For just a brief moment, let’s all set aside the new vernacular of 2020 and 2021 — ignoring terms like “new normal” and “post-COVID.” Instead, let’s take a good hard look at the “after” that is unfolding as we speak. Will everyone fall back into the same old habits from before the pandemic, or has the business world truly changed forever?
For instance, if just two short years ago someone seriously introduced the idea of everyone working from home, the answer would have been a resounding “NO!” And why? Because for the better part of recent history, people were managed by being watched. This outdated idea of management meant that in-office face time was an odd substitute for actual productivity. It was this conditioning that led to decades of modern office life, where seeing people in a cubicle somehow equated to work and output.
In this new accelerated era of unified communications, the idea of face-time fell flat in an instant. Suddenly, managers of all types were scrambling to understand how to measure value and output when people could not be seen in person.
And somehow they figured it out. When the pandemic hit, the fact is that everyone went home, logged in, and continued on as though it was business as usual. From there, productivity climbed, and at-home work/life balance seemed to organically happen with little to no force.
Fast-forward approximately one year later. The majority of Americans are now maskless and fancy-free, and the landscape is once again shifting. But to where?
In my own personal observations, people are actually very much looking forward to being office-bound for the first time in over a year. Perhaps this is a byproduct of isolation — making people yearn for the days of busy office life, open-concept work environments, the seemingly never-ending rings of phone calls, the hum of copiers, and chatter.
But just as fast as the return to the office happened, that excitement slowed down, giving way to what many now refer to as the “hybrid” office environment. Why is that? Like anything, good or bad, people, in general, want what they can’t have — and the office is no different. When given a choice, having the “best of both worlds” makes the most amount of sense. The solitude of home to get real work completed, paired with the in-person experience of collective collaboration, has now become the norm.
So what’s the real difference between pre-pandemic and now? Long before the pandemic, people could — and would — occasionally work remotely, and many could and would come and go from the office at will. The shift now is that this hybrid approach is no longer a nice-to-have — it’s simply the reality. With all of the benefits of hybrid work environments, workers are simply happier and more productive. That translates into better business. But that is not where this new hybrid scenario ends.
One of the most elusive things in business for so many years has been analytics and its resulting business intelligence. And though this is obviously not new, how all this pertains to the entirety of the communications infrastructure and circles back around to productivity has become the new game-changer.
For one, knowing who is connected and working at all times is simply a function of UC. That said, also knowing what licenses and devices are in use (and not in use) translates to the bottom line, plus it provides insights into UC tool adoption and workforce usage.
Then of course there is the promise of the cloud. By moving communications infrastructure into a more modernized environment, the choice and flexibility of business applications — and resulting BI — increases. Not to mention better call center processes and KPIs, enhanced customer experience, and more — the list is virtually endless. And best of all, the requirement for physical space can be reduced. The idea of housing hundreds of call center agents in one place is again a thing of the not-so-distant past.
So, will the business world fall back on old habits? In some cases, of course. A hundred years of office life doesn’t disappear overnight — or even over the course of a year. What I do predict is that we will continue to see more and more UC integrations, flexibility, and positive business outcomes, as much as we will see the already expanding hybrid environment grow to represent new possibilities. There is a bright new world ahead. Let’s embrace it for all its worth!
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