When talking about employee collaboration across the customer journey, it’s impossible to ignore our new reality: a majority of knowledge workers shifted to remote work in 2020, and many will continue working remotely at least some of the time for the long term.
While remote work offers a wide range of benefits for both employers and employees, it also presents a unique set of challenges, especially when it comes to knowledge sharing and collaborative work. In fact, according to 451 Research, a part of S&P Global Market Research, 66% of CX professionals “believe more remote work will make collaboration across the customer journey more challenging.”
For many organizations, remote work has shone a light on existing problems around the internal flow of information. When employees are in different locations (and potentially time zones), it’s often more difficult to track down the appropriate information source in a timely manner. It’s no longer an option to simply stop by a coworker’s desk, and it’s not always evident when subject matter experts are available to answer questions.
Additionally, remote work without an investment in maintaining company culture can lead to employee disengagement, which further hinders collaboration. In fact, in Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work report, remote workers ranked loneliness and difficulties with communication and collaboration as two of their top challenges.
Given the direct connection between employee experience and customer experience, businesses need to focus on the cultural initiatives, operational processes, and technologies that will allow teams to stay connected and successfully work from anywhere.
Tips for Enabling Hybrid Work
Provide Opportunities for Relationship Building
Remote employees may miss out on “watercooler moments”—those organic, informal interactions between employees in shared spaces such as the elevator or break room. While these moments might seem small, they can be important in building trust and strengthening relationships between coworkers. They can even lead to innovation, as employees may share ideas and perspectives with colleagues they don’t normally work with.
Watercooler moments don’t have to be lost in a remote work environment: they just have to be made intentional. Chat platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams can provide virtual spaces for employees across teams to gather and talk informally, while video conferencing platforms like Zoom allow employees to meet without losing the information conveyed in body language and tone of voice. It can be valuable to schedule cross-functional team syncs and leave a few minutes at the beginning of the call for employees to make small talk—this will help strengthen trust and make the workplace more collaborative and productive.
Establish Communications Best Practices
Clear internal communication guidelines are critical with a decentralized workforce. Employees need to understand what communication channels are available to them and when to use each one. For example, Google Drive may be designated for work-in-progress, collaborative documents, while all finalized documentation is moved to a knowledge management platform, where it becomes easily accessible and searchable for everyone in the organization.
Remote employees cited difficulty unplugging from work as their top challenge in Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work report, so it may also be valuable to set guidelines around the business hours and timeframe in which employees are reasonably expected to respond to communications. For example, organizations may choose to only use Slack or Microsoft Teams for communication during set business hours, or may set the expectation that emails should be responded to within one business day.
Recognize and Reward Contributions
In a remote environment, it can be easy for employees to start feeling as if their work is going unnoticed. Recognizing notable achievements, such as high ratings on customer service surveys or completing a research project, can help boost morale and show employees that they’re making valuable contributions to the organization’s CX, no matter where they’re working.
Recognition and rewards can take many forms, from tangible gifts to shout outs in company meetings to awards programs. But no matter the form, rewards help show employees they are appreciated and motivates them to continue contributing to exceptional customer experiences.
Offer Ongoing Training and Professional Development
According to the 2019 LinkedIn Workforce Learning Report, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in helping them learn.
Offering ongoing workplace training is a win-win: it helps employees grow professionally and stay engaged with their work, and it helps organizations internally develop the skills and expertise required to achieve their CX goals.
In a remote or hybrid work environment, training must be offered through blended online learning: a mix of virtual instructor- led training and online learning modules that employees can complete at their own pace. All training materials (including recordings of instructor-led classes) should be added to an organization’s knowledge base so that employees can access them as needed.
Accelerate Internal Digital Transformation Efforts
The coronavirus pandemic forced many businesses to accelerate their digital transformation efforts to improve digital experiences for customers. For instance, many businesses invested in improving their online and mobile shopping experiences or embraced technology to streamline the curbside pick-up process at brick-and-mortar locations. However, as remote and hybrid work continues post-pandemic, it’s important for businesses to invest in internal digital transformation efforts that will allow their employees to work effectively and productively.
Particularly in hybrid work environments, where some employees may work from the office while others are remote, businesses will need to invest in technology and remote-first cultural initiatives to ensure equitable experiences for all employees. Every employee needs access to the same tools, communication channels, and training opportunities, regardless of where they are working.
Advice from a CX Leader: Designing the Hybrid Work Experience
A great employee experience translates to a great customer experience. Whether a company is entirely on site, remote, or hybrid, the design, implementation, and sustainability of a successful workplace culture with great experiences needs to be holistic and systemic. The outcome to aim for is an employee experience that’s unique, is psychologically safe, encourages engagement, and facilitates meaningful connection—not just between people, but with the company itself. To do all this, design the hybrid employee experience across the organization with the resources to sustain it. The new working model should be integrated into all areas of the business operations—from leadership and management practices to policies to processes, systems and technology. Frameworks like Design of Work Experience as explained in my book, Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @ Work, provide the step-by-step to identify the critical requirements and co-create with employees.
A company must also ensure teams are appropriately well-designed for hybrid work. According to J. Richard Hackman in Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances, business leaders must set clear goals, create tasks that are conducive to remote teamwork, identify the right skills and experiences for the task, and provide adequate resources as well as access to coaching and support as required.
At the individual level, the hybrid model works best if employees are given agency. They ought to have the ability to access the resources to get their job done and to feel supported personally and professionally. Offering continuous learning and development satisfies an employee’s natural curiosity and desire for growth while making them more valuable to the organization as a talent. Most importantly, their employer should entrust them to have the choice of when, where, and how to work. When employees are empowered to make their own decisions day to day, they can work at their best.
-Karen Jaw-Madson, Principal, Co.-Design of Work Experience
Ameritas Empowers Customer-Facing Associates with On-Demand Access to Knowledge and Training
Our customer support teams recognized that we needed a knowledge management system that would allow us to be more efficient, provide a search tool that was quick and intuitive to use, and eliminate friction in the content creation process. We also knew we needed a solution that would allow us to capture and store knowledge in a wide range of formats, create training content that would be available on demand, and that would ultimately be as easy to use as possible.
We selected Bloomfire as our new knowledge management platform, and in the short time since launching this system, we’ve seen high levels of user engagement. Users have felt empowered to provide feedback through the platform, which allows us to continually make improvements. We anticipate that Bloomfire will make our customer-facing associates more efficient at their jobs by giving them one place to find answers to questions and allowing them to share feedback so they feel they are connected and part of the larger customer experience process.
We are also using our knowledge management platform to make our onboarding process for new customer-facing associates more efficient. One of our top goals is to make training videos that new hires can access on demand, and Bloomfire is making that happen. Videos help facilitate self-guided learning, which will improve and shorten our onboarding time–allowing new hires to ramp up and start assisting customers sooner.
-Chelle Swanson, Performance & Process Improvement Specialist, Ameritas
Building a Resilient Customer Experience
Making your organization’s customer experience resilient isn’t a one-time activity: it’s an ongoing process that requires the integration of strategy, people, and technology. The connective tissue between all these components is knowledge engagement: the process of centralizing an organization’s collective knowledge, making it actionable, and leveraging it to drive business outcomes.
The entire organization contributes to the customer experience. In order to successfully collaborate around a unified CX vision, employees across all departments must have a shared view of the customer, the ability to engage with and contribute to CX knowledge, and visibility into each department’s role in achieving customer experience goals. By concentrating on strengthening organization-wide knowledge engagement, businesses can continue developing CX strategies that delight customers and withstand even the biggest disruptions.