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Unified Communications Tools Are Here to Stay as Companies Return to the Office

June 10, 2021 Digital Workplace
David Roe
By David Roe

After more than a year of remote working, it's clear we can be productive without setting foot in the office. Companies adopted some of the dozens of tools available to communicate and meet, and proved there's little they can accomplish in the office that cannot be done at home.

However, a quick look at the headlines shows company leaders are not entirely happy with remote working. Companies want people to return to the physical workplace.

As a case in point, take the dispute between Apple management and workers over the return to work after Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that employees would have to return to the office three days a week. Both Google and Microsoft are also looking at hybrid workplace models, where a considerable portion of the workplace will work on site. Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, said he expects between 50% and 60% of employees will continue to work from home. This still means between 40% and 50% will be in the office.

If leaders get their way, what will happen to the tools we've been using to communicate while working remotely? What will happen to the likes of Zoom, Teams or Slack once people are able to communicate in person?  

Video Conferencing in the Physical Workplace

Video conferencing services will continue to thrive as most companies adopt a hybrid back-to-office model, said Tiran Dagan, chief digital officer at Teaneck, NJ-based Cognizant, a business consulting and information technology provider. According to Dagan, businesses will continue to leverage video conferencing platforms across their workforce and with their client interactions.

"It would be short-sighted to assume that 'back to office' would completely reverse the impact COVID had on video conferencing," he said. "The use of video conferencing during the pandemic may indeed experience some return to norms pre-COVID."

However, he said enterprise leaders should not be too quick to discount the lasting effects of video at work. The financial benefits of remote participation are not lost on employers: The shift to work from home reduces the need to build and maintain expensive corporate campuses and will accelerate the shift to shared space and remote meetings (on site or between sites) vs. in-person meetings.

Other trends to watch include the tremendous growth some segments of the services industry experienced despite lockdowns, the result of which will be a high variability in the continued use of customer-facing video meetings.

Video conferencing will not stand on its own if it cannot address the end-to-end value chain of the industry use case it addresses. “An entire ecosystem is needed to track progress, schedule and recap, automate workflow, integrate billing and payment collection including micropayments and provide industry-specific solutions which wrap around the video conferencing experience,” Dagan said.

Related Article: A Return to the Office Strategy Every Business Should Consider

Hybrid Work Models Drive Setup

The more we learn about employees' desired workplace routines, the hybrid model emerges as one of the key ways of working in the near future, said Chet Patel, chief commercial officer and managing director of technology, life sciences and business services at BT Americas.

Given this major shift, businesses need to foster a new type of collaborative and inclusive culture for those not physically in the office, which should include effective video conferencing setups. From having appropriate bandwidth to having the right physical equipment, the end goal will be to connect to remote workers easily and quickly throughout the office.

Otherwise, it is easy to imagine in-office employees holding impromptu meetings where barriers, such as IT and bandwidth, lead to remote workers being left out.

“This could not only be detrimental to individual professional development and work performance, but also for the larger company culture and overall productivity,” Patel said.

Related Article: 5 Tips to Make Collaboration Work in the Hybrid Workplace

Video Conferencing Remains Central

Boston-based LogMeIn’s chief of staff Chris Perrotti believes the future of video conferencing seems secure, but is unclear what kind of work models organizations will adopt. The key is offering workers flexibility in their options, all of which depends on access to effective video conferencing and communication platforms.

“Many companies are experimenting with different return-to-work approaches, but there is one need that has shown to be consistent across industries – employees want flexibility and choice, and that flexibility requires enhanced virtual communication, including video,” he said. "Research shows that nearly three-quarters of employees want to work more remotely in the future, and 83% are more likely to stay at their company if they can work flexibly.”

To meet those demands, investing in the right video conferencing platform and tools is key. Video communication and conferencing tools allow employers to connect their workforce both in person and remote.

"We’ve seen a massive increase in usage across all of our collaboration products since the coronavirus began spreading in January of 2020, with video conferencing and meetings usage spiking 10 times over 2020 norms at the peak," he said. "We expect that a high level of usage will continue, even as employees return to physical workplaces. The future is moving towards a geo-agnostic technologically-connected society. One where productivity and business continuity can exist even amidst crises. Video helps us achieve that."

Related Article: What the Post COVID-19 Workplace Will Look Like

Get Used to Remote Meeting Attendees 

Before the pandemic, it was rare to have a remote attendee join a meeting. Cisco now predicts 98% of meetings will have at least one remote attendee, even after more employees return to the office, said Alfredo Ramirez, co-founder and CEO of Austin, Texas-based Vyopta, provider of performance analytics for unified communications.

When it comes to which tools will remain in use, he said "flexibility and personalization are key. It’s important to note that what UCaaS and collaboration tools need to remain in use will vary by user and business function."

Vyopta has monitored billions of meeting minutes and millions of endpoints over the past year and identified technical issues with about 20% of calls and meetings, of which 90% would have otherwise gone unreported. For companies to successfully adapt to this new environment of hybrid work, they will need key metrics and high-quality data about their technology, workspaces and how people choose to interact.

Video is here to stay, said Jeff Corbin, senior strategic advisor for internal communications consulting at New York City-based Staffbase. It is an inexpensive way to communicate, engage, and add creativity and color to often drab messages. There is a reason why the tech behemoths like Google, Microsoft and Apple have invested so much and are now giving away their video and meeting products essentially for free.

“Video conferencing will continue to thrive, albeit differently to the extent people are now able to go back to the office," Corbin said. "Looking forward to some face-to-face conversation and good old eye contact — something you just don’t get through a computer screen."

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