Now is time to up the ante in enhancing the digital/hybrid workplace experiences, argues this UCC expert.

With many employees now accustomed to working from home, it is now a good time to take stock of how business collaboration has risen to the challenges. 

Collaboration tools are being used more than ever, and every organization has seen the nature of work evolve as employees embraced unified communications and collaboration (UCC) functionality in various forms.

In years past, the inertia of comfort zones in traditional workflows had impeded adoption of new tools and an overall shift to cloud computing. Organizations tended to hang on to, and ‘sweat the assets’. With the forced shift to work from home due to the pandemic, organizations have accelerated their collaboration strategies and are now asking for help to move the entire workforce to the Cloud and retire their old assets as quickly as possible.

Turning from exception to a rule

But by and large, the widespread adoption of UCC has been successful, with employees embracing their tools and just getting on with work, calls moving to the internet, and the organization simply adapting. 

It has been so successful, in fact, that it appears in 2021, that a substantial part of the workforce— perhaps as much as 50–60%—will likely continue to work from home permanently. Remote or mobile workers are now the rule, not the exception, driving massive changes in requirements for office facilities, networks, security and processes. 

With the dust from the initial mass exodus settling, organizations are taking a hard look at how remote collaboration capabilities can be improved. So, what are some immediate steps they can take, and what are the new collaboration technologies that will likely emerge in the next few years?

Rethinking the Employee Experience

The IP-PBX in each office may be taking an early retirement, and users are now using UCC soft clients and the internet, or their mobile phones, to make calls, but a surprising number of workers still have under-utilized, old-school public switched telephone network (PSTN) numbers.

After the initial move to work-from-home, organizations had taken active steps to ensure their users joined meetings over IP, to minimize toll charges. The next step will be to recognize that users just need a soft client, a data connection and a mobile number, and to retire the old phone numbers. For organizations that have not done so yet, as a first step there are well established services available for mobile expense management and mobile device management that can be leveraged.

Beyond that, however, most need to give some real thought to redefining user profiles, looking at secure connectivity for home workers, and fully leveraging UCC soft clients loaded on the mobile device. There are immediate steps that can be taken now to optimize a digital employee experience in the new workplace, and there will be further opportunities with the rollout of 5G over the next few years.

We can probably expect many of the cloud providers now offering UCC services with traditional telephony to start offering mobile numbers and data subscriptions, creating new alternatives to traditional mobile plans. While it does mean a rethink of existing processes, security, and management, there are significant cost, productivity, and user experience benefits to be captured.  

Rethinking the Customer Experience

Challenging as overhauling employee experience may seem, it may be the easy part of adapting to the new world order. Even before the pandemic, customers had already begun migrating to services that offered them a compelling digital experience. With many spaces closed or inaccessible, a digital customer experience delivered over a smart phone is no longer just an option, but often the touch point. More rapidly than most expected, the digital engagement model has become the brand.

This is forcing organizations in every industry to completely redesign the way they engage with customers. We are seeing contact center fully embrace an omni-channel experience across chat, voice, video, co-browsing, shared content and other media; healthcare is moving to telemedicine wherever possible; and retailers are rapidly trying to recreate in-store experiences in a virtual world. 

The organizations that most effectively leverage collaboration technologies, automation, AI and machine learning to deliver the most compelling and customized user experience will be the ones to survive and thrive. With no roadmap, and little prior experience to guide them, it is critical that they adopt an agile approach, co-creating with customer input on a small scale to find out what works, and then constantly improving the model as it scales. 

Many of the necessary tools and services are already available that can support that approach without requiring a large up-front investment. 

Delivering the future now

As the author William Gibson wrote: “The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.” 

Thanks to the pandemic, the future has arrived at organizations’ front door NOW and it is banging to get in. The technologies that can reshape how we work, shop, and live are already here, but implementing them is no longer an option, or something we can phase-in over time. 

To empower and retain employees for the new workplace, it is now imperative we reshape a Digital Employee Experience. To keep our customers and stay in business, we must reshape Digital Customer Experiences.