, patterns of use and insights useful to employees and employers alike.
Crucially, some of the long lists of feature updates in vendor applications can result in unexpected and undesirable behaviours especially when they have deep integrations to other business apps. Decisions about which ones to switch on or off, or how they combine to change the way people work should not be driven by IT - but based on what employees need to be best equipped to engage with customers.
As the UK is starting to evolve to a new, post- Covid normal, organisations must consider what the new normal way of working is for their employees. When re-establishing their office environments, they must ensure they not only enable employees to feel comfortable and safe but also equip them in the best possible way to serve customers - both virtually and face to face. As one of the 3 pillars that underpin a positive employee experience, investing in the physical environment is an investment that is intertwined with, (and will positively impact) your CX.