When the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic began most companies with employees based in office jobs started sending their people home. Work from home became a mantra for all professional workers who could continue to work for their employer, so long as they had a laptop and broadband connection.
But now that we are seeing the restrictions lifted, many companies are asking their employees back into the office. Some of these workers are now asking for more flexibility. They have proven they can work from home, so why not stay at home permanently or just work two days a week in the office?
This is causing endless debate in the business journals. Will the office survive? What about all those sandwich bars that rely on office workers for their own revenue? How do we manage childcare if we are all working from home?
To my mind, what is more important is the people themselves. How do they feel about being told they need to work from home, regardless of whether they have enough space or not, then proving they can do it before being told to get back into the office again.
Managers making these demands are likely to see a wave of unrest. Team members are tired of being judged only on the number of hours they sit in the office, their actual achievements ignored as they are passed over for a promotion by the guy who regularly has a beer with the boss. It feels like the nineteenth century all over again – factory owners dictating the rules and not listening to any discontent.
TechCrunch recently published an article titled ‘Work From Home is dead, long live Work From Anywhere.’ The article nicely summarized the problem facing many workers at present. They have just proven to their employer that they can be more productive when they are not micromanaged. They can avoid the commute and can get more done every day. But now employers want them all to return to the old practices?
Smart employers will realize that we are at a tipping point. Employees will no longer accept the way things were. They have seen a new path and they like the flexibility it offers. For many professionals there is literally nothing that prevents them from moving to a beach, or the countryside, and continuing to add value for their employer. A fear of change and a desire to return to ‘normal’ is holding back both employers and employees.
Alistair Niederer, North America CEO of Ember Group, recently talked about how this ‘new normal’ might impact the customer service industry. I was particularly struck by his description of the ‘third wave’ of customer service. The first was about 40 years ago when telemarketing was born. The second was the offshoring boom – the massive adoption of outsourced customer service.
On this recent podcast Alistair said: “This is not just affecting customer service – for every company, flexible working is now massive. It’s here to stay. It will be the new way that you need to operate your business. This is the third wave for CX.”
He added: “I believe this flexibility means that working from home will merge with a gig approach using GigCX platforms, like a kind of Uber for CX. Where are all those people going to reside? They can be anywhere and this transition from ‘we do it all ourselves’ through to outsourcing and now through to a far more flexible CX model involving work from home and the gig economy is a massive change.”
Alistair’s vision is timely. We are not witnessing a temporary experiment in working from home. Professionals have seen that they can work more flexibly and they can remain productive. The move to work from home customer service will not smoothly transition back to contact centers, because the customer and employee expectations have both changed. GigCX combined with work from home is going to be the immediate wave to surf, then who knows where all this flexibility will take us? Certainly not back to the office.
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