The foundations for a thriving future

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shake the global economy, one thing is clearer than ever: the way we work and run our businesses will never be the same.

The past few years have brought on unexpected and unprecedented changes. With the shift to hybrid and remote working, organisations faced an overwhelming amount of internal and external issues — from having the right tools to enable employees, to supporting them and their wellbeing while working from home. Network security and change in customer behaviour also became increasingly pressing concerns for organisations trying to stay afloat.

The truth of the matter is that most businesses were not ready for this crisis: 72 per cent of businesses were not fully prepared technologically at the outset of the pandemic. In such uncertainty and turmoil, many businesses opted to employ ‘sticking plaster’ solutions to keep the lights on.

While this could’ve been the answer to a short-term problem, the profound changes caused by the pandemic highlight the necessity to implement tools and remote working policies that in the long run can be integrated into the overarching business strategy of an organisation.

Adopting hybrid working as a permanent and successful solution comes with many challenges, including:

  • Employee engagement and wellbeing
  • Technology
  • Cybersecurity

As we enter the next phase of the hybrid working era, it’s now time for business leaders to turn their attention toward the requirements of a new normal in order to lay the foundations for a thriving future.

Organisations hoping to generate a competitive advantage will need to address challenges around both technology and people.

This whitepaper outlines the current challenges and the ones laying ahead for businesses in the new pandemic world. It also discusses strategies and solutions for businesses to pivot during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rethinking your workforce

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have witnessed an incredibly quick shift to hybrid and remote working across all industries. Years of digitalisation took place in just a few months.

Although many welcomed a taste of the future of work, this shift wasn’t, and still isn’t, without obstacles.

While the plethora of technology at our hands undoubtedly made it possible to shift to hybrid working at the snap of a finger, it didn’t take into account the effect these changes would have on people’s mental health, and more generally, on their lives.

A people-first approach

As things start to go back to normal, there needs to be a shift from a productivity-first approach, to a people-first approach.

Technology has been the enabler for remote working when it was imperative to make the shift, but as we settle into the new normal, organisations need to fully understand how the same technology, and the policies around it, can affect its users.

For example, although video meetings have become most people’s preferred form of collaboration, research shows that they are more likely to cause fatigue and stress — because of that, for most hybrid workers stress begins to set in about two hours into our working day.

To add to that, technology issues, such as poor-quality video meetings, frequent connection problems or slow file downloads can have severe negative effects on both employee productivity and wellbeing.

Over 30 per cent of employees found that these issues impacted their performance, increased their anxiety and stress, and made it increasingly difficult to engage with customers and colleagues, resulting in increased social isolation and anxiety.

Moving forward, organisations will need to address these challenges head-on if they want to be successful in balancing productivity and employee wellbeing. With an increasingly hybrid workforce, it’s important for employers to find new ways to keep workers engaged and connected, while also keeping them from being overwhelmed to the point where productivity turns into stress and burnout.

Collaboration is key

Good collaboration is key to addressing burnout issues, but maintaining human connections is not as easy as it sounds in a virtual environment. The choice of collaboration technology should benefit users and relationships first, and productivity second.

As we’ve witnessed during the pandemic, collaboration tools that have been employed without a user-focused strategy in mind have led to increased frustration amongst employees.

Facilitating communication, engagement, and resource sharing with a user-friendly collaboration tool can make the difference between success and failure in the new normal.

We will look at the benefits of revaluating the choice of collaboration technology in the next chapter, but it’s first important to note that successful technology implementation is not a plug-and-play approach. It requires a fundamental change in the way people and businesses work and interact.

Fostering a culture that promotes effective collaboration and connectivity is vital to ensure the following months and years are successful. This shift will need to be embedded into a company’s processes, policies, and long-term business strategy.

Hybrid and the proximity bias

As many have now come to realise, not everyone is well suited to working remotely.

This is why hybrid working has become such a popular option over a fully-remote workforce.

Before the pandemic, companies that had already adopted some sort of hybrid approach found that in-person culture came on top when it came to bigger issues such as company policies and business decisions, or smaller ones such as meetings.

For example, remote workers may feel overlooked during conference calls, unable to contribute or have the same level of interactions as the in-person participants.

Moreover, before the pandemic, over 50 per cent of remote workers felt their onsite colleagues didn’t treat them equally. The rise of the hybrid workforce will just exacerbate these issues.

A remote-first approach

To avoid facing the challenges of a dispersed workforce, organisations will need to completely rewire workplace practices and policies to a remote-first approach.

While working from home can bring on a new set of benefits, remote workers are also more likely to feel left out, to receive fewer development opportunities, and to experience increasing social isolation compared to office workers.

A complete culture shift is necessary to make sure both office and remote workers have similar working experiences.

For example, team-building exercises and events will need to include those who are not physically present, and instead of utilising conference rooms for meetings, all participants will need to dial in from their own equipment in order to all have the same meeting experience.

From a technology point of view, employers will have to ensure remote workers have the same level of internet connectivity, equipment, and software as their office counterparts.

It will be more important than ever to give people the choice and the ability to work from wherever they see fit without feeling left out or stressed because of that choice.

Rethinking your technology

As we’ve mentioned before, having the right collaboration and technology tools in place is critical to supporting your hybrid workforce and ensuring sustainable productivity.

However, when the pandemic hit, many organisations had to quickly integrate new solutions to facilitate remote working — solutions that in most cases didn’t take into account the length and repercussions of this crisis.

While looking at what was already available proved to be the best way to get ahead on the road to recovery, in most cases it also resulted in having a lot of disparate communications systems, which deterred collaboration, long term productivity, and increased costs.

Tactical to strategic deployment

In reality, quick fixes can only take a business so far.

Hybrid working is clearly not going anywhere, so it’s critical for business leaders to shift their outlook from tactical to strategic deployment and to finally start replacing sticking plaster solutions.

For example, while free consumer-grade collaboration tools, such as Zoom, might have been the quick and easiest answer to an unexpected need, they proved to lack the security and scalability necessary to enable a remote workforce in the long run.

It’s critical for business leaders to shift their outlook from tactical to strategic deployment and to finally start replacing sticking plaster solutions.

All-in-one solution

In their basic form, most cloud-based collaboration solutions, such as Microsoft Teams, do not include external calling features, making it impossible for employees to receive or make calls outside of their organisation.

This has too often forced organisations to employ various, costly communications systems for different uses.

To overcome this issue, shifting to an all-in-one solution that integrates external and internal voice and video calls (but also instant messaging, video conferencing, and desktop and document sharing) will be vital to address the longer-term implications of the hybrid working environment.

A complete, unified communications (UC) solution is key to developing a cohesive communications and collaboration strategy.

A UC solution combines all necessary features to facilitate hybrid working into one platform, while also allowing for integrations with other business applications, such as email, sales, or CRM.

It’s fundamental for IT departments to use this permanent shift to flexible working to build the case for a long-term strategy that will benefit both the business and its employees.

The end of cybersecurity compromises

With the majority of employees working from home and often using their own devices to work, security has also become an important issue to address in this new hybrid era.

Just in March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre removed 2000 online scams related to the pandemic, of which 555 were malware and 200 phishing sites.

Unsurprisingly, more than two-thirds of organisations said that threat mitigation and network visibility are the top security concerns due to remote working.

While in the early stages of the pandemic organisations had to accept risks in order to keep operations going, this can’t be the case anymore.

As hybrid working is now the norm, rather than the exception, companies need to standardise processes and employ technologies that reduce long-term risk.

The first issue to address is the lack of security of many home networks and personal devices. As people began starting from home and often using the same device for their personal and professional tasks, IT teams lost visibility of their network security.

This is where, for smaller businesses, a secure VPN access becomes a critical component to consider as embrace the new normal.

Secured, enterprise-grade collaboration tools

While cybersecurity priorities will differ from industry to industry, hybrid working has made the case for the deployment of secured, enterprise-grade collaboration tools.

The many consumer-grade free tools that became available at the beginning of the pandemic are the ideal gateway for cyberattacks and security issues.

The truth of the matter is that over the past few years we have blindly opened any link that would supposedly lead us to a video meeting, opening the door to a multitude of risks; we have ignored the lack of security of our calls; we have chosen whichever solution was easier to employ, without worrying about the consequence.

It’s now time to change this attitude towards a cybersecurity-first approach.

Using a cloud-based UC solution which offers long-standing IT support and effective enterprise security is fundamental to avoiding the innumerable attacks of cybercriminals trying their luck.

Rethinking your customer experience

Regardless of the pandemic, one of the main challenges, particularly for smaller businesses, is getting new customers, as well as maintaining old ones.

The pandemic has prompted some extreme changes in customer behaviour, with almost 57 per cent of Brits saying they’ll continue to buy online even, regardless of restrictions.

Due to this shift to digital, customer service teams have seen a spike in questions, requests, and complaints from customers using a whole array of different channels.

The rise in omnichannel communications has never been so prominent — customers want to communicate how, when and on whichever channel they prefer. It’s vital to streamline and facilitate the hurdles of omnichannel communication in order to provide a seamless and consistent experience for all customers.

Customers want their issue resolved in the quickest time and with the best outcome possible, but too often customer service team lack the level of visibility into the issue and the overall customer journey.

This problem has become more prevalent in the past few years, as many businesses struggled to provide their newly digital-savvy customers with seamless transitions between communication channels.

Omnichannel will be the ultimate differentiator

With the majority of customers using three to five channels of communication, businesses need to make sure they can give the same level of support on all of them.

Just one misstep can cause a customer to look elsewhere.

However, providing consistent experiences across channels shouldn’t be seen as yet another challenge, but rather an opportunity.

Omnichannel will be the ultimate differentiator in the customer experience space for years to come.

Having complete control over all communication channels enables organisations to build a complete strategy that will benefit customers and that will reduce challenging variables during each interaction.

Omnichannel solutions facilitate customer personalisation, provide customer insights, and in turn, provide better customer experiences.

Breaking down CX silos

The pandemic has undoubtedly highlighted the need to move past outdated customer experience solutions – too often incapable of providing an overview of customer service encounters across channels.

To break down these channel silos, organisations should choose an all-in-one, cloud-based solution. Such a solution merges all communication tools into one platform, and most importantly, can integrate with CRM solutions.

By integrating a cloud-based solution with a CRM platform, customer service agents can retrieve all previous interactions from a specific customer, as well as automatically log in all current interactions and issues that may arise. Not only giving the organisation the power to deliver a personalised, quick, and cohesive customer experience, but also (and most importantly) keeping customers happy.

Organisations will need to innovate their delivery model to meet their customers where they are, rather than waiting for them to approach them.

Companies who get this digital shift right have the opportunity to set themselves apart from the rest of the market and will be able to maintain and grow their customer relationships.

Organisations will need to innovate their delivery model to meet their customers where they are, rather than waiting for them to approach them.

 

Conclusion

The shift to hybrid working completely changed our personal and work life and posed a new set of unprecedented challenges, as well as opportunities.

Over the past years, companies have had to adapt to running their businesses remotely, while dealing with the sudden challenges caused by a distributed remote workforce, lack of appropriate technology, and ever-so-demanding customers.

Amidst the uncertainty, one thing we know for sure: the hybrid working era won’t be anything like what we left behind. With this assurance, it’s time for business leaders to start implementing long term strategies to ensure success in the years to come.

Ultimately, organisations should see the shift to hybrid working as an opportunity to turn the tide and build a future-proof strategy for a better normal.