Remote working is here to stay; and not just for office workers

Rodolpho Cardenuto, president, applications group at Vonage, examines why organisations of all types and sizes need to wake up to a remote working future.

Recent research exploring the shift in working patterns made for interesting reading. As might be expected, the majority of companies, (91%), questioned during April this year said they had employees working from home because of coronavirus – an increase from 63% before COVID-19. Interestingly though, among those with contact centres, 74% also said they had agents working remotely, up from 59% pre-pandemic.

If such a trend were to continue beyond the period of the pandemic, we may be seeing the first signs of a wider shift in working patterns, not limited to office workers.

A unique environment

If a contact centre can work remotely then it follows that many other businesses can do the same. This unique environment, in which teams work under pressure to shared goals and develop camaraderie born out of shared experiences is not easy to replicate with remote teams, however. It requires careful thought.

By using smart technology such as ‘presence availability’, for example, contact centre agents can see at a glance which of their colleagues are available at any point, in real-time. This means that when they need to consult with a specific department or subject matter expert to resolve a customer query, they no longer have to place customers on hold while they try, often in vain, to contact the right person.

Similarly, by linking agents with back office staff via a common directory and making their lives simpler with features such as single sign-on, allowing them to switch between different tools simply, they will feel more connected to the organisation. Removing the traditional hurdles to collaborative working can only be a positive thing, particularly when the usual main driver for this – physical proximity – has been removed.

The link to customers

Meanwhile for those businesses that have already seen a positive impact as a result of the early lockdown measures, there is a real need to keep things moving. Many organisations that offer essentials, such as food and online delivery services, for example, saw an uplift in demand amid the pandemic. In fact, healthy recipe box company, Mindful Chef, reported a 452% increase in customers since the end of March 2020.

This rapid increase in customer demand has obviously put pressure on the infrastructure of these businesses – in particular their customer contact centres. From needing to manage more calls, to maintaining existing customer relationships and managing orders, the need for scalable and flexible cloud communications solutions has never been greater.

This demonstrates the growing need for digital transformation, not just during the COVID-19 pandemic, but as we emerge into a new world. It is imperative for ensuring future growth, with flexible cloud solutions scaling as the business grows.

Taking the digital transformation journey together

As we all slowly move beyond lockdown into an uncertain future, what has become clear is that those who work in tandem with partners and suppliers to embrace the new digital reality will be at a significant advantage.

Whether you are a business leader managing a sudden spike in demand or needing to radically alter business practices to compete in new markets, or you’re running a support service such as a contact centre, there are common challenges.

One of the most vital things to get right will be communications. That may be maintaining internal communications while employees work remotely, ensuring a smooth customer experience while your contact centre staff are away from the office, or keeping customers engaged through on-site or in-app communications. All of these are equally important, and interlinked.

Looking further ahead; as workforces return in the months and years to come, they are likely to return to increasingly remote-working environments, or at the least, hybrid ones. Those employing cloud communications will have the ability to be flexible and adaptable, as well as yielding a host of benefits such as improved internal communications, customer experience, and productivity.

Mounting evidence

Vonage’s recently published report, “Covid-19 Reshapes the Global Customer Engagement Landscape confirms that behaviours and preferences are changing in line with this new landscape.

The research revealed that the pandemic accelerated the adoption of newer communications channels while increasing fragmentation in channel preferences, especially in the ways that consumers interact with businesses and service providers.

For example, the take-up of video calls has increased, as has the use of social messaging, while the preference for more traditional communications channels such as landline phone calls, email, and SMS text messaging has waned.

What this demonstrates is that, as virtual communications continue to complement, and in many cases replace, face-to-face interactions, the whole infrastructure of communications will shift.  Organisations of all types and sizes who ignore this rapidly growing trend do so at their peril.

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