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Q&A: Blair Pleasant, President & Principal Analyst, COMMfusion

Q&A: Blair Pleasant, President & Principal Analyst, COMMfusion

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced many workers across the planet into remote working, Unified Communication & Collaboration (UC&C) tools played a significant role in facilitating that. Since then, we’ve seen user adoption rates in these technologies increase significantly, but what comes next for the UC&C industry as we become accustomed to working from home?

We spoke to Blair Pleasant, President & Principal Analyst at COMMfusion, to find out...

COVID-19 caused huge disruption all over the planet, and many companies have turned to UC&C to keep their businesses operating. What trends in collaboration have you seen between now and then?

As we all anticipated, based on the need for social distancing and the move to working from home (WFH), the use of video and video conferencing has skyrocketed. The various video conferencing tools have replaced in-person meetings, with the number of virtual meetings soaring as people look to collaborate under lockdown conditions.

As workers have become more accustomed to these tools, they’ve been going beyond using only the basic two-way video functions, and have started leveraging more advanced UC&C capabilities such as screen sharing and chat. We’re also seeing an increased use of team collaboration applications like Slack, Webex Teams, and Microsoft Teams to help workers and virtual teams stay connected and productive. Team collaboration applications make it easy to share files, connect with team members, and collaborate in a secure, consistent space.

Basic UC&C capabilities are also being used more frequently – especially softphones - as people aren’t working at their desks and don’t have access to their desk phones. Mobile UC clients are also seeing increased uptake, as workers can easily and seamlessly receive business calls on their mobile devices.

Since lockdown began, we’ve seen a shift away from the previous focus on user adoption of collaboration tools. What areas of UC&C will companies be focusing on next as workforces acclimatise to remote working?

The role of user adoption is still important, as there are pockets of resistance to using some of the UC&C tools that organizations are providing for their workers. However, the focus for the near term should be on UC&C best practices.

Businesses need to identify and share best practices in terms of how to hold meetings safely and effectively, set up meetings securely, avoid video fatigue, stay productive and avoid distractions during conferences and collaboration sessions. Best practices may also include how to handle disruptions, such as barking dogs (which should be perfectly acceptable in our current environment), or understanding that it’s okay to have private time to yourself, and not be available for meetings.

Best practice means making sure that workers have what they need to support use of the UC&C tools they have access to, and that they are able to make the most of them in terms of performance and quality. Ensuring good audio and video quality at home is essential – if the quality is poor, people won’t use the tools provided by their companies, and may resort to using consumer-grade applications that don’t offer the necessary security and privacy, which may cause compliance issues.

With many expecting remote working to become heavily ingrained in the future of work, what can businesses provide to make this transition towards more long term solutions easier for their employees?

Training on the various UC&C tools and capabilities is essential – but new training methods are needed in today’s environment. Beyond training, businesses also need to ensure that workers understand why they’re using these tools and solutions, and how these tools can help them to be more productive and effective while working.

With the right training and support tools, workers will understand how to get the most out of their UC mobile app, how to share files in a team collaboration application, how to mute themselves or others on a video call, and so on.

Workers need to know not just how to use the tools, but why they are using them. For example, why it’s better to use a team collaboration application to share documents rather than sending documents through email.

Training in a post-COVID world will be different than it was in the past. Hands-on classroom training will lose favor as more virtual methods gain in popularity. I expect to see more online tools such as webinars, videos, FAQs and community sites. Maybe start with interactive webinars so that people can ask questions, and then provide online videos for people to refer to when they need.

We’ve seen millions of workers dive headfirst into UC&C systems in recent months. What have been the biggest pain points for the user experience, and what technology enhancements need to be made to alleviate these problems?

The biggest issue has been that businesses are not properly preparing and training employees on how to use these UC&C tools. In the early days of the pandemic, businesses were in a panic and sent workers home to work remotely, but didn’t provide instructions or training on how to use some of the tools effectively. Workers didn’t know how to mute themselves during video meetings, or how to set up their mobile UC clients. This led to a big increase in calls to internal help desks to troubleshoot issues. Any kind of training, even as simple as video tutorials or webinars, will help to alleviate these issues.

Going forward, the workforce will be a hybrid of in-office and remote workers, and businesses will need to find ways to engage staff in any location. Meeting rooms will have to change to allow for social distancing, and workers will increasingly rely on UC&C tools to communicate and collaborate. This will be a challenge for users that prefer in-person meetings and brainstorming sessions, and they’ll need to adapt to the new workplace. No longer able to walk over to someone’s office or cubicle to interact, employees will need to embrace the new way of working.

Of course, we’ve also been hearing a lot about video fatigue, as the non-stop video meetings inevitably take a toll on end users. Online video meetings require more concentration than audio conferences or in-person meetings, and video fatigue can be draining.

The other big issue we’ve seen is lack of bandwidth, especially when everyone is doing video calls instead of phone calls. Businesses that plan on maintaining a remote or hybrid workforce will need to address the bandwidth issue for workers to ensure adequate quality.

To collaborate effectively, cross-platform interoperability will be required, as not everyone will be on the same UC&C platform, especially when interacting with customers, suppliers, and anyone outside of the company.

Alternatively, I think businesses expected to have pain points when it came to disruptions during video calls, with kids, dogs, and other distractions interrupting video meetings, but this hasn’t been the case. Instead, these interruptions have made the interactions more personalized. I’ve “met” the children and pets of colleagues and clients, and it actually humanizes the interaction, rather than distracting from it.

This time next year, how important will UC&C be to businesses? Do you envisage user experience undergoing a drastic improvement? If so, what can you see changing?

We’ve been talking about the importance of UC&C for years, and unfortunately it’s taken a pandemic to show the true value of these capabilities. UC&C, particularly cloud-based services, enable people to work from any location while communicating and collaborating with colleagues, customers and partners. Now that a large portion of the workforce has experienced the capabilities and benefits of UC&C, they’ll want to continue using these tools. As I’ve been saying, the genie is out of the bottle, and workers will come to expect having UC&C tools available.

Work from home will be around for the foreseeable future, and the UC&C user experience will continue to be optimized for a mobile and hybrid workforce - making the UC&C capabilities accessible from any device and location. While many UC&C users in the past were reluctant to use the UC mobile client, that will change, as the user experience on the client side continues to improve.

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To find out more about how the UC&C landscape has changed since lockdown first came into effect, check out our Market Insight Report on the UC EXPO website, available to download for free here