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1-4 June 2021

The Big Read: The Dawn of Virtual CommunicationsWhat's driving workplace evolution?

Rob Scott, Publisher of UC Today, explores some of the drivers of workspace evolution, and their implications for office technology, working environments and company culture.

The world of communication has never really stood still. Throughout the decades, human beings have constantly created new and improved ways to connect. We started with morse code and radio waves and evolved to fax, and phone calls. Today, we have video conferencing, SMS, social media messaging, instant chat, and so much more.

When 2020 arrived, bringing with it unexpected new challenges in the form of a global pandemic, some of the new trends for communication began to gain more momentum. Intriguing concepts like working from home and mobile working became a must-have, rather than an option. Today, this new style of work promises to remain even after the world becomes safe again.

It’s not just the smallest and most agile digital companies making the shift to remote operations. Enterprises as large as Adobe, Amazon, Facebook, and many others revealed that they’d taken the initiative to go remote too, with many stating they will never request their employees to return to the office, after seeing how valuable remote work can be.

As the heart of effective teamwork and productivity, it’s no wonder that the changing workforce has promoted the evolution of the workspace too.

The new definition of work

For years, as the cloud became more effective, the demand for remote work has continued to grow. Many agile companies have praised remote working initiatives for their ability to deliver greater productivity, and better performance from teams.

However, companies have remained resistant to remote work, worrying about reduced focus (82%), limited team cohesiveness (75%), and issues with productivity (82%). When COVID-19 arrived in 2020, however, those concerns fell into the background. Businesses suddenly couldn’t compromise on remote work. To keep the lights on, companies needed to embrace a new style of operation.

Throughout 2020, we’ve seen a rapidly developing idea that work is something you do, not just somewhere you go. The workplace isn’t physical; it’s a digital hub equipped with all the technology teams need to remain productive, efficient, and informed.

During a time when companies had no choice but to experiment with remote work, the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Although some employees worry that they struggle to balance household demands with home work, 63% of the global workforce feel more productive at home.

Those working from home could be working more than their counterparts. Studies suggest that employees have clocked up about 28 hours of monthly overtime since the beginning of lockdown. Additionally, many people are spending more time working on weekends.

Video is the new voice

The new demand for working from home brings with it new challenges and issues to consider. For instance, 53% of employees say that not being able to communicate in-person with colleagues is one of their top three challenges. Though phone calls and messaging tools are available, the overwhelming opinion is that there’s something missing with those solutions, compared to face-to-face interaction.

The result of this need for social and human engagement has driven the rise of video. In a world where everyone is aching for a sense of presence, video allows for more intimate interactions. Video, for many, is the new voice, and the easiest way to add an extra level of humanity and context to any conversation.

When we first entered 2020, Zoom was just a growing vendor in video conferencing, starting to earn a little more attention from companies and consumers. By the time summer 2020 rolled around, Zoom was a household name, present in most companies and homes worldwide.

As we look forward to 2021, there’s no doubt that the need for video will remain strong. Video doesn’t just boost productivity. 87% of people say that they feel more connected to colleagues with video conferencing tech. We now need video more than ever, and we’re also looking for other excellent ways to boost communication too.

The question is, what’s on the horizon in virtual communications that will satisfy our needs in the years to come?

What does the future of work look like?

There are some trends coming for the future of work that most companies are already very clear on. We know that a full return to the traditional office is unlikely. Even companies that are asking some of their team members to come back into the physical workspace won’t require a full staff like they once did. Instead, we’ll have hybrid environments where people collaborate with team members virtually on a regular basis.

The new video-first company culture will also create an environment where we’re used to seeing the people that we work with regularly, even if it’s not necessarily in person. Some companies are already investing in large displays and screens that allow people to see their colleagues as though they’re looking through a window into another room.

Futuresource found that 20% of meeting room budgets were already going towards collaborative technologies and remote work solutions before COVID-19. Now that the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work, there’s no doubt that investment in this arena will increase. Companies will need to spend more on bringing their teams together through digital and physical spaces.

The new office is coming

The standard boardroom and meeting environment won’t be a bustling space full of people anymore. There will be smaller groups of people communicating with teams on the other end of a video software solution. Tools that enable better collaboration in these environments will become more essential too, like digital assistants that can schedule meetings and access information quickly.

Whiteboards that automatically share information to the cloud, and collaboration tools that can keep everyone connected will increase in popularity. There’s also a growing opportunity for workplace technology outside of the physical office.

It’s not just the standard meeting room that’s changing, but the new meeting environments that today’s mobile and remote workers are embracing. Smart remote webcams for employees working from home are earning more attention lately. Miniature room kits designed for a home office are on the horizon. There’s a growing opportunity for residential installers.

In a world where 41% of users say that difficult joining and setup processes make collaboration and video experiences difficult, everything will need to be seamlessly plug and play. However, at the same time, there’s a possibility that the home office setup could become something of a fashion statement for the anywhere work landscape. Just as employees strive to have the best possible business smartphone on the market, we could see people demanding more impressive home meeting equipment too.

In the years to come, access to the best webcam and speakerphone could be similar to having the latest version of the iPhone, or the newest Android device.

The evolving workplace culture

As the office continues this transformation into a new digital age, the workplace culture in various businesses is changing dramatically. We’re looking for ways to replicate some of the simplest, and often overlooked interactions in the office.

For instance, how can serendipitous discoveries from overheard conversations make a difference in an online environment? Always-on video screens could be an option here, allowing teams to listen in to the hustle and bustle of office spaces when they’re away from work.

Workplace perks are going to see a massive change too. It’s not going to make much of a difference to tomorrow’s employers’ employee happiness to add fun bean bag chairs and table football to the office space. Dispersed workers will need a new way to feel like they’re getting the benefits they deserve. This could mean that leaders start giving free tickets to virtual conferences away.

It might also lead to the delivery of various fun bonuses directly to a remote worker’s home. There are many subscription box and letterbox delivery options available right now that could help teams feel more appreciated. The best supervisors and managers will need to listen to their teams to determine what the best benefits might be.

A new reality on the horizon?

Alongside an increased acceptance of the technology we already have, the future will also bring a demand for better versions of the technology we’re creating. In an environment where human beings create presence and connections with other people, the VR headset could completely replace the telephone.

Team members might place a VR headset on when they want a meeting and interact with people in a face-to-face environment instead. There’s even plenty of promise in the form of new technologies yet to be invented, like holopresence with holograms, and new experiences presented by augmented reality. You might be able to see your colleagues projected in front of you, like they’re really there.

The future of work isn’t just a concept that we daydream about at industry events anymore. The future is here, and it’s becoming more incredible by the day. Now’s the time for companies to reassess their current environment and look for an opportunity to change.

Rob Scott is owner and publisher of UC Today – Unified Communications and Collaboration technology news. Rob is an anywhere worker from the North of England and has over two decades’ experience in the industry. As well as publishing news, he spends his spare time blogging, attending industry events, speaking and hosting conversations on hot topics.

rob.scott@uctoday.com
@robscott_uc

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