Redefining ‘work-life balance’ in the remote work era

Redefining ‘work-life balance’ in the remote work era

Jeremy Paton, Team Engagement Solutions Director APAC, Avaya, analyses the shift from work-life balance to ‘work-life integration’ and offers strategies for leaders and managers to leverage their tech systems to adapt operations to the demands of today’s economies.

A year ago, employees were asking for permission to work from home. Now, after an initial return and depending where in Asia-Pacific you are, many are back to asking permission to enter the office as business recovery strategies support on-going operational uncertainty.

COVID-19 forced most to think fast and rapidly adapt, with 88% of organizations adopting work-from-home strategies in response to operating restrictions. Previous hurdles to transformation journeys were pushed out of the way as businesses across the economic spectrum sought to keep operations running, maintain productivity and deliver the best possible customer experience.

But in the past months, the very idea of work-life balance has evolved from an equilibrium between work and life commitments, to an entwining of the two. We’ve moved towards work-life integration.

Work-life integration has been driven by the hybridisation of three key aspects of the workforce: the convergence of customer experience and employee experience; the blurring of lines between the home and the office; and the melding together of humans and the technology.

Convergence of customer and employee experiences

Traditionally, organizations have spent millions of dollars improving customer experience each year with comparatively little invested in employee experience.

With so much focus on one side of the equation, many organizations unwittingly created a growing digital divide between their customers and the frontline staff who are there to support them.

But mandated work-from-home initiatives tipped the hands of many businesses. As organizations sought to enable their agents to work remotely, employees gained access to many of the services available previously only to customers – such as digital chat and self-service, video and IVR.

As the availability of digital self-service grows and new channels become available, voice interactions will become more sophisticated and more complex – both in the nature of the customer query and their expectations around their resolution.

So as organizations evolve from traditional communications, they need to think about how to bring more complex channels into that experience and how to integrate with the back office when that support is needed.

To do this requires an open architecture. This might be a widget framework that can align customer applications with contact center applications – then integrating both of these with back office collaboration tools.

It also demands a flexible and adaptable infrastructure to ensure those tools are always available to mitigate downtime without limiting how employees prefer to work. Although many have looked for a silver bullet with an ‘all-in’ strategy, enabling true work-life integration means leveraging the affordances of the many types of clouds to tailor technology to serve your business, not vice versa.

The critical piece of this puzzle is being able to bring in all those resources together and use them in a holistic approach, rather than having each channel act in a siloed manner.

Blurring the lines between home and office

As a result of the pandemic, almost every traditional office role was trialled in a remote working environment. This presented a number of operational challenges, particularly in relation to contact center staff: How do you meet? How do you manage staff who have never worked from home? How do you escalate a customer query?

Traditional collaboration tools allocated to non-customer facing staff have typically been used for rudimentary video conference and chat functions. But these tools can be extremely powerful for frontline staff.

Consider access to supervisors. When you’re in a contact center, you can raise your hand when you’ve got a tricky problem and the supervisor will help you out. When working remotely, this becomes difficult. An agent waiting in a queue to chat with a supervisor costs a lot of money and has a huge impact on the wait time and customer experience.

Instead, collaboration tools allow agents to view the presence of the supervisor, enable direct chat, or ways to provide learning through shared posts and documents that can be searched and found instantly.

These abilities have immense benefits for training and upskilling as businesses ensure all staff are up-to-date with ever-changing policies and procedures. Further, having a simple virtual location that’s team-based and imitates the office environment is key to ensuring agents navigate the blurred boundaries between home and office.

Melding together humans and technology

As AI continues to proliferate, it’s increasingly becoming a tool to assist humans in their work – not replace them. This is profoundly changing the way contact centers work, creating a hybrid workforce of AI-assisted agents.

Let’s be clear: voice is not going away. As agent work is becoming more complex and sophisticated with digital self-service handling simpler queries, AI is providing immeasurable benefits to agents handling the complicated tasks.

And this comes largely thanks to advances in voice recognition.
A few years ago, the speech searches on Google Assistant were extremely simple. Now, they’re full conversational sentences.

IVR has existed in the contact center space for years, but it always left a lot to be desired. Today, it’s living up to its potential. These tools, like Google Voice Assistant and Google Cloud’s Artificial Intelligence platform, completely redefine both the customer and employee experience.

For example, while the customer and agent talk, the conversation is transcribed in real time. Google Voice Assistant analyzes it, understands the intent, adjusts to that conversation and pushes recommendations to the agent for how to respond to the customer’s inquiry.

This synthesis of AI knowledge and human empathy is creating ‘super agents’ who always have the relevant information at hand.

Even though we have been living with the pandemic for several months, many organizations are still figuring out the intricate and complex demands of their teams.

Only 37% of businesses in Asia-Pacific had plans in place to get through a crisis like COVID-19; now that we’ve seen work-life integration en masse, it is critical the tools enabling employees to work from anywhere are suited to the requirements of the digital economy and a dispersed, flexible workforce.

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