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Scenarios for Post-COVID-19 Business Communications

Scenarios for Post-COVID-19 Business Communications

23 Apr 2020

Right now, we are all thinking about how to manage through this current pandemic. It is really wonderful to see how our communities are cooperating to limit the spread and to avoid an overwhelming load on the health care system. Special appreciation goes to those who help keep us safe and cared for and supplied with necessities.

While we are in this “stay at home” period, aren’t we all thinking about what our lives and jobs are going to be like after this pandemic? There are lots of questions to answer and lots of choices to be made when the threat is past.

One way we can think about this is to think about “lessons learned” which will shape the “new normal.” This post highlights these 7 clues:

  1. Some jobs can be done remotely, some cannot.
  2. Businesses are finding new, more flexible, better ways to serve their customers.
  3. Operational workflows and supply chains are key, and can be re-engineered.
  4. Managers and Executives are gaining new appreciation for UC&C tools.
  5. Communication systems agility requires advance planning.
  6. Consumer technologies are increasingly important.
  7. Automation is key to flexibility and resiliency.

Many others are writing about this topic, of course. Tom Friedman offers this NY Times article. An important part of that is an interview with a leading ethicist including two notable commentaries:

  • “In the pause we have the opportunity to reflect on all that this tragic pandemic is revealing about ourselves and our society. A pause can lead to a new beginning, to a reimagination of how we want to live differently – less unhealthily and less unequally – in the future.”

    The articles goes on to put this in a business and organizational context:
     
  • “…after so many businesses put people ahead of their profits during this crisis, I hope many will see the wisdom of putting humanity at the center of their businesses in the future, too, with greater benefits for workers, the community and shareholders. For global business leaders, this means creating supply chains that are not just about speed and efficiency but about resilience and integrity.”

With these ideas in mind, here are some post-COVID scenarios that seem worth considering.

  • People will re-examine their life choices. Some may choose lower-risk, lower-stress approaches that provide more time with family, community, faith, etc. Others may choose to jump back to the prior model with even more urgency. The balance between these two will be interesting.
  • Health may move to an explicitly higher place in societal priorities. Certainly protection from any recurrence of this pandemic will be a demand on all levels of government, perhaps even more important than military defense. In the U.S., the pressure for universal healthcare equivalent to other industrialized countries may finally prevail. And, almost certainly, first line medical care will likely be delivered via remote doctor visits.
  • Caring for and consideration of others may increase in communities and societies, as suggested by the first quote above. May certainly lead to changes in work flexibility and to changed expectations in consumer customer relations.
  • Return to prior levels of public engagement may not occur for years or decades. Some may choose just to limit their and their family’s exposure. If this occurs at scale, entire sectors of the economy (shopping malls, sports events, tourism, arts performances, large church gatherings, conventions, air travel and public transportation) will have to be re-engineered. Of course, communication tools will be a key factor in that re-invention.
  • Societies and governmental entities may be reshaped for better future preparedness.
  • Some employees will choose remote work, selecting jobs and employers on that basis.
  • Our houses and apartments will be reshaped to support the new life and work modes. We will want to have better tools for working privately and productively in spaces that may be shared with evening entertainment centers, for an example.
  • There may never be a complete return to “normal.” That may be the safest statement in this entire post. There are too many factors that indicate our future will be very different.
  • Both private sector and public sector organizations will use what they have learned. The future leaders will re-invent themselves.

The extent that those types of changes occur (or don’t occur) are likely to be the drivers for the new world of business communications. Some of the implications seems to me to be:

  1. Process re-engineering. Processes will be designed for the least dependence on real-time employee engagement and for scalable (up or down) resilience.
  2. Automation. The processes will almost certainly be re-engineered to new levels of automation, based in the cloud. Machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP), and artificial intelligence (AI) will open doors to new levels of process automation that also result in far lower costs, including far lower levels of transaction-based labor. Customers will already have expanded their use of self-service tools during the pandemic and will be accepting of and expectant of that going forward.
  3. Fewer full-time employees; more on-demand workers for many types of work. Refer to point 1 in the post mentioned above as a guide to which Usage Profiles are the best candidates for this type of shift in traditional staffing ratios.
  4. Remote workers where possible. Again, point 1 in the post above links to this Gartner Survey of CFOs who predict moderate to significant shifts to work-at-home.
  5. Offices and the related communications tools will be re-designed. The office construction industry will likely spend the next decade re-modeling existing space rather than building new facilities. Since business communications devices have been linked to facilities design, this will be a key factor.

So, with all of this, what’s the future for business communications tools?

Here are five points to consider. In the future, business communications tools will be:

  1. Explicitly IP-based and software-driven. This should be the end of the road for desktop telephones that look a lot like analog multi-button phones of the past. Communication will need to be on a visible screen, blended between text, sharing, voice and video, and mobile to follow the worker whether at-home or on premises.
  2. Integrated into workflows and business software. This is critical, per points A and B above. Processes will be software designed and software-controlled and the communication portions of those processes must be under the control of those processes. This will be true for all types of communications and all Usage Profiles, including the contact center.
  3. The same whether remote or on-premises. Business continuity and process resilience demand this. It even seems that “on premises” could become the exception rather than the base case.
  4. Based first on the employee’s or contractor’s consumer devices. It works for Uber. So go figure. Hard to see a reason to buy enterprise communication devices for most usage profiles.
  5. Secure, encrypted and protected across all of these modes. This is the big challenge, but it is non-negotiable.

While it may seem like this list is already available in today’s products, it may be worthwhile to push each of these ideas into the new future.

Trust this set of ideas will be of value to you. Please add a post below or contact me ([email protected]) for comments and questions. And best of success in the new post-COVID future!

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