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Ian’s Innovation Series: Before Corona (BC), now it’s All Different (AD)

7th Jul 2020

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Our homes have become our new remote workplace. Overnight. Before Corona (BC), now it’s All Different (AD). It’s likely that the amount of homeworking will increase, with a higher proportion of office-based employees working from home a couple of days a week, whilst many organisations are planning to change their business continuity plans following the crisis. Homeworking will be a long-term part of them. For us.

So, what if working from home goes on…forever? It’s a further blurring the line between home and office that was already fuzzy, eroded by email and text messaging. It’s going to change the way we think about our employees and our customers. Some traditional business practices now seem to be irrelevant, happily discarded, others seem to be unexpectedly crucial, and impossible to deliver without changing culture and innovation.

Your relationship with customers is built over time, nourished by experiences combining online and physical touchpoints, grounded in expectations, and confirmed through repeated interactions.  Similarly, for employees. A crisis puts the strengths and weaknesses in both your employee and customer relationships under a spotlight and is dramatically altering both stakeholder’s experiences and expectations.

A winning strategy to respond to the crisis is about enabling home working, whilst simultaneously uplifting the customer experience.

Research shows that remote work offers significant positive effects for both employee and employer. One is productivity. The boost in productivity is derived from employees’ having no commute, and being able to work more efficiently, without interruptions from their colleagues.

Working at home can also improve how employees feel about their jobs. Historically, research has shown a powerful correlation between telecommuting and job satisfaction.

People value the greater flexibility in setting their own working hours and the additional time with family, even with the volume of online messages confronting teleworkers.

Life has just sped up so fast. In the last month, several organisations have announced sweeping plans to permanently increase the number of employees operating outside the office. For example, Nationwide Insurance sent nearly its entire staff home in mid-March and found the move so productive that it is closing six offices: 32% percent of its personnel will work remotely.

Beyond the feverish pace of online, remote work, employees are experiencing some problems. Research suggests that people find it harder to build cohesion and trust online. To counter this, some organisations have created staggered office hours, employees generally work remotely, but show up a day or two each week to work together in the office.

This partway-remote approach may be a sort of happy medium by which companies get the benefits of productivity without losing their cohesion or creativity. Timothy Golden, the scholar of remote work, found that workers’ happiness grew in correlation with the number of hours they worked remotely – up to 15 hours a week, at which point, it plateaued. If that holds up, then spending two days a week remotely could let a worker gain all the benefits before a sense of some increased difficulty communicating, begins to eat into the gains.

As it’s all-hands-on-deck to adjust to supporting home-working, it’s tempting to put a digital strategy on the backburner as business continuity and resilience efforts take priority. But now is the time to accelerate digital investment efforts to put yourself in a better position after the pandemic passes. Avoid the tendency to slash and burn your technology budgets and revert back to your traditional working model, which is human nature.

You should continue to invest in your digital strategy while balancing short-term efforts to create a hybrid approach with existing processes to emerge from this pandemic more competitive. Sound business models that incorporate the best people, processes, and technologies remain critical in good times and bad. In short, now is not the time to turn the spotlight off to significant-tech initiatives.

The crisis has created a compelling business case for ‘cloud-first’ strategies, a linchpin of digital business, adopting SaaS technologies. Instituting such a strategy has organisations well-positioned because it enables more virtual tasks, and also enables customer self-service. Self-service channels and platforms will help employees, customers and partners get what they need with less hands-on and remove paper, time, and cost frictions from the relationship. It puts the customer at the heart of a customer-centric business model.

Fundamentally, the response to the crisis offers an opportunity to redefine both the employee and customer experience and how you connect with them. Don’t let panic shake your focus. If you are a b2c company, your most important stakeholders right now are human beings who crave connection and need a new experience. Your first question shouldn’t be, How do I support my employees and customers in a meaningful, human, and relevant way?

Both employees and customers might be struggling to navigate the many friction points of the ‘new normal’. As a result, what people care about most right now might be changing. Brands with the best price, coolest product or memorable marketing slogans might not have an advantage compared with those that demonstrate emotional intelligence and communicate with care, honesty, and empathy, and build trust via digital tools as a result.

Until now, you’ve probably prioritised efficiency, transitioning human interactions where possible to digital or automated ones. The irony in that shift is that now no longer good enough to just make those experiences simple and efficient.  We all become more human when we’ve gone through pain, and we all become more deeply connected when we’ve suffered together.

Those emotional realities are also valid when it comes to relationships between businesses and its employees and customers. If we suffer together and yet support each other, those bonds will strengthen over the long term. They can even form a new basis for how companies and consumers can connect in the future.

Ultimately, COVID-19 will teach us a great deal about the nature of interaction and collaboration, which will lead to a deeper appreciation of putting people first. Companies capable of adapting in a positive way to a change that has been imposed upon all of us will be in a better place. Before Corona (BC), now it’s All Different (AD). It’s about building the bridges of the future together, for both your employees and your customers.

Written by: Ian Brookes
16 June 2020

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