The workplace is transforming. Seemingly overnight, remote work evolved from being a nice-to-have option for a few highly independent employees to a must-have necessity for as many workers as possible.
To that end, unified communications as a service (UCaaS) was at the right place at the right time. It played a central role in enabling employees to work from home. As the COVID-19 pandemic raged in 2020, IT decision-makers didn't have the luxury to plot the best way to support a remote workforce. They needed options that could be deployed quickly, with minimal disruption, and at a scale to support a large number of users. This was not a time to think through how well workers would adapt to being at home, or what their needs would be when they realized they'd be working remotely for a long time to come.
Today, enterprise UCaaS deployment presents IT decision-makers with a different reality. Hybrid work has emerged as the business model of choice, and with that shift, working from home is here to stay. By now, UCaaS platforms have been fine-tuned to support a wide variety of home-based settings. Workers now have an effective collaboration tool set to rely on wherever they may be. As a result, UCaaS deployments must now address a more nuanced set of needs. Let's examine three of the most critical.
1. Drive employee engagement
Business-grade collaboration tools are now table stakes for home-based work, but no amount of technology can obscure the isolation that comes from operating this way. Not only do workers miss the camaraderie of the office, they must also contend with family demands that come from being home all day.
Many home-based workers have figured out how to strike a balance between working from home and commuting to an office, but most have only been thinking short term. The hybrid model implies that switching between locations will be permanent. This means that collaboration platforms must do more than drive productivity. Regardless of the tools used, workers will not be productive if they're not engaged, and trends like the "Great Resignation" indicate that providing UCaaS won't be enough.
What workers really want is this: They want to feel effective and they want a job that offers flexible working conditions and guardrails that keep their work and personal lives separate. This is a complex topic, but for IT decision-makers, the main goal is to provide applications that make it easy for workers to schedule both home and office-based work time.
To illustrate, say your office has capacity restrictions. In that case, you'll need policies to prioritize when workers or teams can come in to work. This will take some planning. How you do this is less important than ensuring that employees' hybrid work concerns are being acknowledged.
2. Make collaboration personal
This approach focuses on the collaboration applications workers use, as well as how they use them. Again, when employees work in isolation from home, it's difficult to connect with people and culture, both of which drive engagement. This is where the flexibility of cloud-based platforms comes into play.
UCaaS lets workers personalize their desktops and virtual workspaces, and IT decision-makers should make this easy to do. Rather than strive for uniformity where everyone engages the same way, workers should be encouraged to express their personality and even their creativity. UCaaS applications can take this a long way by supporting visuals such as personalized images, emojis and avatars, each of which can be customized to reflect a particular persona.
As communications platform as a service applications become more user-friendly, workers will be able to create personalized notifications for team members on the fly, or embed voice snippets into meeting notes. AI adds another layer, where workers create avatars with distinct personas to interact with other team members in virtual meeting spaces. AI is an emerging use case, but its development illustrates how personalized collaboration tools can help ease the isolation of working from home.
3. AI-driven automation
Harnessing AI to drive automation is the next frontier for collaboration, and it should be on your hybrid work radar now. Adding AI to UCaaS helps workers automate workflows so they can spend more time interacting directly with co-workers. Blending the two not only drives engagement, it lets employees personalize how they communicate with others.
A great example is real-time transcription, which is now offered by most UCaaS platforms. With this feature, meeting attendees don't have to concentrate on taking notes; instead, they can focus in the moment and collaborate more effectively. After the meeting, AI can extract the most important takeaways and action items. This is how IT decision-makers can enable smarter forms of collaboration. Not only does a more intuitive and automated collaboration platform save time and effort, it makes home-based workers feel more part of the team.
Conversational AI, meantime, is another UCaaS deployment tool worth watching. Consumers have already become comfortable with the technology, as they likely have conducted voice searches on mobile devices or asked Amazon Alexa for the latest weather. Conversational AI has improved to the point where it's good enough for everyday workplace needs. Today, all workers can effectively have their own personal digital assistants.
Indeed, voice can be used in a variety of ways, from managing schedules to collaborating on documents. The possibilities are endless, and in keeping with our touchless times, conversational AI can enhance collaboration regardless of where work gets done -- in the office, in the car or at home.