Can You Hear Me Now? How Unified Communication Is Driving the Digital Workplace
There is increasing evidence that companies are looking at the phenomenon of mass remote working and reconsidering whether it will be possible to keep this model.
KPMG's 2021 CEO Outlook Pulse Survey showed that only 17% of chief executives plan to reduce office space, compared to more than two-thirds (69%) of those surveyed in August 2020. At the same time, just 30% said they planned to have most employees working remotely 2-3 days per week – potentially dashing the hopes of employees who hoped or even expected for remote working to become the "new normal" in the post-pandemic workplace.
One of the issues mentioned in research on remote work and whether it will be possible is how communication between workers is being enabled. While unified communications have been an element of the enterprise for a long time, unified communications in the cloud, or Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCasS) is coming into its own.
What Is Unified Communications-as-a-Service?
UCaaS is a category of "as a service" or "cloud" delivery mechanisms for enterprise communications. Like the platform-as-a-service, with UCaaS unified communications services can be made available from the cloud to businesses of any size, from small and medium-sized to an enterprise. It incorporates message voice calls, video calls, team collaboration, video conferencing, file sharing and a lot more.
One service allows you to host a video call with multiple people inside and outside of your organization. Within that same service your team can share, edit and approve working files, instant message each other and keep up with colleagues’ workload. In fact, UCaaS covers all the bases that enterprises managers are concerned about when looking at mass remote working. It is also expanding rapidly across digital workplaces. According to the recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for UCaaS (behind paywall):
- By 2022, 74% of organizations will move at least 5% of their normally full-time, on-site workers, who had switched to working from home temporarily, into permanent remote work positions.
- By 2023, more than 50% of large organizations will connect to cloud providers using direct cloud connectivity from their WANs, up from 10% in 2019.
- By 2024, 74% of the new unified communications licenses bought by organizations will be cloud-based, up from 48% in 2019.
Clearly this is a process that has started already as Gartner found that providers’ investment in UCaaS is growing continuously while investment in on-premise offerings is falling off. The result is that now with many organizations still working remotely, UCaaS functionality is expanding in four key areas:
- Team messaging and SMS: Providers have extended the capabilities by integrating business applications, integrating file-sharing services, adding bot frameworks, and supplying connectivity to mobile SMS messaging.
- Meetings: Meeting offerings in UCaaS solutions have steadily improved.
- APIs, cPaaS and app marketplaces: Integration of UC capabilities with applications that support broad workflows and business applications brings significant value.
- Reporting and analytics dashboards: UCaaS offerings supply administrative tools that visualize availability, failures, performance, diagnostics and other necessary insights.
The State of Communications in the Digital Workplace
Research last year from Austin-based Zoho showed that technology is, in fact, a key to making the remote digital workplace effective, with communications at the heart of it even if many companies have yet to implement unified communications from a single place.
In fact the study, a survey of 500 people working at organizations of varied sizes across North America, showed that only 10% could confidently get a complete view of the relationship between their company and customer without having to check several systems. This result is especially important for companies to recognize as the customer and client relationship is particularly fragile during the pandemic and context for communication is critical. Two other figures stand out:
- 37 percent of enterprise employees found their technology infrastructure not supportive to effective communication throughout the organization as they work remotely.
- 40 percent of the largest enterprise employees surveyed (more than 4,000 employees) said their work can be chaotic, working with multiple technology platforms to do their job accordingly.
"The inevitable conclusion from this data is that if companies want to improve their performance, they should look first at the technology systems that support their primary business activities," said Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research Group and author of the report. "The data show that companies, especially at the enterprise level, are realizing the importance of integrated solutions to streamline business processes to enable working in a variety of new theaters."
UC and Digital Transformation
The push towards agile and hybrid work and the solutions that support them have been steadily growing over the last decade. However, that push became a shove in 2020, when the pandemic caused every organization to become more, or completely, digital. This growth area would not be what it is without unified communications technology. It has transformed the way companies collaborate and grow, said Zoho chief evangelist Raju Vegesna.
In response to this, he said, Zoho examined its own customer adoption data and saw an enormous uptick in appetites for Zoho Workplace, its cloud-based unified workspace platform for collaboration and productivity. In Q2 2020 alone, for example, Zoho Cliq solution (a chat tool) saw a 225% increase in messages.
It is not just Zoho that has seen growing interest in its UCaaS product. Gartner points out that the business climate is driving the growth. The firm's Magic Quadrant points out that the greater demand for remote working has resulted in increased organizational reliance on meetings and messaging.
“Consequently, there is demand for new features that meet requirements for: increased meeting safety and security; background concealment; suppression of specific sounds (beyond noise suppression); display of more people simultaneously in gallery views; and enhancements to the quality of experience over unmanaged networks,” according to the report (paywall).
Zoho’s Vegesna also points out that all this is being driven by the need for solutions that increase productivity, promote collaboration and communication, and enable users of all kinds to stay focused and achieve tasks with maximum efficiency and minimal frustration and toggling between hosted apps.
UCaaS for Distributed Work
Craig Walker, CEO of San Francisco-based Dialpad, which develops AI-powered communication and collaboration products, and the creator of Google Voice, Google Talk, Google Talk Video in an earlier life, pointed out that organizations today are under tremendous pressure to deploy reliable, fast and cost effective technologies to support a distributed global workforce. UCaaS platforms can not only simplify business communications across devices and channels, but they also typically run over an IP connection which increases reliability, flexibility and mobility.
Whether the need is to support a globally distributed team or to simply have a solution that makes it easier for a team to communicate in real time, UCaaS platforms offer a variety of benefits. UCaaS solutions bring together VoIP with other features such as video conferencing, text messaging and collaboration capabilities to create a holistic communications solution that can scale with any size business, from SMBs to large enterprise organizations.
“The UCaaS industry is growing rapidly and there are a host of innovative, new features emerging," Walker said. "AI and ML are helping to improve the performance of UCaaS solutions by enabling the ability to intelligently route calls, assess sentiment based on voice tone, and much more."
UCaaS solutions supply access to the latest groundbreaking communications technology while also helping to streamline operations, cut costs and remove friction from day-to-day business management.
All Stakeholders Benefit
Implementing a unified communications system helps all key parties of the business — the stakeholders, the employees and the organization. UC is the inter-organizational bridge that improves collaboration between employees while fortifying external communications to customers, clients, and/or partners, said Solomon Thimothy, co-founder of Clickx.
Taken together, this provides a boost for the company. It helps highlight efficiency and competence among employees. Implementing UC can also allow the business to change workflows as the program opens the organization up to more opportunities for streamlining common processes. This will equip each employee to be more productive and even ambidextrous in their work.
A centralized system where employees can access all the right tools creates a more positive culture. It reduces confusion which can boost employee morale, enriching the whole organization. A more positive organizational culture loaded with happy employees will amplify the business's growth and value.
“UC integration is definitely a fruitful move since it injects employee-centric automation, accessibility and convenience which allows the employees to do their jobs better, resulting in the company driving more sales, increasing overall customer service, and developing a more refined workforce that elevates your business and brand,” Thimothy said.