Is This Really The New Normal?

Vishal Bhatnagar

Head of Europe

At the start of the pandemic, organizations were forced to pivot quickly to protect their employees while continuing to operate. Most companies had to transition fast; cobbling together solutions and processes.

Yesterday’s legacy brick-and-mortar world is being replaced with a digitally enabled one. Remote work is here to stay; the myth that everyone must go to an office five days per week is over. For good.

Remote work for many will simply be a part of a new normal. And businesses think they have already adequately responded to that new normal.

But have they, really?

An Old Challenge for a New World

Just why is it that so many brands continue to operate in the new normal with old, outdated technology and/or processes?

Case in point: I recently read an account of webcams being switched on in the mornings so now-remote contact center team leaders could manually inspect the desk space of their agents.

After all, human-led managers performing desk checks may have worked just fine in the old world of physical offices. But in the new world?  While clean workspace policies will remain a foundational requirement for many audits, human-led physical desk checks are simply no longer scalable or sustainable.

The threat of data breaches from inside sources will remain a key area of concern for any security professional, particularly in regulated industries. Yet attempting to protect against this threat with antiquated processes and technology that were designed for a different environment is a ticking time bomb.

In addition to data security risks, there is the challenge of agent productivity. Contact center operations enjoyed significant productivity gains in the early remote-work days of the pandemic. But there are some reports that those gains have declined in recent months and continue to do so. In fact, attrition is increasing, exacerbated by global labor shortages as economies recover.

Is This Really the New Normal?

Finally, there’s the world of talent recruitment, training and development. Employee churn rates in the contact center business have always been high, with an industry average attrition rate of 25 percent. But the shift to remote work, perhaps ironically, is driving it even higher. Turns out, virtual training and development — after decades of doing it in person — doesn’t make for an easy transition. And unfortunately, simply applying technologies in common use today isn’t enough.

Service agents report that it can be difficult to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills that enable them to satisfy live customers from digital-only training channels:

  • Agents are less likely to ask questions
  • Training cycles grow longer and more costly
  • Down time for training cuts into agent utilization rates

Managers report that it’s harder to shadow new agents. And the manager-to-agent ratios rise.

If these “loose ends” aren’t addressed with the right technology — and soon — it’s easy to imagine the recent advances in remote work being reversed. The pendulum just may swing back — and swing back hard.

A New Normal Needs New Digital Solutions

It appears that adapting old policies, processes and practices with old technology to a new environment may simply be masking a bigger problem.

When the pandemic hit, businesses had to ensure revenue kept flowing, so they continued to focus on their front-end digital transformation and ensuring supply chain readiness. But it’s been more than 18 months and counting now, and we still don’t have solutions for a great many challenges.

It’s time to start fixing them.

Together, we must find new ways of enabling old values, social interactions and previously productive ways of working using new tools. First and foremost, we must find new ways of delivering the interpersonal richness of the old world with today’s latest technologies.

What’s needed are new tools that not only empower the best of old values and behaviors yet enable better outcomes.

The good news? Technologies to do just this already exist. It’s simply a matter of identifying them, applying them and improving them along the way.

What Can Be Done

So, just what are the major risks we’re still carrying in this new normal? And what can be done — with the right tech — to address them?

  1. Risks to security. We must provide employees a secure work environment, regardless of where they are. It’s about orchestrating technology that supports multiple connectivity options and monitoring solutions. What’s required is layering security solutions: from multi-factor identification, endpoint malware security and data leakage prevention, all the way up to facial recognition and anomaly detection AI systems that satisfy “clean workspace” requirements. (Sutherland offers one such solution in its Sentinel platform.)

  2. Risks to productivity and performance. We must grow a happy, engaged, trained and secure workforce supported by tech-enabled on-demand training, collaboration, engagement and performance management. It’s about collaboration systems that allow managers and agents to effortlessly communicate and stay on top of any situation — all in real time. It’s about easy employee engagement and the gamification of performance tracking.

  3. Risks to recruiting, training and developing talent. We must build an extended digital infrastructure that gives us access to the best talent, wherever they may live around the globe — uninhibited by the traditional “radius boundary” limits of physical offices. It’s about creating a touchless, high-tech environment for every step of the people supply chain. It’s about using technology not to replace human interaction but to enhance it. We must keep talent connected to the customers they serve, to the work and to each other.

Ultimately, the future of remote work — and work in general — in an increasingly digital age will rely on positioning talented brand ambassadors at the center of everything. And that requires connecting them, securing them, training them, engaging them and managing them in a remote environment even more effectively than in a physical environment

Only then can any employee, or the business they serve, deliver the brand with confidence.

I’m proud to be part of an organization that has consistently kept employees — as well as their training and safety — at the very center of its commitment to clients.