Remember when masks were for Halloween and “social distancing” meant ignoring phone calls? A lot can change in a year.
When 2020 threw business as usual out the window, we were all forced to make quick and sometimes major changes to the way we work, play and live.
As we continue to move towards a post-pandemic reality, we have an exciting opportunity to re-evaluate how we do business, how we connect with coworkers and customers, and how we can improve the safety of our industries.
The new normal doesn’t have to—in fact, shouldn’t—be an exact replica of the old normal.
Mitel asked an expert panel for their top lessons learned from the last year, and top tips for a profitable 2021 and beyond.
Review, Revise and Reimagine
There’s nothing like an unforeseen disaster to highlight pain points, outdated processes, and inefficiencies. While under pressure, many businesses found that they could be more agile and innovative than they previously imagined.
As the trend towards remote and hybrid workforces continues, long-standing business practices must be reworked to support new realities for employees and customers. It is also time to evaluate what changes to keep and what should be rolled back to pre-COVID practices.
Laurie McCabe, Co-founder and Partner of SMB Group, Inc., suggests formulating a strategy for the hybrid future of work. To do this, you need to identify the tools, spaces and technologies needed to keep your workforce on track and scalable.
McCabe asks three questions:
- For what purposes is it important for employees to be in the office?
- How can office space be designed to accommodate these activities?
- What do employees and managers need to work collaboratively and productively, and to track progress and performance?
Some employees are more productive and engaged at home, while others can’t wait to get back to their desks. For certain roles, the solution may be flexible, hybrid work. Companies can make informed and successful decisions by starting with a clear picture of the support needed for all scenarios.
No matter where your workforce is in the future, business has to be able to go anywhere at any time. Cloud services, for example, link employees and customers from wherever they are.
As Frank Thelen, Founder & CEO at Freigeist Capital, puts it, “Now more than ever, I suggest getting used to the idea of digitizing processes. Regardless of the current situation, the future of any industry is digital.”
Thelen adds that successful transitions to digital processes now will yield competitive advantages in the future.
Nurture Employees and Customers
Changing the way we socialize while working has been one of the biggest remote work challenges we’ve faced. It’s easy to become isolated from potentially productive collaboration if the only time you interact with coworkers is during scheduled, structured meetings.
Impromptu huddles in the halls used to give people time to brainstorm, discuss customer needs and catch up with other aspects of the business. One big downside of remote or hybrid working is that employees can lose the ability to communicate spontaneously.
It is possible to foster human interaction in a virtual workplace, however. Scott Dawson, author of The Art of Working Remotely, explains:
“Communication and collaboration don’t happen by accident. You have to provide the tools and guidance for discourse. For tools, make sure you have platforms that encourage asynchronous communications. It’s key that communications persist so participants can jump in when it makes sense for them.”
Creating spaces for spontaneous collaboration and casual communication is just as vital as making sure everyone attends a video conference and doesn’t forget to mute their mic.
Relationships with customers, vendors and partners have changed, too. Customers are able to conduct business virtually, but it is still vital to support the relationships that were built through personal interaction.
Michael Krigsman, Industry Analyst and Host of CXOTALK, stresses the importance of training remote workers to provide exceptional virtual customer experiences.
Krigsman suggests, “Offer every customer the opportunity for chat, phone call or a video meeting to ensure that they can connect in their preferred way. Make it easy for your customers to connect and be sure to make them feel comfortable and supported. Simplicity is essential.”
Get Ahead of Threats
Workplace safety and security is about more than not using “1234” as your login password. New technologies that allow access anywhere, anytime, are vulnerable to cyber threats. People with varying degrees of tech savvy are now tasked with maintaining security while working remotely.
Employees need to be trained on why cybersecurity matters and how to be cautious consumers of virtual services. This may take the form of test phishing emails, tech support for multi-factor authentication or open-ended conversations about which cloud services and apps are safe and necessary.
Shelly Kramer, Founding Partner & Senior Analyst at Futurum Research + Analysis, stresses that going forward, “…data security and compliance must be at the forefront of solution (and vendor) consideration.”
It’s crucial to give employees the tools they need to maintain scalability and flexibility while also keeping an eye towards cybersecurity:
“Technology alone is never the answer—technology solutions that check all the right boxes when it comes to solving business challenges and which employees love using— that’s what personifies today’s best-in-class solutions,” Kramer says.
The Newer New Normal
As we collectively start to think about what our post-crisis lives will look like, we may find that some emergency measures are worth keeping for the long term. Many workforces will continue to be remote or hybrid, while others will return to the office with new skills.
It’s important to be aware of the tools and practices your business needs to keep employees and customers engaged, connected and safe.