Over the past few years, the technology titans have positioned voice assistants as enterprise utilities. In September 2018, Microsoft released a platform to build company-specific skills for Cortana. Amazon also made a similar move with the launch of Alexa for Business. Apple and Google have followed suit with Siri and Google Assistant, respectively. Up until now, voice has been positioned as an efficiency and productivity play — Cortana, for instance, helps people in the workplace manage their calendars more effectively. But in 2020, we all know the nature of the workplace has changed. Office workers are:

  • Operating out of their homes indefinitely with some exceptions.
  • Managing enormous distractions that didn’t exist in the office, especially parents with children at home. The work-from-home executive is juggling job demands with the unexpected role of home-school teacher and summer camp host.
  • Dealing with enormous pressure and stress related to COVID-19 and the economic downturn.
  • Being confined to a limited space (and let’s keep in mind that depending on the city you’re in, your dwelling space can be extremely limiting — New York for example)

In light of all this, the general population is more receptive to using voice assistants to manage their lives because the voice interface makes it possible to avoid touching germy screens. (I blogged about this shift in attitudes and consumer behavior recently — more about that here.) I see an opportunity for voice assistants to play a more meaningful role in the enterprise now to help the stay-at-home worker in ways that go way beyond managing a calendar. In fact, voice can become a tool for helping businesses strengthen their cultures as their people operate from far-flung locations. The 2019 adage was becoming bring your whole self to work, but we’ve seen that get turned on its head to (what I’d call) bring your whole work self, home. Organizations need to think about what that means and how it affects your people. Consider these possible innovations:

  • Cortana not only manages your work calendar — it also prompts you to take time out for a moment of mindfulness, such as meditating or going for a walk. The demand exists — it did before COVID-19 came along — but mindfulness is needed ever so much now.
  • The enterprise assistant schedules (read: blocks your calendar for) lunchtime if it sees you have a busier than normal day. Ensuring you eat lunch is essential to any productive workplace. Glucose is critical to having energy and the brainpower for the best output.
  • Voice brings the virtual “kitchen” (or watercooler) interaction to life with an impromptu hangout
  • You change the personality or tone of the voice assistant to better complement your mood. After all, vibe mimics vibe. For instance, picture someone programming Cortana to assume a more supportive, encouraging tone to get through a particularly busy day. Or perhaps someone is planning for a major presentation and needs the energetic boost of a peppier tone of voice.
  • Colleague-to-Colleague shared recorded messages, say with random Easter eggs that personalize a message, such as an inside joke about sports or movies that two people might share in the office. We miss our colleagues and their ad hoc banter, their interesting insights, and their supportive attitudes (the terms “work-wife” or “work-husband” exist for a reason). Voice could help people make life apart have more lovable teammate moments.
  • Voice assistants could ease the burden of parents working at home by giving their kids meaningful ways to learn. (Google is doing this now.)
  • Perhaps further off but imagine your voice assistant as a colleague (or actual personal assistant) that can offer inspiration when needed or talk “shop” with you

Unfortunately, I don’t and can’t know all the fun, quirky, amicable things your work team does that make them so special, but imagine bringing them to life with your enterprise voice tools — making working from home just a little more enjoyable.

In the comments, I’d love to hear what makes your company culture unique or ideas you have about bringing culture to people with Voice tech.

Amid the uncertainty of life under this global pandemic, organizations, businesses, teams, families — however you refer to your work network — have an opportunity to adapt to changing behaviors and values. How might you rethink the role of voice in your workplace?

The time is now to seize that opportunity to help your employees adapt to a new normal. Let them not just know, but FEEL the empathy, energy, and appreciation your organization has for them (instead of the ever-so-common office snacks).

As the Covid-19-spurred digital/remote transformation continues, your organization’s culture may change — and that’s OK. But, make sure your organization is in control of where it’s headed. Culture is powerful and meaningful to many within your physical and digital walls. Culture is your company’s livelihood!

Mark Persaud

Mark Persaud

Practice Lead, Immersive Reality