By the time you read this, will we be back at work and heading towards normal? At the moment, none of us knows, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be more proactive and anticipate more disruption and consider how technology can help.
An economic shock will follow; experts are arguing whether it is a V- or U-shaped recession or a full-on depression. There are possible big changes in social behaviour too, whether in work-based cultures and/or changing customer needs, especially among the more vulnerable. And given the lack of hardware and the ever-increasing cyber risks, we may end up full circle with another technology challenge!
Here are a few of my emerging thoughts around the technology opportunities and continuing risks.
We have started to reimagine the future and we think there will be three areas of rapid progress and one large reverse.
Well done to all of the ICT teams who responded at lightning pace to ensure that the majority of staff could work from home and collaborate with their colleagues using tools such as Teams, Slack, Zoom and G-Suite. Even more impressive were the organisations which managed to create virtual home-based contact centres.
Things may be still a bit clunky around the edges and there are plenty of amusing moments on video conferencing as we balance our mental health, children, pets and wi-fi settings with “getting on with work as normal”.
Lots of people are predicting the end of the office building but the insights from Golden Marzipan’s breakfast briefings with housing leaders is that people are keen to get back to the office for social reasons as much as anything else so I anticipate a much more mixed economy of home-hub-office-flexi working. This effects how people are managed and are empowered by HR and mobile working policies.
But to quote one of our Zoomers, “The housing sector has achieved more in three weeks than has been achieved in the past 10 years in terms of adopting new technologies.”
Accelerated channel shift
If housing staff can adopt technology quickly then why can’t tenants? The feedback from customer service and communications teams is that our mindset is eventually changing and people recognise the value of self-service portals, smartphone apps, chatbots, artificial intelligence and Alexa-style voice channels.
The barriers to adoption are falling away, the technology is improving and tenants are more willing and enthusiastic. With a little more simplification in terms of ways of removing forms, declarations and signatures, it’s now easy to see a path for the rapid transformation of transactional services.
Customer data and insights
Sadly, we all now know what the logarithmic curve of a chart looks like if we didn’t before… We have seen new apps which are using personal data in ways we’ve never seen before, and our concerns about privacy have been set aside (at least for the moment) in favour of more details about the virus and its impact.
The daily government briefings have also demonstrated the usefulness of leading indicators relating to travel, hospital capacity and economic measures, so what are the housing sector’s equivalents? This is an area where the lack of good data has exposed our inability to respond to tenants’ needs. My questions to housing leaders about how their tenants are feeling about their services are responded to with anecdotes but very little empirical data is available yet.
And the reverse… vulnerable residents
Let’s be clear – all the talk of Alexa and IoT devices helping the vulnerable and elderly is not adding value. The primary objective is about care and whether that is social, hospital or residential care, that needs people. Perhaps people with good technology, but people first.
At the same time, I’m heartened to hear that some housing providers have started outbound telephone/video services and campaigns to check on their vulnerable tenants (assuming they had the correct data in the first place) and this I foresee as an expanding and richer service from housing providers going forward.
Steve Dungworth is a digital transformation adviser at Golden Marzipan.