This article was first published in the Association of Canadian Pension Management 2021 Issue 1 Newsletter.
2020 is being called the 'remote work year’ due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But recent surveys from PwC and Gartner show that many companies across multiple industries will move more of their employees to a remote environment over time.
As the COVID crisis slowly winds down, many people will spend months, and maybe the rest of the year, working remotely out of health and safety concerns. When this is all said and done, working from home will become normalized. Here are a few trends indicating why:
- In their 2021 State of Remote Work survey, social media management company Buffer found that 97.6% of the respondents would like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers.
- 94% of 800 employers surveyed by Mercer, said that productivity was the same as or higher than before the pandemic, even with their employees working remotely.
- Your leadership and boards are going to realize significant cost savings for people working from home. According to a recent research report, a typical employer can save about $11,000/year for every person who works at least half of the time remotely.
So how do you successfully maneuver this long-term shift to remote work culture?
The pandemic cemented technology's role at the heart of transformation and enabling a seamless remote environment. For the pension industry, many organizations struggled to transition to remote work initially. But our conversations with our clients and peers recently suggest that most have found ways to keep staff working and motivated while serving members effectively.
- Setting up pension plan webinars for retirement plan information. Pre pandemic, many of these sessions would be in-person sessions, but most plans have moved them online to ensure members have access to them any time they want.
- Replacing in-person meetings with video/online calls. Meetings with plan members to review their retirement packages were not possible during the pandemic, so many administrators moved to online or video calls to talk to their plan members.
- Moving away from paper-based files to electronic records. Many plan administrators have understood the ease and convenience of keeping electronic data for pension and personnel information. Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is a way to capture, collect, and migrate your information to an electronic format. There are many tools and technologies to help you eliminate rote work tasks, such as sorting and filing paper documents, increasing the quality and quantity of work your staff processes. Multiple people can access a document at the same time. ECM also provides less risk of losing documents during a natural disaster and better security against data theft or misplacing documents.
- Technology investments. Devices like Dell© SMART Boards® and Microsoft© Surface Hub® 2S boards let teams in multiple locations work on the same project and workflows, eliminating some of the difficulties existing in remote settings. Video conferencing and collaboration tools like Microsoft© Teams or Slack help establish clear communication between staff and members.
- Infrastructure investments. Most pension and benefits organizations now have established transparent processes to provide infrastructure and equipment so their staff can continue working remotely. Many moved their call-center agents remote, ensuring the service to members doesn’t stop.
Changing member behaviors and expectations
Retirees and members today expect more effective and intuitive service options. We all play the role of a customer outside of our professional roles. Often we lack the patience or time to wait on phone lines or repeatedly explain questions to call center representatives. You need to provide solutions and answers quickly and efficiently. Turning toward new advancements in remote customer service can help pension plans meet these growing expectations.
Further, as employees continue to shift toward more remote work settings, capitalizing on new tools and resources can minimize challenges while ensuring excellent customer service. Large call centers are no longer the only option for meeting your members’ needs. Moving the call centre software into home offices is possible, efficient, and scalable with the incorporation of innovations. Today, we have Voice and other AI-powered technologies to provide customers a seamless experience.
Considering these growing trends, our recommendation is to rejuvenate your customer service experience using Chat technology — in the forms of both bots and live representatives. Chat may refer to any communication over the internet that offers a real-time transmission of text messages from sender to receiver. It is a process of communicating, interacting, or exchanging messages over the internet. A chatbot is a computer program that allows humans to interact with technology using various input methods such as voice, text, gesture, and touch, 24/7 365. Live (or human) chat allows customers to communicate with customer service representatives in real-time. Rather than speaking with a representative on the phone, visitors can have a live interaction with agents in a chat box within a browser.
Chat technology allows you to:
- Scale up your customer service: Serve more customers in less time, fewer contact representative resources, and higher quality.
- Make your customer service smarter: Improve answers and customer experience using lessons learned from past chats.
- Meet your members from anywhere: Integrate Chatbot and Live Chat in your organization tools, existing portals, websites, and social media pages.
- Provide customer service even after hours: Turn on your Chatbot after business hours so that your members can still get answers to their questions while your office is closed.
There are a magnitude of chat solutions available in the market, sometimes making a choice overwhelming. Many are also not robust solutions, promising the world when, in reality they just confuse the recipient, chat in circles, and force a call to the organization. To choose the best solution for your organization, one needs to understand the main types of chat solutions.
- Live Chat – Human to human interaction through text-based conversations.
- Chat Bot Using a Knowledge Base – Human to bot interaction through written resources.
- Chat Bot Using a Database – Human to bot interaction with the capability to manipulate live data sources.
Chat or text-based customer service interactions aren’t going away. By 2022, 70% of white-collar workers will interact with conversational platforms daily. Chat solutions are a much more feasible option than some alternatives due to their various benefits. It’s essential to embrace this communication channel and master it before this becomes the only channel that most customers will want to use to communicate with you.
Our recommendation is to think long-term and plan on providing more remote work opportunities. Many organizations have been able to set up temporary online workspaces quickly. But, some of these solutions may only be tactical and could not work over the long-term.
Cloud advantages and adoption
With the mandate to work remotely, the need for greater and more efficient infrastructure went up for all organizations . Computing, storage, networking, ability to scale vertically and horizontally, virtual desktop infrastructure, and VPNs are just some requirements most administration organizations had in some capacity or the other. Cloud enables remote work and minimizes the infrastructure that plans need to 'own'. Cloud apps and services are the more economical, and long-term solution for most companies. Technology providers like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services have been building their capacity to cater to this need.
In October last year, the first-ever virtual National Council on Teacher Retirement (NCTR) conference had a panel discussion on All things IT: from Cybersecurity to Telecommuting. It was evident from the panel experts that cloud technology is going to play a major role in shaping operations for pension administration. Here is an interview from Sagitec's Chief Information Officer Warren Gordon, where he details out how plans can adopt cloud services keeping governance in mind.
The world has changed since 2020. If you’re looking for the road back to normal, we aren’t there yet. While we can’t go back to the world before COVID-19, coming out of this crisis is a “new normal” that’s rich with challenges and opportunities for the future. Pension plans must not be short-sighted and choose to deal with the crisis in a day-to-day mindset. Pension organizations set on weathering the storm need to prepare for the day when the clouds finally part. And accepting that technology will be at the center of this new world and adopting it will be the best bet for all involved – administrators, boards, staff, members, and third parties.