This post was guest written by Nir Galpaz, Vice President Technical Services and Support at 8x8.
Can we pick up where we left off? That’s the question facing businesses as a return to the office comes into sight.
From my point of view, the answer is no.
It’s clear that office life post-pandemic will look very different. Companies have let their leases lapse, employees have moved to different cities, customers have churned, and perhaps most importantly, we’ve learned that we can be just as productive with video conferencing and chat. I think instead of a mass return to in-person work we’ll be turning to a hybrid model.
The Hybrid Model
A hybrid model is the best of both worlds - employees will be able to work partly from home and partly from the office. This model supports both time for collaboration and time for independent work - plus, we all save some time on our commute.
But as with any change, the shift into a hybrid working model will likely create its own challenges. For many of us, the motivation to push past the emotional fatigue of protracted remote working came from the light at the end of the tunnel and the prospect of reconnecting with colleagues once this returned to normal.
If businesses are considering this approach, then now is the time to think about how to keep employees motivated. How do you build trust between coworkers who rarely see each other in person? I believe the answer lies in a combination of changing not only how people work together, but how the technologies we use work together too.
And on the other hand, businesses have their customers to think about too - people who received less than exceptional service because employees are struggling to handle the influx of requests. How do businesses build back that trust with their customers? How do businesses support their employees so that they can deliver better experiences? Again, I believe the answer lies in a combination of changing not only how people work together but how the technologies we use work together too.
Bridging the Gap with Technology: The Employee Experience
Businesses that want to move towards a hybrid working model, will need to think of ways that not only recreate the office experience virtually, but also ensure employees are enabled to be productive at home, just as they would be in the office.
Here are a few strategies:
Help Junior Managers Adjust with the Right Tools
In work, some of the most important relationships are between employees and their direct supervisors. Working from home has impacted these relationships. Remote work robbed teams of the mutual experiences that created trust, like office jokes, team-building experiences, and body language cues.
While senior executives may be used to handling a remote-only team, managers have been thrust into situations they weren’t trained for. These managers went from working elbow-to-elbow with their teams, to barely seeing them and having little to no insight into what they’re doing, practically overnight.
Here’s how I think we can support our managers when managing their first remote-only team:
- Training - Give first-time remote-only managers the training they need to support their teams and trust their teams. This can be workshops that are hosted by external consulting agencies or even Q&A sessions with senior management.
- Tools - Leverage tools like Monday and 15five to help remote-only managers set expectations for their team, coordinate work, and check-in with employees without crossing the line into micro-manager territory.
- Support - Create an environment where remote-only managers can connect with other people in the business to ask for support - this could be anything from general workload management, or general check-ins.
By helping managers develop their skills they’ll be able to support their hybrid teams more effectively.
Hold Employees Accountable to Outcomes, Not Speed
It’s almost impossible to judge how long a remote employee is working without deploying intrusive monitoring technologies. While you may be able to make the case for these tools in some industries, most times you won’t want to take this route. To build trusting relationships you’ll need to actually trust your team to do the work - if you don’t, you’ll probably be killing motivation and productivity. For hybrid teams, it will be important to shift from speed of work, to outcome of work - think about whether or not the work they delivered is of value, if it’s not, then you can ask questions about speed and productivity. Tracking value is depending on the industry and the team, but there are tools that can help you set, track, and measure KPIs. Leveraging technology like this will enable teams to work together towards specific goals - build those trusting relationships, and hold everyone accountable to delivering valuable work.
Technology Will Become More Immersive
Building trust between employees in a virtual world requires imagination, dedication, and just a little bit of humility - yes, a virtual happy hour isn’t the same, but let’s cheers anyway.
Currently, video platforms struggle to make communication feel natural because they demand planning and require constant attention. On the other hand, chat platforms like Teams and Slack are considered to be company-moderated channels, so employees likely won’t be as informal in those conversations as they would be in a face-to-face chat.
With that being said, video-conferencing fatigue is real. How do we adapt?
Unified-communication-as-a-service and video-conference software companies are looking at ways to make remote communication more seamless and natural. Here are some ideas:
- A dedicated video calling system that’s about the size of a small TV with solid video and audio. This will empower employees to reclaim their laptops and will remove the struggle of juggling between multiple windows, plus it’ll encourage more casual conversations.
- Using a tablet to review documents while on a call will replace juggling through multiple screens while in a meeting, plus you’ll be able to take notes and adjustments on the fly
- Encourage team brainstorm sessions with whiteboard features
Bridging the Gap with Technology: The Customer Experience
The shift to remote-first work was challenging for everyone, but especially customer support teams. These teams faced an influx of digitally-driven customer inquiries and needs but didn’t have the tools, support, and knowledge to effectively support them.
Now that we’ve tackled some strategies to support hybrid workers, we can focus on rebuilding those customer relationships that have been impacted by the new remote-work paradigm.
Proactively Reach Out to Customers
It’s time to make your customers feel like they’re one in a million and with proactive messaging, you can do just that. Leverage the information you already have within your CRMs and use that to build relationships with your customers. For example, if you work in the retail industry, you can use previous purchase information to suggest new items or promote a special sale just for returning customers. Your customers will appreciate the personalized touch, and your teams will have more information to iterate and build better experiences for future customers.
Unify the Customer Experience with Automation
Use the team-building tools we identified earlier like Teams or Slack and your CRM to strategize ways to unify the customer experience - from marketing all the way through to sales. The easiest way to make that strategy become a reality is to automate the customer journey. By using no-code tools like Ada, you can nurture customers throughout their entire journey, deliver one consistent experience, and ensure they never fall through the cracks.
The shift to a hybrid model will require a handful of adjustments across the organization. The truth is as the hybrid working model takes root, countless more changes will be required to build trust. But trust me it’s worth it. Connection is the most meaningful thing we can achieve in our lives and if we can accomplish that within our teams, our customers will thank us.
Watch Nir speak at Ada's first-ever Automated Customer Experience (ACX) conference on June 17th.