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Many companies won’t return to traditional offices post-COVID

Read time 5min 10sec

The advent of COVID-19 has done more for digitalisation, and has driven more change and innovation in our industry in the space of three months than anything else has in decades.

It has accelerated the race to the cloud and organisations across the board are embracing omnichannel strategies to service their customers. Some have done it far more aggressively, and possibly far more successfully, than others, while others have had less appetite for risk.

So says Tanya Phillips, COO of Pivotal Data, speaking yesterday during a webinar on ‘How COVID-19 is driving the digital customer experience’. “One conversation we've been having for several years is around the concept of remote agents, and shifting work outside an office, and actually changing our operating model. But I think it's safe to say, fundamentally, the way we do things in the contact centre industry hasn't really changed.”

She adds that many companies have been talking about testing the concept of remote agents, in a few years from now, or maybe a little sooner. “The point is, it was on a strategic roadmap and something that was going to happen eventually. What has been incredible is to witness how almost overnight, in the space of a few weeks, that future reality became a ‘here and now’ - a reality.”

Companies and operators all understood that the technology was there, and while challenges in terms of data availability and data costs existed, the pandemic meant that it had to happen quickly. The industry has been tenacious and has pivoted and responded to the current crisis.

Phillips adds that the impact has not been the same for all industries. “Hospitality, travel and tourism have been far more severely impacted than others. And I think it's safe to say that industries or companies within certain industries that hadn't engaged in a digital strategy, found themselves in a similar situation.”

She says companies that embraced a digital strategy and have zero bricks and mortar and only trade online were better placed when the country went into lockdown, as after the first few weeks, most were able to serve customers and conduct business, compared to those in the more traditional structures that really battled, and in some cases, we're not able to trade at all.

Phillips adds that post lockdown, many companies won’t be returning to traditional office spaces, because, in some cases, remote work has proved to be so successful. “One outsource company that operates out of Durban has said this fundamentally proves that things can be done differently, and its preferred operating model moving forward will be a virtual one that speaks to and addresses a lot of the challenges that companies are going to face in terms of how to continue to service customers and reduce costs. It's been an age-old debate, now more so than ever.”

Phillips sayswe’re in a space where we can only differentiate ourselves and drive value by creating service and operating models that are value-orientated and that meet our customers' needs.

Quoting a recent webinar by Herman Singh, she says he drew some fascinating parallels between the pandemic and digitalisation. “He said that neither the pandemic nor digitalisation like infrastructure. So if you think about it, the threat the pandemic poses to our infrastructure comes in the shape of empty offices and grounded airplanes. Digitalisation doesn't need any structure. Digitisation doesn’t need the infrastructure that traditional business models need, and it’s fascinating to see the creative ways in which, moving forward, we can cut costs and reduce overheads.”

It's going to be very interesting when we emerge from this and see what the impact will be on business travel, for example. We've all come to realise that by using emerging technology, we’re still able to conduct business, conclude deals, create trust and build the rapport we need, without having to incur the costs of international and even local travel, she adds.

“I think we can categorically state that being in the office is not working, and one upside of the pandemic is that we’ve realised we don’t need to be,” adds Phillips. “Being confined to a space is almost an outdated concept. Technology has evolved so rapidly over the past couple of years, mobile solutions are readily accessible to everyone, meaning that how we conduct interviews, how we share information and how we gain information have all become fundamentally different. We don't need to be in the confines of an office to do that.”

She adds that, from talking to various members of the service industry and sales industry, there’s been an unbelievable increase in productivity. “The fear that people would not be self-managed or couldn't self-govern were unfounded. There was no drop in productivity, or absenteeism, with some companies reporting up to a 40% improvement in absenteeism, which also costs companies.”

Going forward, she believes we're going to see bricks-and-mortar-type structures repurposed, from office spaces to universities. “We also need to understand that machines aren't going anywhere, and, at the same time, we are going to have platforms that empower people.

“By leveraging the right technology, we can take on more complexity, we can take on more volume, and it certainly shows us that there's a synergy between the two. I also think it's fair to say that jobs will change. We've already seen jobs change; if a machine can do something faster and better than a human, we need to consider what our contribution is in that space.”

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