designsoliman - Fotolia

Collaboration and communications get richer as Covid-19 ushers in new working reality

Covid-19 lockdowns bring about collective rethink in the way we work, with remote video becoming normalised and a potential change in the way effectiveness is measured

Talk of and predictions for a post-coronavirus world may seem highly speculative indeed, but industry collaboration technology leaders agree on one thing that is likely: work will not be the same as it used to be.

Businesses, governments and society have been forced to adopt new ways of working and communicating in light of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. To overcome the challenges of the new way of working, collaboration and networking technology providers are indicating that clients continue to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies globally and open up hitherto unconsidered messaging channels.

Given that all businesses are undoubtedly in unprecedented times with Covid-19, Jay Patel, CEO of digital, mobile and social customer service channels consolidator IMImobile, said Covid-19 had forced a collective rethink of the way we work, even if a lot of the tools being used are not new. And the way effectiveness is measured may be due for a welcome change.

“Covid-19 has accelerated the shift towards remote working. The tools needed to work remotely were widely available before the outbreak, but outside of certain sectors – including IT – not a lot of companies used remote working as a primary operating model. That’s all changed now, with an increasing number of businesses coming to realise they can gain efficiencies by moving away from the office,” he told Computer Weekly.

“If businesses change the way they work in reaction to Covid-19, they may end up, unintentionally, chipping away at the outdated concept of ‘presenteeism’. Pre-pandemic, presenteeism was all too often seen as a measure of staff performance in its own right. Now, organisations are having to explore alternative methods of measuring productivity, such as the ‘objectives and key results’ (OKR) method favoured by some Silicon Valley tech companies. Here, employee performance is measured against a small number of key objectives aligned to the organisation’s overall goals.”

Patel accepted the premise that we are not truly going back to pre-Covid times as far as working practices are concerned. He noted that before the outbreak, organisations were beginning to think about the office’s role, experimenting with hot desking and flexible working. Covid-19 will accelerate this shift.

“If businesses change the way they work in reaction to Covid-19, they may end up, unintentionally, chipping away at the outdated concept of presenteeism”
Jay Patel, IMImobile

“The office’s main advantage was that it was the place where the technology was kept and the management team was available. If this technology is at home, and the management team can speak on video calls, it’s difficult to argue that the office is crucial for staff productivity,” he commented.

“This has huge implications – even for areas such as urban planning and managing transport infrastructure. For individual organisations, the sooner they start to plan for this shift, the better. This is something we’re now putting into place as part of our sustainability drive at IMImobile, in the expectation that the office will be seen as more of a meeting and collaboration hub, rather than the only place staff should be working.”

And in this changing environment, the effect on IMImobile’s customers is no different to what is happening to the company itself. As the Covid-19 outbreak gathered pace and lockdowns became the norm, the company shifted more than 1,100 staff to remote working in the space of a week and without any loss of service, said Patel. This wasn’t just down to the communications systems the company sells and indeed uses. It was mainly down to being a cloud-based software business that was not just able to deploy the systems it uses but also able to deploy and provision services without being physically present. Advantageously, much of IMImobile’s communication and interaction with customers was already carried out over virtual channels.

Yet the outbreak has also encouraged the firm to explore ways it can help customers to manage transitions. This has seen the launch of services to help with emergency communications and to set up remote working contact centres, and also working with the UK government and mobile operators to send out critical SMS communications.

One example was enabling Walsall NHS Trust to make virtual appointments available to patients through an eClinic, making it possible for dermatology services to continue. It is also investigating how firms could embrace technologies such as rich communications services (RCS), digital messaging channels and chatbots to allow them to communicate more effectively and efficiently with their customers. It added that features such as rich cards, carousels and suggested replies allowed for better customer navigation and quicker responses.

Technologies that will shape the post-Covid-19 future, according to Patel, are more video-centric supporting capabilities in areas such as click-to-connect, file sharing, screen sharing, annotations, snapshots, integrated chat, remote zoom and flashlight and geotagging.

“Agents [can] remotely troubleshoot customer problems by [seeing] what the customer’s issue is in real time,” he concluded. “We expect that we’ll soon be in a world where human contact centre agents don’t need to be assembled in one location together as the tools exist for them to support customers remotely, and the changes that Covid-19 has brought are what could allow this to happen.”

Read more about Covid-19 and collaboration

Read more on Unified communications

Data Center
Data Management