A panel of senior business executives said the COVID-19 pandemic offered stark and sometimes difficult lessons about the importance of communications technology in what they expect to be a more permanent work-from-home environment for their organizations.
Despite the virus’s tragic impact, many of the panelists on a pair of recent virtual roundtables said the rapid shift to remote work in the wake of the virus provided answers to many questions they’d long held about large-scale work-from-home policies. “Any company coming out of this not looking to get rid of on-prem [communications] systems just didn’t get it,” said one panelist, a cybersecurity and technology program leader at a large ecommerce company.
For many of the participants, most of whom represented technology and security leaders from a diverse set of industries, the pandemic’s impact shined a light on the need for agile communications systems that can travel with an employee. ”It really opened people’s eyes who had thought [cloud communications] was only something the big boys did,” said the same ecommerce executive. “No, everybody has to do this.”
Many said the pandemic caught them off guard in terms of their preparedness to support wide-scale work from home. “We thought we were ready for work from home,” said a chief security officer at a large medical firm, “because we were already doing it. The one group we forgot, though, was revenue cycle management.” The executive noted he was quickly able to partner with his cloud communications provider, RingCentral, to set up softphones for the team that allowed them to reach out to patients without using their personal cell phone numbers.
The rapid shift to remote work also helped organizations answer long-held questions about the consequences of large-scale work from home. In particular, they said, the experience has smashed the myth that remote workers are less productive. A chief information officer in the automotive industry said he often received executive pushback when he suggested more work from home. That resistance has disappeared, he said. “Now we know that productivity has gone up,” he said. “One of my peers just asked what additional we can do to automate and simplify things, so people can work from home and be more productive.”
In particular, rapidly transitioning call centers to remote work posed significant challenges for some. Because of the sensitive nature of customer data, companies often build secure work environments for agents. In many instances, they work in a “clean room,’ without potentially risky items like cell phones—even paper, pens, or cameras. Such an environment dramatically reduces the ability to copy data.
Of course, when agents shifted to remote work, those protocols fell by the wayside, putting companies at risk with industry standards groups. “How do we remain PCI [Payment Card Industry] compliant in those situations?” asked a security leader at a management consulting firm. “We’ve had to take steps on that.” One executive went so far as to say the pandemic signalled “the end of the desktop computer.”
The need for remote call centers also highlighted certain capabilities that remote call centers now require. In particular, various modes of communication will need to merge to allow agents to more quickly connect with others to resolve issues. Call center agents today interact with multiple applications (email, messaging, video, phone)—sometimes as many as 20. That needs to consolidate onto a single communications platform, according to the executives. “When I have a virtual session [with a customer],” said the management consulting executive, “the tool has to be embedded with capabilities to enable the calls to action based upon the situation.”
This consolidation of capabilities points to the need for more integrated communications and collaboration solutions. Traditionally, companies have viewed employee engagement systems (messaging, video, phone) separately from customer engagement systems (call center technology. “What we’re seeing now with digital transformation and cloud communication,” said Amir Hameed, vice president of solutions engineering at RingCentral, “is that these two worlds are coming together. Yes, maybe I’m a contact center agent, but I need the same tools to reach into my organization that someone who’s not an agent needs.”
To hear more about how to build customer and employee happiness in a post-COVID world, you can listen to two recent virtual roundtables: Keeping Employees and Customers Happy During COVID-19 and Beyond – East and Keeping Employees and Customers Happy During COVID-19 and Beyond – West.