Looking back and pushing forward: A statement from our CEO
For organisations, 2020 was the year of the pivot. Most had to adapt almost overnight to unprecedented levels of home working and digital service delivery.
Now, 2021 will be the year of survival: of figuring out a sustainable business model for a changed and economically uncertain world.
I believe survival will hinge on a few key factors. The capacity for staff to work securely from home will be crucial, as will the adoption of new digital channels.
But perhaps most importantly of all, I believe that organisations must focus on the wellbeing of their staff – the humans behind the technology.
2020: the year of the pivot
The Covid-19 lockdown was a shock like no other.
Most organisations had to rapidly re-engineer their trading approach, their customer bases, and their processes. As home working became the norm, employee welfare concerns were paramount.
And all this took place against a backdrop of Brexit and economic uncertainty.
2021: the year of survival
As the clocks struck midnight on 31 December, there was sadly no magical reset button.
Even as the vaccination programme offers hope, most organisations will not be returning to normal business. But we do have the luxury of a little more time to adapt.
We can upgrade security for ongoing home working, for instance by introducing Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). We can strengthen our wellbeing and mental health services for our isolated workforces.
The stark reality will hit hardest when companies begin to bring staff back from furlough. Some staff will have been off for a year, so will naturally be nervous about the changed working landscape.
Offices will feel different, with one-way flows, bubble groups and other Covid-safe practices, including remote working. The client mix and working processes will have changed, too.
Employers that try to bring back furloughed staff as though nothing’s changed will struggle. Those who treat them as new staff members, with onboarding sessions and refresher training, will be better placed to thrive.
It’s vital to start planning for this now.
Contact centres in 2021
So, what will 2021 look like for contact centres? They have never been needed more, with people relying heavily on helplines and customer service lines while business doors have remained shut. Additionally, many contact centres answered the government’s call to step up, for instance by running NHS 111 helplines.
In 2021 and beyond, contact centres will undoubtedly use a mix of both office and home-based staff. That will present two main challenges.
Firstly, secure home working, e.g. through use of VPNs.
Secondly, the wellbeing of isolated workers. Contact centres are people businesses, with office banter, charity fundraising days, birthday celebrations, etc. Organisations will need to invest in replicating this for a remote workforce, making it a full-time focus for either their HR department or a separate wellbeing team.
Charities in 2021
The third sector has a huge task ahead, addressing issues such as rising debt and unemployment. As the NHS is pushed beyond its limits, charities will be helping people with health problems too, including mental health.
New digital channels will be crucial to meet this skyrocketing demand, as will existing helpline services.
It’s vital that the government and the sector step up to maintain and expand these services. At Connect Assist, we’re hugely grateful for all the support that’s enabled us to respond to the increase in demand for the helplines we run in partnership with charities.
Looking after our people
At Connect Assist, we’ve been very lucky: we had secure home working in place before the pandemic.
Thanks to our experience in delivering wellbeing services such as emotional support and counselling, we were also well aware of the challenges our staff would face during lockdown. Therefore, we introduced measures at the very start of the pandemic to support employees and our mission and values have unwavered.
Throughout 2021, our focus will remain on looking after our people, premises, customers and the wider community. We wish you all well, and we’re here to help.