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The future of collaboration is here

January 28, 2021

Peter Quinlan   

Vice President, Unified Communications and Collaboration Product Management

This year, it seems that a substantial part of the global workforce will continue to work from home permanently. In this piece, Peter Quinlan, VP – Business Collaboration, Tata Communications, explores how remote collaboration capabilities can be improved and what the future looks like for these technologies.

With many employees now accustomed – indeed resigned – to working from home due to the ordeal that was 2020, it’s a good time to take stock of how business collaboration has risen to the challenge of widescale working from home.

Collaboration tools have garnered more usage and more attention than they ever have, and every organisation has seen the nature of work evolve as employees embraced unified communications and collaboration (UCC) functionality in various forms.

In years past, the industry struggled to overcome an overall inertia that impeded adoption of new tools and the shift to cloud.  Organisations were not convinced that their employees would adopt new tools and services, and tended to hang on to, and “sweat the assets.”  Vendors were required to make a case for replacing old equipment and services based on hard savings, with little weightage given to the promised benefits of improved productivity and user experience.

With a forced shift to work from home, that inertia has dissipated. Organisations have accelerated their collaboration strategies and are now asking for help to move the entire workforce to cloud collaboration and retire their old assets as quickly as possible.

There have been some surprises along the way, not least the exploding conferencing bills as users maintained old habits of dialling into meetings on toll free numbers, even as 100% of meetings moved to audio and video conferencing. And there may be more to come as organisations get their arms around expense claims for high mobile data usage and broadband upgrades for their home workers.

But by and large, the widespread adoption of UCC has been successful, with employees embracing their tools and just getting on with work, calls moving to the internet, and the organisation simply adapting.

It’s been so successful, in fact, that it appears we’ve entered a “new normal”. As we head into 2021, it looks likely that a substantial part of the workforce – perhaps as much as 50-60% − will continue to work from home permanently.

“Remote or mobile workers are now the rule, not the exception, driving massive change in requirements for office facilities, networks, security and processes.” 

And with dust from the initial mass exodus settling, organisations are taking a hard look at how remote collaboration capabilities can be improved. So, what are some immediate steps they can take, and what are the new collaboration technologies that will likely emerge in the next few years?

Rethinking employee experience

The IP-PBX in each office may be taking an early retirement, and users are now using UCC soft clients and the internet, or their mobile phones, to make calls, but a surprising number of workers still have under-utilised, old-school PSTN numbers.

As mentioned, after the initial move to work-from-home, organisations took active steps to ensure their users joined meetings over IP to minimise toll charges. The next step will be to recognise that users just need a soft client, a data connection and a mobile number, and to retire the old phone numbers.

For organisations that have not done so yet, as a first step there are well established services available for mobile expense management and mobile device management to that can be leveraged.

Beyond that, however, most need to give some real thought to re-defining user profiles, looking at secure connectivity for home workers, and fully leveraging UCC soft clients loaded on the mobile device.

“There are immediate steps that can be taken now to optimise a digital employee experience in the “new normal”, and there will be further opportunities with the rollout of 5G over the next few years.”

And we can probably expect many of the cloud providers now offering UCC services with traditional telephony to start offering mobile numbers and data subscriptions, creating new alternatives to traditional mobile plans.  While it does mean a re-think of existing processes, security, and management, there are significant cost, productivity, and user experience benefits to be captured.

Rethinking customer experience

Challenging as overhauling employee experience may seem, it may be the easy part of adapting to the new world order.  Even before the pandemic, customers had already begun migrating to services that offered them a compelling digital experience.

With offices, retail stores, and many public spaces closed or inaccessible, a digital customer experience delivered over a smart phone is no longer just an option, but often the only opportunity to engage.  More rapidly than most expected, the digital engagement model has become the brand.

This is forcing organisations in every industry to completely re-design the way they engage with customers.  We’re seeing contact centres fully embrace an omni-channel experience across chat, voice, video, co-browsing, shared content and other media, healthcare is moving to tele-medicine wherever possible, and retailers are rapidly trying to recreate in-store experiences in a virtual world.

The organisations that most effectively leverage collaboration technologies, automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning to deliver the most compelling – and most customised – user experience will be the ones to survive and thrive.

“With no roadmap, and little prior experience to guide them, it is critical that they adopt an agile approach, co-creating with customer input on a small scale to find out what works, and then constantly improving the model as it scales.” 

Fortunately, there are partners like Tata Communications who can provide assistance, and many of the necessary tools and services are available from the cloud, that can support that approach without requiring a large up-front investment.  It is early days for most industries, but with entire sectors being disrupted by the pandemic and societies being rapidly re-shaped, the stakes could not be higher.

The new normal

The author William Gibson has said, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

Many organisations are finding that the pandemic has delivered the future to the front door and it is banging to get in.  The technologies that can re-shape how we work, shop, and live are already here, but implementing them is no longer an option, or something we can phase in over time.

To enable employees to do their jobs, and to retain them, it is now imperative we reshape a Digital Employee Experience.

To keep our customers and stay in business, we must reshape Digital Customer Experiences.  Whether it is the future, or just our new normal, we need to adapt and transform by embracing the technologies at hand.

Discover more about how businesses can shape a new digital workplace strategy.