It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, the term ‘hybrid work’ didn’t even exist in its current COVID-related context.
When the pandemic forced the Enterprise Connect conference to go completely virtual last April, I didn’t hear anyone utter the phrase ‘hybrid work’ because it simply hadn’t emerged as a thing yet.
When I attended virtually again this year, however, hybrid work was a theme of many Enterprise Connect sessions. That included a panel called Your Path to 2024, a sort of clairvoyant look ahead at the top UC&C trends for the next few years.
Here are the highlights from that session, which featured Metrigy’s Irwin Lazar, Steve Leaden of Leaden Associates and Marty Parker of UniComm Consulting LLC.
Everyone’s in agreement that hybrid work is here to stay, even after the pandemic ends. Lazar’s research indicates that 30 to 40 per cent of all enterprise workers will still do WFH post-COVID. Leaden warned this could pose a major challenge for IT in terms of integrating new cloud and UC&C models with legacy systems.
Parker pushed back against the idea that remote work should be enabled for every employee. He argued vendors are “oversimplifying” the definition of hybrid work, and suggested organizations take time to assess the specific requirements and location of each job instead.
“You can evaluate the job roles by patterns,” Parker said. “Some are entirely out of the office and they don’t have a desk, like road repair crews. Others are primarily at the office. Best practices are to take all of your workers and run them through this conversation: What time of day will they be in a car, out of the office, out on the road? When they’re working from home will they be using a VPN? What sort of bandwidth will they need? You need to think through these workloads and then start adding them up.”
Lazar’s research reveals:
- about 26 per cent of enterprise voice is still on-prem, with a jump in video and team collaboration leading to what he called “the decline of the phone system”
- 47 per cent of organizations are seeing less usage of their calling platforms
- a shift to mobile phones for WFH accounts for 18 per cent of that decline in calling platform use
- on the other hand, 25 per cent of organizations report an increase in calling platform usage due to higher call volumes in their contact centres
According to Lazar, most enterprises focused their cloud efforts during this past year on giving workers the ability to communicate remotely during the pandemic. He predicts they’ll place more emphasis on collaboration in their cloud plans going forward, adding UC&C tools aimed more precisely at supporting ideation, workflows and task management.
Leaden said the pandemic has made video “the new de facto standard” of enterprise communications, and it’s only going to expand further into verticals like healthcare and education.
“It’s become acceptable to have a doctor’s appointment remotely. We’re seeing client sales meetings (by video). It’s an interesting time and we’re going to see a lot of video growth going forward,” he said.
Parker agreed, saying video capabilities will be baked right into enterprise apps from outside the core videoconferencing vendor space. For example, a user could launch a video meeting directly from within a healthcare or sales app instead of having to open it from a separate, dedicated video app.
Lazar believes the next two trends in videoconferencing will be tackling video meeting burnout and deploying analytics.
“One area is the analytics of how people are using video. If people are turning their cameras off, why is that? (Enterprises) want to understand the video usage in (their) organization,” Lazar said.
Speaking of video meeting burnout, Parker said asynchronous video could be just the cure for that. He envisions people posting their ideas or points in short video clips, then posting them on collaboration apps so others can view and comment on them when it’s convenient for their schedule or time zone. This would eliminate the need for everyone to attend numerous meetings at the same time.
Cloud service contracts
Leaden said the proliferation of third-party suppliers and partners is complicating SLAs. He predicts customers will start asking UCaaS providers for flexible contracts, more training and support, and a proof of concept or “test drive” before signing on the dotted line.
Other highlights from this Enterprise Connect session:
UX and EX: The shift to WFH will put more emphasis on user and employee experience, resulting in more personalized features for individual users, as well as tools that require minimal training.
AI: Artificial intelligence is being deployed to improve the videoconferencing experience (to compensate for poor lighting or automatically transcribe meetings, for example) and assist customers directly (via self-service chatbots) and through customer agents (suggesting to agents the best answer for each customer call).
CPaaS: Parker expects enterprise apps like Salesforce to start offering integrated communication functionality directly within their apps and platforms, heating up competition in the CPaaS space.
Security: “The last year has brought a ton of new ways of collaborating internally and externally,” Lazar said. “Companies are struggling with where does all this content live and what do I need to do to protect it?”
I don’t know what the buzzword will be at Enterprise Connect a year from now — I just hope we’ll be safely talking about it face to face instead of virtually from computer screens.