We have all probably worked in teams where some percentage of the personnel are remote. But what happens when 100% of a team is virtual—can traditional management and management styles support a hub-less work environment?
Months into this grand experiment in working remote and supporting virtual work environments, we see obvious facts and truths emerge.
Technology is Key to Successful Remote Work
The technology we already have on our hands is sufficient to enable a remote work environment. I can say from experience that I did not add any new platforms to do my job. In short; Slack, Cloud File Storage, and Zoom are all some departments like marketing really need. Now, some departments like customer service and support may have a different experience, but what it comes down to is the technology that they engage with whether it be the platform in which they communicate or the service software in which they track customer accounts.
Another area where technology can be a huge enabler is around data quality. When we are remote, and not as “in personal touch” with our customers as we typically are – the information we have around them can go stale, or we simply may not have enough to make the right decisions at important touchpoints. That is why here at Sugar we have been articulating our High Definition Customer Experience or “HD-CX” vision. The actual technology behind what powers our HD-CX vision relies on artificial intelligence, and aggregating millions and millions of third-party data pieces to provide more complete, accurate, and even predictive insights about customers and prospects. So, with less human contact, we can still know our customers and provide the “human touch” in a contactless world. Thus, providing excellence in customer experience that we all are now competing on.
Now, that doesn’t mean that companies aren’t coming up short in their technology environment, many companies are realizing that they aren’t as connected or adept as they could be but that can change. With CX enabled software like SugarCRM’s solutions that integrate with multiple platforms, that challenge just got easier for organizations.
Remote Workforces ARE Productive
A central truth is that most companies can be just as effective or productive as wholly remote workforces. Now, this may differ based on aspects like the maturity of an organization (how long a team worked together before the pandemic or how well company departments communicate). On the whole—from sales organizations, marketing teams, production, and engineering—we are seeing no real delays or drops in productivity for the majority of employees or departments. If anything, at least in my experience, things are moving at a faster pace.
In the news, there’s a variety of articles about people relocating outside the area where their company’s offices are located for both personal and financial reasons. While it’s unclear if this is permanent, it begs the question do companies truly need full offices in such a connected world? With technological advances that make remote work not only possible but increasingly effective, some companies may find that like Sugar, they adapt just as quickly if there was no disruption even though we are all very aware of the global consequences of COVID-19.
At Sugar, we have always worked to support remote workers internally and those working for our customers. Most recently, we announced SugarLive–an omnichannel response and engagement toolset powered by Amazon Connect seamlessly embedded in our Sugar Serve UX. SugarLive is 100% cloud-based and can allow any remote worker to be fully functional support and response agent, while also easily route or escalate an issue to someone across the world in an instant, for example. Technology can advance and connect your employees just as much as your customers.
Questions Remain In this New World
But, as some of us drag into the seventh month of remote work, some questions are starting to emerge (for me at least), as we start to perform some aspects of work that we typically do in the office. Tasks and events like onboarding, annual sales kickoffs, trainings, all-hands meetings, corporate team off-sites, etc. These activities almost rely solely or mostly on the social and physical proximity to be successful. Whether they happen at the company headquarters or at a conference center—the team building and enforcement of company culture are indelible in events like these. While we have seen success in moving some events virtually, like our own SugarConnected, it does make me wonder what the future holds beyond 2020.
So, my question is: How effective can we be in articulating, inculcating, and nurturing company culture in the age of COVID?
Finding the Missing Link—The Hub
Your culture is directly related to your customer experience according to industry leaders, which makes it essential to find out how you’re enabling employees in this new remote environment. Without any physical proximity, with no central place to meet, as it were—teams and companies as a whole, lack a central “hub.” They still live in silos that prevent them from achieving customer experience in a meaningful way but also bars culture from centering around communication. The hub which can be your CRM or CX platform serves an important purpose, both mentally and physically employees align with their workplace, and having a place where communication is enabled, and people feel connected in real-time is essential.
Even remote employees sometimes head into the office for big meetings, team sprints, and other integral elements, not only to the company culture but to the brand and company roadmap.
Technology is crucial to a connection beyond the tools that connect your company in work, such as Slack, Zoom, and other communication platforms. Companies either already have or must learn to encourage the broad and vigorous use of collaboration and communication tools in addition to the tools like CRM that keep employees connected. When we go beyond using these types of technology for sharing and accessing content to really sharing and developing ideas and connecting, they can be a useful hub of sorts.
Creating a hub with communication technology is one way to continually connect employees. Another way to achieve a hub is through leveraging town halls and other group meetings that are truly collaborative; not a C-level executive working news or assignments to lower-level employees. This goes beyond the happy hours and “always have the video on in Zoom calls” mandates for teams and organizations. Technology can only do so much. Management and leadership need to be hands-on in new and innovative ways to keep teams not only focused, but also energized, feeling connected, and most important—feeling valued.
This then translates to customers.
Once we are over the COVID disruption to our business landscape, it could be easier to bring teams together even if normally remote for monthly or quarterly off-sites, project planning sessions, etc. But above all, building a collaborative and mutually respectful culture is tantamount to success not only as a business culture but providing a satisfactory experience to your customers.
It is going to be interesting to see which companies thrive and grow—and retain their unique cultures, without an office environment available pre-pandemic.