Cloud-based meeting and collaboration solutions will get a lot more customized and industry-specific as enterprises try to combat ‘screen fatigue’ by bringing more equity—and humanity—to virtual communication for the hybrid workplace.
So says Alaa Saayed, ICT industry director and fellow for connected work at Frost & Sullivan. In his latest research report, Saayed writes that enterprises realize hybrid work is here to stay, so they’re overhauling their IT strategies and assets to reflect that. Here’s a breakdown of how Saayed sees the virtual comms-and-collab market growing and maturing into its new starring role during the hybrid workplace revolution.
A growing market
According to a piece Saayed wrote for No Jitter to complement his research:
- global revenue from the cloud meetings and team collaboration service market hit $14.78 billion in 2021 (up nearly 25 per cent from 2020)
- the installed base of paid cloud meetings and team collaboration licenses grew by almost 29 per cent during the same period
In an interview with me for expertIP, Saayed said there’s been a shift “from freemium-to-paid conversion” as organizations move from basic third-party apps they tried out at the start of the pandemic to adopt more robust, integrated platforms and solutions. He said this uptake is also due to large providers including more comms-and-collab capabilities in their tier-1 service bundles.
Sayeed said vendors are developing tailored solutions for the hybrid workplace targeting specific verticals like healthcare, government and education. These targeted offerings also take into account the unique security and regulatory requirements of enterprise clients in certain industry sectors.
The trend towards customization will continue with enterprises using CPaaS to create their own apps, crafted to meet their own needs.
“Through a combination of packaged applications and application building blocks such as exportable data, APIs and low-code-no-code systems, businesses will be able to embed communications and collaboration functionalities into their business workflows,” Sayeed wrote in No Jitter.
Hybrid work, by definition, means team members may not be working (or meeting) in the same physical space at the same time. It also introduces an element of inequality to the situation.
“There will be a growing challenge: keeping a level playing field when some people are face-to-face in the office and others join (in) online. Remote users will not settle for compromised collaboration experiences anymore,” Saayed warns in his report.
The inequality gap widens for virtual-only employees whose device, operating system, geographic location, language and time zone may be different than those of other team members.
How do organizations ensure every employee in a hybrid workplace enjoys the same quality of meeting and collaboration experience, regardless of the different variables we mentioned above?
“Experience parity, no matter where an individual works, has become essential,” Saayed told me. “Every year, technology providers are launching hundreds of features and specs with the aim to achieve equitable experiences.”
Some examples Saayed gave me include automatic real-time translation and transcription, plus automated notes summarizing a meeting for people who miss all or part of it.
Can technology make virtual meetings even more equitable than traditional ones? Saayed thinks it’s possible.
“The in-person meeting experience will always be above the virtual experience in terms of human bonding,” he said. “However, I’m not sure if the in-person meeting experience would be as productive or as equitable as what we are witnessing now with all these new features and capabilities that all of us have available at our fingertips.”
AI-enhanced video technology will also play a huge role in this stride toward meeting equality.
“Video-first culture is becoming a key part of digital transformation: meeting room penetration will grow … from 6.1 per cent pre-COVID-19 to 30 per cent in 2025,” Saayed predicts in his report.
Oh, the humanity
Remote work burnout is a real problem. Saayed said vendors are developing a whack of new tools and features to make virtual meeting and collaboration feel much more human, personal—and inclusive.
“Providers are allowing new ways of encouraging self-expression” he told me, “including setting skin tones for emojis, adding name pronunciations and pronouns in team collaboration spaces, or simply posting status feeds in group chat services.”
Saayed said other features that can add warmth to comms-and-collab include:
- a mix of synchronous and asynchronous options
- advanced AI functionality “to capture, surface and analyze data”
- crowdsourcing and audience engagement tools
- seamless integration of comms-and-collab tools into existing workflows
For me, the most intriguing section of Saayed’s report explores what he calls “immersive” or “spontaneous” spaces. As he explained to me, these online applications try to “re-create the serendipitous moments of actual workplaces” in the virtual realm.
Instead of bumping into a co-worker at the office watercooler (okay, in 2022 it’s probably the office espresso bar), you try to mimic that physical interaction via apps that let you have spontaneous conversations or hangouts with colleagues online.
The spontaneous part is everything. Rather than scheduling (yet another) video meeting at a set time that everyone has to sit through for a proscribed period, you can have brief, completely rando co-worker run-ins online. Some immersive apps, like Gather, provide a virtual experience that’s both audio- and video-based.
We’re not talking about meetings or calls that you plan; these are spur-of-the-moment thoughts, ideas, observations or jokes you want to share as soon as they pop into your head.
These new immersive virtual spaces, Saayed told me, “are emerging with the objective of creating bonding, relationships and camaraderie with co-workers, partners and customers.”
After two years in a pandemic, the enterprise is turning to technology for camaraderie, not just communication.