The Use of Technology to Prepare for the Return to the Office


During the first stage of the pandemic, employees were quickly transitioned to work from home while organizations simultaneously got their remote office infrastructures up and running. Many did not anticipate work from home to last this long, and some are still in a semi-permanent working situation hoping for a return to the office as part of the “new normal”. As the pandemic has been progressing, we are quickly learning that the way we worked in the past, will not be the way we work in the future.

So, what will the future of work look like when we return to the office? To start, more workers than ever may be working remotely for an extended period of time, which introduces a new set of challenges and opportunities for organizations. It is very likely that the return to work will see a mix of remote and in-office workers, and solutions such as cloud meetings, unified communications as a service (UCaaS) and contact centre as a service (CSaaS) will be the way of the future. Other trends we’re expecting to see are:

Increased adoption of collaboration tools on desktops and mobile devices

Whether we’re in the office or at home, we still need to collaborate. In order to ensure that employees who are working from home have the same capabilities as those in the office, it is crucial to have a platform that is agnostic of location, which is why cloud-based platforms like Cisco WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Ringcentral and 8×8 will become our standard collaboration tools for the future. With the integration of bot technology, you are now also able to interact with your cloud services through these tools as well.

In addition to these tools being the new common area for socializing and collaboration, most desk phones are likely to be replaced by apps on our laptops combined with any headset of choice. We anticipate this change due to the increase of people who will be working remotely, or switching between the office and home, making desk phones less convenient than an app that can move with you. These apps will become be our communication hub that would host our meetings, calling, chat and team collaboration platforms and some organizations may utilize more than one to meet their day to day collaboration needs.

Due to the shift to collaboration tools over desk phones, we will also see a continued increase in video collaboration. With employees working from many different locations, it will be less and less likely that meetings will be held with every attendee in person, so we expect to see a rise in video collaboration during meetings as a way for coworkers to meet face to face. Video collaboration also allows attendees to see visual cues when communicating and to see how engaged meeting attendees are, two things that are potentially lost with the lack of opportunity to meet in person.

Less strain on organization’s resources

With employees working remotely and using their home Wi-Fi services, there is less strain on organizational resources and an increased demand for better services at home. With workers needing a more reliable internet connection, faster download speed and internet for remote communities, we will likely see a rapid expansion and adoption of 5G.

In addition to the decrease in use of organizations’ internet services, we also expect to see a reduction in their real estate. We estimate that many of us will not return to the office full time, not because people are afraid, but because organizations are realizing that a lot can be done while people are at home and that they don’t necessarily need to be in the office to do their jobs. Since employees won’t be working from the office every day, we may see more people moving out of the city and to more remote communities in search of more affordable housing.

New uses for virtual reality and virtual assistant tools

For both employees on site and working from home, we expect that virtual and augmented reality will become increasingly popular as organizations put more focus and effort towards employee experience. One example is virtual assistants, which are increasing in popularity in meeting spaces. For instance, Cisco WebEx Assistant for meeting rooms allows meeting users to walk into meeting spaces and start or schedule meetings with voice commands. This experience leverages existing technologies like Natural Language Processing, Text to Speech and Speech to Text to pass commands to the meeting room device and to get responses from it, which is the same technology used by Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa, etc.

Another use case for virtual assistants is for taking meeting notes. The WebEx Meeting Assistant will transcribe what is being said in the meeting whilst highlighting who said what and when. At the end of your meeting, you are provided with the meeting transcript and the highlights as captured by the WebEx Meeting Assistant. Microsoft Teams also offers this option, however, users need to record the meeting and turn on closed captioning. Teams also has the capability of translating between languages which is very beneficial for global organizations.

Live support is the third use for virtual assistants that we expect to increase in the “new normal”. ServiceNow’s Virtual Agent is a great example of this, as their platform allows organizations to design and build automated conversations that allow users to obtain information, make decisions and perform common tasks, such as get tech support or ask HR-related questions.

Rapid adoption of Contact Centre as a Service (CSaaS) platforms

The shift to remote work will also bring the move to the cloud for many organization’s contact centres, also known as Contact Centre as a Service (CSaaS). With the introduction of CSaaS, we will see a lot of growth and integration with machine learning and the adoption of AI, which will allow contact centre agents to work from home. By hosting their contact centre platforms in the cloud, organizations can adopt quickly to remote work requirements and take advantage of the latest and greatest innovation in the contact centre technology space.

As mentioned, we expect a growth of adoption of AI technology in this space, which will allow businesses to serve their customers better and provide a great experience for them when they interact with customer support. A popular use of AI technology is the introduction of virtual agents. These virtual agents rely on Natural Language Processing (NPL) to identify customer’s intent, sentiment and mood to ensure that the customer is engaged throughout the service. Virtual agents also ensure that there is a smooth transition to a live agent if the need arises with Speech to Text (STT) and Text to Speech (TTS) technology. AI also provides live agents with customer insights to ensure that agents are informed and armed with enough information to handle customer requests in a very timely manner.

Artificial intelligence technology in meeting rooms

In addition to AI being used in contact centres, this technology will also be leveraged for in person and virtual meetings as well. For instance, today’s mics offer voice and background noise cancellation which is powered by AI. An example of this is the Noiseblock AI solution that Poly uses in both its meeting room devices and headsets. Similarly, collaboration platforms are becoming more intelligent and can identify background noise such as a dog barking and can mute that person on the call automatically. Through adaptive learning, collaboration platforms can adapt to different situations during a meeting and self-heal through a built-in algorithm within the platform.

With these key trends in mind, 2020 is expected to continuously evolve in the way we work. From new collaboration tools and updates, mixed reality, the introduction of new services and more, the return to the office will look differently than it did before, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. There is a world of opportunity for the future of work, and we’re excited to see what other technologies will lead the way.

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