After Southwest Airlines canceled two-thirds of its holiday bookings, some reports say the flight disruption was the industry’s worst meltdown in memory. With two-thirds of its passengers stranded, business leaders complain that the chaos at Southwest is a powerful example of how outdated technology problems hurt a business. Businesses like Southwest must make significant changes if they want to win against competitors in 2023, sources say.
Mike Morini, CEO at WorkForce Software, explains the problem. “The struggles we saw in Southwest are just the latest high-profile example of business challenges arising from weaknesses in the often outdated underlying technology and systems used by large corporations today,” he told me. “Despite millions of dollars in technology investments and upgrades, most often these investments are made in customer-facing systems or production systems versus back-office systems that can have these kinds of devastating consequences for business operations. Once these system vulnerabilities are exposed, it can take considerable time before a modern technology solution designed for rapid response can be implemented, leaving customers frustrated in the short term and companies struggling to to respond quickly.
Although first exposed when organizations discovered an inability to respond to change or communicate with employees during the global pandemic, many organizations still find themselves ill-equipped with the technology they need to avoid business disruption. according to Morini. He says that in the Southwest, mass cancellations were caused in part by outdated scheduling software and a lack of automated communication tools, adding, “In large organizations, when there is no consistent communication mechanism, not only can challenging to address business. disruption, but also to provide information to employees who are required to interact with customers – customers and employees placed in these difficult situations both suffer.”
With job stress and mental health issues in the workplace on the rise, the last thing passengers and airline workers need is more unnecessary stress. “We read about Southwest employees who were unable to reach their managers and were doing their best to manage customer relations locally,” Morini shared with me, acknowledging that while this is an extreme case, it’s not is by no means the only one. example of disruptions that left employees without the information and tools needed to respond to change. “Employees across industries are looking for employee experience technologies, including tools to help them communicate with HQ, connect with each other to solve problems faster and work more efficiently,” he points out. . “With an increasingly digital native workforce, workers struggle to reconcile how their personal experiences and ability to find information, collaborate and respond are so different from their experiences at work.”
With ongoing labor shortages and lower barriers to changing jobs in nearly all industries, Morini notes that the balance of power in organizations has already shifted toward the employee. “There has been an increase in employee expectations about what is important to them in an employer,” he says. “Often times, it’s not that the company doesn’t have the desire to improve or provide this technology, but they have an inability to do so based on their current technology solutions.”
Some quick automated solutions
Morini identifies technology solutions that provide capabilities that can be rapidly implemented to address automated employee communications; however, he recommends that companies plan for those now awaiting a crisis. “The challenge that organizations must address is ensuring that communications solutions are addressed to front-line or ‘desk-less’ workers, who are often the people called upon during business downtime and at the same time less served by company systems. Considering that less than one percent of corporate technology spending goes to systems for these workers, and that even in 2023, 83% of frontline and deskless workers do not have a corporate email address, organizations will need to prioritize technology investments for this workforce to prepare for the future.”
Morini points out that when communication solutions are not implemented by companies, employees often resort to their own strategies to fill the gap by using unofficial, insecure and vulnerable third-party applications such as WhatsApp and social media. “These seemingly quick fixes have significant downsides when you consider that they can be highly visible to customers, future employees, and do not support any of the compliance requirements that govern corporate use,” he says.
Morini cites other ways that automation can help employees, such as smart technologies like fatigue management systems that can monitor hours worked, tasks completed, breaks taken, and scheduled time to flag employees who can be in danger of burning. He told me that this technology can automatically send real-time notifications to help employers stay informed about potential employee health issues, especially when people are working overtime.
Why updated technology is so important
“Up-to-date technology in the workplace is of critical importance to the company’s effective response and their ability to positively impact the experience of their employees as they prepare and support them in times of change,” Morini points out. “Sustaining change relies heavily on communications and the ability to adapt the systems that enable operations.” The pressure on businesses is immense, he notes, adding that savvy employers are beginning to understand the importance of listening to what their workforce really wants and the importance of investing in technology to automate and improve communication, flexibility and the ability to constantly adapt.
Many companies have systems that were designed 20 or more years ago, he points out, and often with too many manual processes and workarounds that can prevent rapid adaptation and the ability to easily enable change. He advises that, “Businesses like Southwest that are using outdated planning and communication methods from the 1990s must upgrade their operational systems and workforce management technology if they want to remain competitive in 2023 and if they want to retain their staff in process. “
Impact of updated technology
Up-to-date technology can have a direct and positive impact on employees’ experiences at work and the company’s bottom line, Morini points out, adding that employees are demanding more from their employers today and that research repeatedly shows that workers they are looking for more. control and flexibility in their schedules, often ranking it as more important than compensation.
Through modern technologies, employers are able to identify and provide support for the personalized needs of their workers. He cites the example of assigning airline workers as a complex and complicated process that must take into account union rules, federal regulations and more. The technology to automate and optimize scheduling that can adapt to the needs of any organization and provide the scheduling flexibility that employees require already exists, and he explains that it will need to be adopted to support business requirements, ensure compliance and meet the demands of employees.
Morini points out that, “As more organizations work to connect talent investments with business results, smart employee technology can support rapid change and positive employee experiences,” showing that it leads to a more positive culture, increased engagement and greater productivity. Plus, it helps reduce turnover, which has a negative financial impact on companies. Technology can be a critical enabler for any company’s success, he concludes, but only if employers seize the opportunity to meet employee needs and enable the delivery of solutions that make sense for the business.