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Ready, Set, Go WFH: Winners & losers

15th May 2020
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It is a time of unique and extraordinary challenge, Covid-19 is a horrendous experience for us all and is costing many people their lives and putting strains on many sectors.

Outside of the human and medical disaster we all face, there is a long term financial consequence to may firms and their employees. Many business functions had not expected, prepared or tested a full work from home (WFH) strategy, never foreseeing a time when this would be imposed on us or indeed be needed.

Yes, we sometimes face weather challenges where perhaps snow has made it difficult for some to get into the office physically or we have selected workers working remotely sporadically, but these are not widespread home working for a prolonged period. A day or two of bad service for customers is very different to this becoming the norm for your client base.

We now face a time where the total organisation has had to work remotely at very short notice.

In recent years the IT department has been driven by a number of key edicts from GDPR driving increased focus on security, making sure disaster recovery processes and tech was in place to ensure a rapid and safe return to business from unexpected circumstances and business continuity, the ability to be business as usual as fast as possible in case of a disaster.

Business continuity has been instantly elevated to the top of the pile through something out of everyone’s control.  How easily did your business transition to a total WFH world ?

Around the world, 44% of companies don’t allow remote work at all (Owl Labs)

Today’s web and cloud technologies make remote access and on the move working easier than ever before, however most use them in a transient mode, mixed with at base working and with varying degrees for different types of workers and roles. For example field sales invariably is setup to work anywhere at any time as part of the nature of the role, whereas finance and perhaps support teams processes and technology systems are structured around all if not mostly being at their desk in the office.

In a remote work from home environment there are a plethora of considerations from the environment to work in, the human motivation and connection element, business processes and of course the underlying enabling technologies.

From a technology perspective did your employees all have equipment, laptops, wifi etc that would fundamentally enable remote work?  Are the applications they need to perform their role accessible remotely and in a secure manner? 

Before you can serve your external customers with as near business as usual as possible, you need to serve your internal customers to be able to work effectively. Many ‘assumed’ that through digitisation and use of cloud, seeing much remote work and access out of hours going on, that they were ready!  But occasional transient remote working, is very different from a wholesale WFH for a business as many have found to their peril during the Covid incident. Many departments were not ready or configured to work remotely from a technology or process perspective.

Email and web access at home is easy, perhaps some of your applications are cloud based and were also up and running quickly. But what about customer interactions through chat and voice?

In these times many customers have more urgent needs or want to speak. Were you able to move your switchboard, finance, support teams and your contact centre to working from home quickly?  Whilst working remote or from home is not a new term, nor the alien it once was, it is still not the norm for many roles.

51% of employers officially allow their employees to work from home (Softchoice)

Many have applied a rapid band-aid approach, yes you can use an employee’s mobile of landline to allow them to make calls, but how do calls get routed to them from customers? Many quickly signed up to Teams, Zoom or Google Hangouts or similar to facilitate a way for employees to talk together.

These band-aids however are lacking, they do not scope for call routing, call queues and the business processes used in the office that are still required. Diverting numbers to mobiles is easy, but not practical excepting for individual select users; and what happens when that user wants to call back to a customer? Do they expose their own private numbers, run up their own phone bills and add complexity?

For a switch to remote telephony, technology is an enabler, BUT the devil is in the detail.

For example, diverting a call queue to mobiles is possible, but has implications; what if a user in that group’s cellphone drops to voicemail instantly through being out of signal range? That call will be deemed answered by the queue and the customer will end up in a private mobile voicemail with no others able to pick-up that call.  Also consider the issue of having employee’s using personal mobiles in this instance, how do they shut off and filter calls out of hours?  If they expose their number to a client, what’s to stop that client calling back at any time? The process flow and routing has been broken.

We have seen a plethora of contact centre announcements of near or full shutdowns being invoked, these centres being limited and restricted by tools and processes tied to the physical location.

These contact centre employees are more than capable of helping customers and performing their role and likely would prefer to be working from home, helping their employer and customers to maintain as near normal as possible. Whilst not used to working from home and with some possible challenges around the environment, being able to work and help one’s own job security is preferred over being furloughed or at risk of career impact.   For the skill and experience of these employees to be utilised, what has let them down is not their willingness or ability, it is purely a technology lacking to empower them to quickly do their same role in the way manner, following the same processes, taking and making the same calls from the same systems. This is all possible today, to de-couple employees from the physical location for tools and processes.

Social distancing has led to customer distancing, which leads to a poor customer experience and business impact yet to be measured. 

By 2028, 73% of all departments will have remote workers (Source : Upwork)

We hear this is unlikely to be the only time we experience such an incident and with many companies so heavily affected if not devastated by this incident we can expect a change in thought and attitude towards remote working. Business now need to take heed, reflect on what did and didn’t work from a people, process and technology standpoint and benefit from this experience to plan for the future.  In today’s world we have the benefit of an increasing breadth of flexible new technology offerings that are increasingly affordable to all including the smaller business and innovation is rife.  Digital transformation has a new inflection point, a new driver that should overcome the historical resistance towards change and the effort to do something new.

2021 will be the year of reflection and change.




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