And 4 best practice tips to smooth transitions
In a recent webinar, How Work-from-Home Demands Are Accelerating Automation in the Back Office, Craig Seebach, VP Strategy, Workforce Engagement at Verint, and Daniel Peled, VP of Channels at Kryon Systems, discussed how companies are responding to the many changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Craig outlined four phases of response.
- Physically move employees to work-from-home.
- Ensure success of employees in a new role and/or location
- Transition to the new normal; the hybrid in-office and remote workforce
- Create plans for potential waves 2 and 3 of this pandemic.
This first phase created the most angst for both employees, managers and customers. Practically overnight organisations needed to set up a large portion of their workforce to work-from-home for the first time. Do they have the devices and access they need to perform their jobs? Do you have an accessible means of communicating updates to employees, as well as receiving feedback on what is or isn’t working?
What might have been a five-year plan to transition a portion of the workforce to remote, now had to be executed in a week or two for the majority of employees. Daniel shared that one customer was on the verge of a large endeavour to expand their Robotic Process Automation platform, but had to postpone that so they could purchase 1,500 laptops for their newly remote workforce.
Geography had a large impact on this transition too. Locations in parts of India, Malaysia and the Philippines lacked the infrastructure to give at-home employees the high-speed internet connectivity they need to perform their jobs. Work needed to be shifted to other sites to ensure service levels remained high.
Best Practice Tip: Have one central means of communicating with employees.
Communities enable organisations to disseminate information in a timely manner. Employees can post their questions and the peers can view and comment on them, giving you a broader understanding of employee concerns and challenges.
Once at home, managers lose the line of site they had to do walk-around management, and employees lose the ability to ask a friend or reach across the aisle for help. Organisations had to scramble to find ways to:
- Keep employees informed and connected
- Adjust expectations for when and how people worked
- Help managers and employees remain productive in this time of disruption
- Quickly onboard employees for new skills and roles where needed.
Informed and Connected
Another behaviour change brought on by the transition to WFH was the rise in instant messaging, Microsoft Teams and other collaboration tools. Instead of asking your buddy in the next cubicle a question, you could IM him. Impromptu gatherings in the break room or hallway to discuss a problem or test a new offering idea now takes place on Microsoft Teams.
Craig shared that at Verint we’ve seen a big uptake in the use of Microsoft Teams, not only for internal collaboration, but our customers are using Teams to meet directly with their customers. This creates a compliance challenge, because some industries require 100% recording of customer interactions.
So now companies need to include Teams as a customer channel to be recorded and monitored. And it’s not just for traditionally contact centre roles. We’ve seen customers leveraging Teams to bring on back-office employees who are processing work, perhaps in an escalation to determine why a transaction is delayed or incomplete. Now privacy regulations such as PCI, GDPR, CCPA and others are a concern for the back-office tool.
Fortunately, Verint offers Compliance Recording for Microsoft Teams. Verint was one of the first vendors to be certified for compliance recording for Skype for Business. We have expanded this capability to include all modes of communication available in Teams: voice, video, chat and meetings. Learn more by downloading the eBook:
Compliance Recording for Microsoft Teams: A Buyer’s Guide.
Work-from-home was not the only change caused by the pandemic. Daycares closed. Kids were suddenly out of school and mom and dad became both parent and teacher. Nannies and adult care givers were no longer able to visit the home. This dramatic disruption to the employee’s personal life meant that expectations needed to be altered.
Organisations needed to be more flexible in their scheduling and performance goals. There is no historical precedent to help forecast demand for this situation. Companies need to capture real-time data to understand what the new patterns look like and adapt their management processes accordingly. Instead of an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift, with a set break and lunch times, employees were starting earlier, working later, but taking longer blocks of time during the day to address childcare, elder care, etc. instead of a target of 85% productive, goals might have been adjusted to 75% during the first month, and then increased as new habits and patterns emerged.
In the blog, Three Recommendations for Managing Work-from-Home Employees, a Director from Capita, a UK business process outsourcer, suggests measuring people on the outcomes which they deliver rather than “presentee-ism” or hours spent “in the office.”
In order to ensure the success of the newly work-from-home employees, managers need insight into how employees are performing and what obstacles they might be facing. Solutions such as Verint Desktop and Process Analytics and Operations Visualiser capture employee activity at the desktop and can become a “virtual walk-around” that gives managers real-time insight into how employees are spending their time.
Read the blog, Transitioning Your Back-Office Workforce to Work-from-Home, to learn about how these solutions work and help organisations keep employee productivity high in what can be a distracting and even chaotic environment.
In addition, with all the disruptions at home, organisations are looking to streamline and automate as much of the work as possible. Robotic Process Automation is a tool that can quickly eliminate the tedious, rules-based tasks that many employees are plagued with, such as cutting and pasting data from one system to another, or going out to multiple sources to capture data and complete a form. Removing these tasks through automation will enable the employee to focus more on the customer and value-added work, helping to keep employee productivity levels high even when there are more distractions.
And unlike your employees, RPA robots are not impacted by location. They can support the employee no matter where they are located. And challenges of work-from-home employees, like child or elder care, home schooling, etc., don’t impact or slow down their performance. As long as there are tasks to be performed, they can work 24/7.
To find tasks and processes that are prime for RPA automation, Kryon and Verint offer an industry leading solution, Automation Discovery, which allows organisations to scale RPA across the organisation. Discovery bots can be placed on a group of employee desktops remotely to capture all of the desktop activity. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI), the solution can:
- Identify tasks that relate to a process
- Map that process and all its variations
- Prioritise opportunities within those processes for automation.
Making life even easier, once the process is validated by the process owner, the map can be exported directly to the RPA tool, greatly speeding development time. Employees benefit from increased productivity as tasks are offloaded to the RPA robots, and the customer benefits from faster processing times.
New Roles and Skills
Many industries were dramatically impacted by the pandemic. Craig gave the example of banks, which have seen a huge spike in volumes due to requests for refinancing or deferral of loan payments, etc.
Banking is considered an essential service provider, but they were faced with the need to close some branches, alter the hours at others, and determine what to do with branch personnel who were no longer able to be there in person. Some banks set up bank tellers at home as contact centre agents to help handle the high volume of inquiries. Others leveraged branch personnel to help handle back-office transactions. The challenge is, how do you quickly onboard these employees with the skills they need to perform these new roles?
Daniel gave the example of a large Telco customer, whose call centre in the Philippines was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. locations had to take on their call volume, while at the same time they were closing their store locations. Leveraging attended RPA automation, they were able to build wizards to walk employees through the process and various call types, training store personnel how to take calls and giving them real-time guidance on live calls.
The Telco had these employees up and taking calls within 24 hours!
Another tool that can help employees quickly come up to speed in a new role is Knowledge Management, an automated way to deliver contextual, just-in-time content to answer questions and provide needed detail about company products, policies or procedures.
Best Practice Tip: Leverage new technologies as the next response to understand how the move to WFH has impacted employees and their ability to do their jobs. Solutions such as Verint Operations Visualiser Cloud QuickStart can help identify which employees might be struggling, if there’s a need to adjust expectations, goals or schedules, and if additional support is needed to ensure success as a WFH employee.
The New Hybrid Workforce
As states and countries began a phased opening of businesses, organisations started to assess what’s next. Just a sampling of questions they need to answer as the next response include:
- Which employees were successful working from home, and which either need the structure of working in an office, or simply prefer it to working from home?
- How do you safely begin introducing employees back into the work environment?
- How do you factor in social distance spacing for desks and cubicles?
- How do you stagger arrival times so as not to create a log jam at the elevators and other common areas?
- How do you factor in a more frequent and rigorous cleaning of spaces?
One way to answer the more logistically oriented questions above is with a scheduling solution with newly designed workflows to accommodate the new requirements, such as
- Staggered start times
- “Zoned” schedules according to jurisdictional regulations on safe distancing
- Necessary office and desk hygiene time allotments.
Going forward, as organisations manage a combined remote/work-from-home and on-site workforce, accommodations will need to be made as the organisational response in management processes and reporting to incorporate where an employee is when the work is performed.
One insurer has been managing a hybrid workforce for some time as their latest organisational response, and has coded their task types to include location: computer processes vs. computer processing WFH. Read their story here: How to Equitably Manage Employee Productivity Across Teams, Sites and WFH Staff.
Best Practice Tip: Take advantage of a robust workforce management solution that gives employees the flexibility to request changes, swap shifts, and work non-traditional hours so they can better balance work and home life in times of crisis. And as businesses and offices re-open, these solutions need to factor in social distancing rules/locations, staggered start/end times for shifts, and downtimes for cleaning and disinfecting.
Planning for the Future
While some continue to debate whether we are still in the midst of the first wave of the Coronavirus, or past it, we can hope that organisations have learned from the chaos caused by the initial outbreak and have put in place measures and procedures to better handle a probable second and possible third wave.
Organisational response would be well advised to be looking to the future for ways to streamline workflows with Robotic Process Automation. By automating and eliminating tasks that don’t require human cognitive thinking, organisations reduce their risk of poor customer service and inefficiencies due to new and continued disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Listen to Craig and Daniel’s discussion here.
Best Practice Tip: Leverage Robotic Process Automation to streamline tasks and processes, provide real-time guidance, and discover opportunities to scale automation across your enterprise as the next response.