The world today is a very different place than it was back in February. The scale and speed of disruption caused by the pandemic has put unprecedented pressure on businesses globally, forcing enterprises to look deeper at business continuity amid a remote workforce, while also considering challenges to operational resilience and customer service.
As the world tries to accommodate the ‘work from anywhere’ business operations model, service providers, like all businesses, have entered the biggest design thinking experiment ever known in our industry. While we’ve experienced uncertainty, we’ve endured and have now reached the point where we feel increased normality and the capacity to capitalize on a wealth of new and evolving opportunities. Whether it is the prospect of introducing new products or new processes, the forced work from anywhere model we’ve experienced due to COVID-19 is transforming how we do business, and the opportunity to outperform has arrived.
This time of change is creating not just a new normal, but a new world, which is currently still defining how we will return to work, and how we engage with our employees and business partners. It is making us question how we’re encouraging learning and growing our talent within our organizations, and how we’ll tap into new pools of talent.
Working remotely, we’re also becoming more aware of the challenges presented to growing and maintaining a positive company culture, as well as a work/life balance to support optimized productivity, employee engagement and good mental health.
More specifically, we’ve seen some clear trends that have emerged regarding the types of questions we should be asking, what the future will look like from a cultural perspective, and what should be top priority in order to prosper in our new remote working. While some of these trends are specific to service providers, others apply across the board to all enterprises navigating the new normal today.
Improving Collaboration as we Work from Anywhere
Far from hindering communication and collaboration as many businesses may have originally feared, this design thinking experiment as we’ve come to know it has really opened our eyes to the possibility of improved collaboration. Necessity is the mother of invention: we’re seeing that companies are using digital platforms more often to reach out purposefully, and where the digital solutions were not in place, we’ve implemented them.
In many ways, remote working has brought organizations closer together. Legacy thinking, where we rely on the fact that our colleagues are just down the hall and interactions often happen more spontaneously, has given way to the collapse of proverbial walls. We’re seeing that communication is much more intentional than it has been in the past, and that the virtual engagement methodology is improving both communication and collaboration.
Improving Retention: Recognizing the Needs of Different Personas
Teams may have had it easy when physicality was a part of building company culture, but in the work from anywhere world, what we are likely to see is a hybrid or blended model for business operations where people split their time between the office and remote working locations. If we are to maintain staff productivity and morale, what is required is a complete change in how we operate and how we connect with each other.
It’s also increasingly important to consider different employee personas and their individual requirements surrounding mental health. Those working in consulting may be used to and enjoy extensive business travel, which has ceased. Those in the back office or in customer service may be experiencing such an increased volume of work that they are at risk of burnout.
In spite of this, some companies have still managed to improve both morale and productivity by encouraging flexible working, and by communicating effectively with virtual meeting software. In many instances, employees have also reported that the hours saved in commuting have given them a new lease on life.
The companies that have invested in ongoing cultural maintenance and improvement are seeing that as employees return to the office, their company cultures are healthy and thriving. In the work from anywhere landscape, continuing to give people more flexibility in their working arrangements may become the new and sustainable norm.
Automation to Support the New Blended Work from Anywhere Structure
It’s safe to say that automation technologies have crossed the chasm, but COVID-19 specifically has driven a new trend in automation as companies seek to extend its use to minimize human contact. Whereas in the past, many organizations may have looked at automation as an experiment that was often confined to back office processes, today, we’re now seeing that businesses are embracing automation across the board.
From a talent point of view, companies are seeing the obvious benefits of automation, with the new digital workforce becoming an even more important subset of any organization, working comfortably with both offshore and outsourced partners.
Technology to Nurture the New Threat and Business Landscape
Organizations globally have realized the need to ramp up both access to digital communication tools and security surrounding those tools. Many large enterprises worked tirelessly to ensure that their employees worldwide were using all the same technology, and had all the same information security standards.
In the accelerated threat environment that has emerged since the beginning of pandemic, never before has the integrity and the protection of data been more important. This applies not only client data, but also internal data.
No End to New Trends Driven by the Design Thinking Experiment
As we continue on our work from anywhere journey, we’ll see new trends emerge as companies and individuals find their own way amid the new normal. Sustainability will be key to all things: if we’re to sustain the work from anywhere model going forward, we’ll find success not in just adding technology to old processes, but in transforming and reimagining processes as well as outcomes. It’s not enough just to change quickly: in the work from anywhere world, we’re going to have to track, monitor, analyze and transform business processes proactively.
Bhavna Newle Chopra
Global Service Delivery Leader, EXL