In March, the UK’s largest building society Nationwide announced that its 13,000 staff could choose where to work from. A staff survey showed that 57% wanted to work from home full time, while 36% said they would prefer a mix of office and home-based work. In October 2020, Microsoft advised its employees of its goal to offer as much flexibility as possible. Bill Gates subsequently predicted that more than half of all business travel and more than 30% of days in the office would not return post-pandemic.
These are just two high profile examples of how the response to COVID-19 is changing the way we work. As Nationwide’s Chief Executive noted: “How we do our jobs is more important than where we do them from.”
During the lockdowns, with commuting suspended, many organizations are realizing that they can save costs and have happier employees by supporting flexible working, but this is not set to be all home-based. We’re seeing a shift to a hybrid working environment – part home, part office, and with central ‘hubs’ being created as meeting spaces. Yet while employees have the luxury of choice, employers need to consider the options and create a communications and engagement strategy to keep this new dispersed workforce, and its customers, connected. They also need to ensure that their new ways of working are sustainable in the long term.
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Divya Wakankar is Head of Digital Communications Solutions at BICS
Having employees in static office space is a predictable environment. Communications systems are hard wired in, requirements are known. A remote workforce requires different connectivity solutions – not just for communication between employees, but to maintain high quality customer service. ‘Quick fixes’ were needed immediately when the pandemic hit, but a year later many large organizations still have recorded messages on their voice contact systems, and notices on their website. ‘Due to COVID-19 we may take longer than usual to respond.’ They have had 12 months to put in place solutions for agile, flexible working – it’s time to adapt to the new world.
Businesses need to adopt the new communications and connectivity services that will support the fluid workforce. These need to be able to scale up or down as demand dictates – and to do so rapidly in order to be as cost-effective as possible. Today, that means communications services in the cloud. We call them the four Cs: Conferencing, Contact Centres, e-Commerce and Unified Communications.
Interest in and demand for cloud-based numbers and SIP trunks was high even before COVID-19 forced change upon us, and the growth of cloud-based conferencing services and contact centres means that demand is set to increase. Affordable cloud-based numbers are essential for organizations to maintain seamless communication and collaboration between their employees, customers and their supply chains. They are also imperative to support the huge increase in consumers who are now reliant on digital e-commerce for products and services, as well as to reach out to customer services for support.
Brands that embrace cloud-based communications will benefit from more engaged customers and sales. These are delivered over a number of channels, giving customers a choice of how they want to engage with the brand, and also flow seamlessly into other areas such as application-to-person message alerts for package deliveries, and one-time passwords for security. Cloud based multi-channel communications presents a range of new opportunities for personalised brand engagement.
There is also an increase in demand for capacity services, with on-premise hardware infrastructure being replaced by cloud-hosted services. The initial trend was for businesses to have point-to-point connectivity to a single cloud provider. However, the use of multi-cloud - or hybrid - infrastructure is becoming more widespread, with different types of traffic allocated to the cloud provider, or in the data center that best suits its requirements. With this multi-point connectivity, organizations could have their workflows served by AWS, some by Microsoft Azure, some by Google Cloud Platform– and those organizations will need interconnectivity between those providers in order to have a seamless cloud service.
The pandemic showed us just how critical it is to have effective communications and collaboration services. The availability of the cloud is making those services more accessible, more efficient, more cost effective and more secure. Cloud communications have become the foundation for how we will conduct business in the future and how our workforces and customer base will connect. Cloud services will continue to drive a paradigm shift in both business operations and consumer behaviour. The challenge going forward is to ensure a properly managed move from traditional communications to the new, sustainable cloud-based world.
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