Guest blog by Kavita Reddi, co-founder of Voxta
Technology and data are a crucial part of halting the spread of the COVID-19 - mapping the arch of the virus, determining who is vulnerable, defining priorities for intervention, and developing vaccines and cures rely on biotechnology. Data informed the UK government's decision to prolong the contain phase of the virus, and data from Neil Ferguson’s Imperial College study drove the change in policy to social isolation. Technology is also a tool to deal with the virus in everyday life.
Fear of contagion led to travel bans. Instead of flying in the clouds to meetings, they are now happening in virtual clouds. Zoom, Skype and other video conferencing tools have shown that travelling half-way across the world is not necessary for productivity. But workplace etiquette and rules still apply. Dressing for the meeting is important. Not just as a psychological boost, but just in case the video shot exposes your pyjama top or even worse! Technology is also critical for handling customers and queries, with the pandemic leading to severe staff shortages.
Virtual agents, or voicebots can reduce the load on call centre staff, to deal with frequently asked questions, and when required, divert the call to a customer service agent. Powered by artificial intelligence and natural language processing, these virtual agents learn from case specific data to handle queries. Just as when you ask Alexa for the nearest pharmacy, the same technology is available for any customer or employee facing unit to give real time answers to questions about deliveries, salaries, pension rights and company services; generate sales leads; handle inbound or outbound calls, or handle queries and FAQ’s.
For internal teams, apps like Slack enable people to collaborate on specific projects, with several different channels like marketing, accounts etc. maintained for each organisation. Bridging across companies allows teams to work with partners and clients. Integration with apps like Office365, Google Drive and others, and inbuilt messaging and video and voice calls, make Slack an easy workplace tool when working from home.
For the younger generation, the joy of school closures and early holidays is tempered by the fear of exam cancellations and the impact on their future. Here again, schools and universities have been busy setting up course work on platforms like Office 365 and Microsoft teams - allowing teachers and students to carry on schooling remotely.
Even socialising has gone virtual. Globalisation has bred a generation of grandparents used to connecting with family on different continents on Facetime or WhatsApp. With COVID-19 posing a serious threat to the elderly, online family time is a safe option even if they are just down the road. Social engagements are being replaced by online choirs like the Sofa Singers or Zoom virtual catch ups.
COVID-19 is driving a mass adoption of technology, like military innovation during World War II or the Cold War. The technology being used now to work, study or replacing travelling, is here to stay. And there could be a silver lining. The flying and commuting bans will do more to challenge global warming and climate change than decades of campaigning.
Kavita Reddi is co-founder of Voxta - an interactive AI-based voice bot platform, which allows people to speak, ask or give information about their situation.
Thanks to Dr Steve Boorman, Director EH Empactis and of the Council for Work and Health, for reviewing this blog.
His top tips about managing a team remotely are to ensure managers:
- do a simple risk assessment e.g. so that the team have good IT kit such as monitors
- check regularly that the team is okay (for example daily or weekly contact check calls) encouraging staff to keep in contact with each other e.g. wherever possible call or Skype not just email or instant message
- are clear on attendance and performance management policies against a background of understanding and flexibility
- encourage breaks and discourage long working hours
Finally, be aware of our social responsibility …… with COVID-19, remote working has been encouraged so people stay at home and only go out if really essential. The need is to protect the elderly or vulnerable.
Government guidance for employees, employers and businesses in providing advice about COVID-19: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19
Acas practical information on coronavirus is reviewed daily and provides information on social distancing and vulnerable workers; working from home, lay-offs and short-time working; and a section on cleaning a workplace if someone comes to work with coronavirus.