The future is now - a hybrid, customer-centric workforce

Profile picture for user Teresa Anania By Teresa Anania November 24, 2020
Customers and employees alike need human connections for the best experience. Zendesk's Teresa Anania considers the possibilities in a hybrid future of work

Human connections as diverse strings linked in the shape of a face © Lightspring - shutterstock
(© Lightspring - shutterstock)

The sustained working future is digital and virtual. Exploring and making the most of all possible channels of communication is now the standard way to engage — and it's also high value. We're not just reacting to crisis; we're evolving benefits. Going forward, our workplace experiences will strike a hybrid form of their past physical existence, that blends digital and physical. As Gartner predicts

The habits employees and managers are forming now will have a long tail and influence the way organizations operate for years to come.

At Zendesk, we believe our more remote workforces will offer more value, to employee and company alike. As an organization navigating new currents, we will explore and experience positive impact in recruiting the right talent and in delivering and deepening customer engagement.

Achieving the right hybrid state

We can have the best of both worlds. Think of a routine doctor's visit. In the past, I would have needed time away from the office to physically visit a clinic, wait for my turn. We quickly found that many issues can be assessed and treated virtually. Likewise, with work, removing the commute, especially the long, brutal ones that many in big metropolitan areas like New York and the San Francisco Bay Area experienced, frees up many measurable hours and also an immeasurable amount of energy and creativity. You're not on a train for an hour or in a car for 90 minutes or walking to the subway and then getting stuck on the subway and rained on when you get out of the subway… all before you start work! So much energy can now be conserved and directed toward what we care about — the refinement of our talents, our relationships with our teams, the happiness of our customers. 

Going forward, I think we're going to be more effective as employees, and we're also going to have better lives.

How we're building the hybrid state

That said, as we consider and create this hybrid state, we have to ask: What are the trouble points? How do we get from here to there in terms of the hybrid state? Companies are actively re-evaluating the use of real estate. How do we come to a place where we know how to use space, how much space you need, the role of space, and what shared space will mean in the near and medium term? In some places, creative architecture will utterly reinvent our image of coworking. Other companies, like Zendesk, are designating more employees remote, eliminating assigned desks and shared kitchens, and working out how a smaller number of people can share the office safely and confidently when some of us do return. 

How we proceed will be heavily based on use cases and deliberating through the best vision of a particular role. If it's a customer-facing role, it's likely to be purely virtual. I think some will be a mix of the two. Above all, we must put customer needs first.

How we are shifting the support paradigm

In so many industries, we believed that being in person, in the same space, was crucial for productivity and excellence in results. This was very much the case in customer support, in call centers. And we're seeing that customer support can absolutely be done remotely, with the same standards of care and excellence. Video remote tools within our team help us build a team attitude, get everyone on the same page — that feeling that there's accountability to each other. The flipside, of course, is fatigue from too many video meetings, and we have to stay vigilant around how all these meetings affect us. 

Regardless of whether a customer is engaging with chat or phone or email, having a support solution that allows a full view of the customer experience in any given interaction with a customer is all the more essential in delivering what could be an even better customer experience than we could have even conceived before. We took certain things for granted when we were physically co-located — "Oh, we can always share." It isn't efficient. In fixing this inefficiency we're doing better for the customer.

The other thing I'm hearing from customers is that there's a need for tooling around productivity. There is a great desire to ensure that organizations can optimize the workflow and, obviously, in the areas of support, around things like SLAs that they might be mandated to provide customers. They have to be able to measure that, and it will need to be done in that distributed organization now versus everyone co-located in one spot.

How tools are supporting our employees 

Supporting our customers starts with supporting our employees. We immediately recognized the need to shift and improve upon the tools we use company-wide. Take the example of onboarding. A process that was grounded in face-to-face interaction is now digital-first — these days we are no longer handing new hires their laptop. We've beefed up the partnership between our workplace and IT teams to ensure simple processes and a seamless experience for new employees. Our core tools include our in-house knowledge base, Society, and the human resources tool Workday. Instead of sending new hires to one of our favorite conference rooms for several straight days of onboarding, we now do that training virtually through an online learning platform. This fosters a new uniformity to a critical process, and if they wish, employees are now also better able to get answers on their own. We use our own products to provide ongoing support, and employees can file a ticket in Zendesk Support to get assistance from 24-hour shared services teams across the company. Built-in workflow automation and tracking tools lets everyone involved see who's responsible, who's a stakeholder, and the status of a ticket.

How human contact could influence recruiting and retention

Adapting to remote work life and putting into place systems and tools to foster an efficient and healthy remote workforce is an achievement. Particularly so suddenly and under such bewildering pressures. But this is not the end of the story. It is also incumbent upon us to create experiences that satiate our employees' need for human contact. 

Truly human engagement is necessary. Eight months into this pandemic, we are missing each other, even as we enjoy all of the benefits of remote. As time passes, going too far in the remote direction could hurt us on the recruiting and retention fronts. People are likely to want the option of engaging with their colleagues and customers in the office — if not every day, then from time to time.

Ultimately, people want the best of all worlds. 

As the future continues to unfold in front of us, we will be agile and we will be responsive.

We'll survive and we will also be better

I want us all, as a company and a society, to come through this wrenching time knowing ourselves and showing each other that this thing didn't get us — that we were able to rise above. We have already lost so much as a country and a globe — a million dead, worldwide. We've lost time with loved ones, our personal connections. We feel like life as it was known is gone.

How do we hold all of that and also keep going? How do we evolve our entire infrastructure? In the midst of so much that is so hard, what excites me are the possibilities.