It seemed only yesterday when people collaborated on projects while huddled in a conference room, or seated next to each other in endless rows of cubicles. Now, brainstorming activities, weekly catch ups, group outputs, and pitching sessions are more frequently taking place online, participated by teams and personnel across different time zones.
Depending on pandemic situations and the unique work culture among countries, enterprises have gone either completely remote, hybrid, or back to the office. Regardless of work setup, one thing is for certain: Videoconferencing and other online collaboration tools are here to stay.
In a webinar entitled “The Technology of Hybrid Teamwork,” organised by Jicara Media, and hosted by Microsoft and Logitech, experts discussed the evolving technology behind hybrid teamwork, as well as the outlook for businesses regarding collaboration.
For one, enterprises are banking on videoconferencing platforms to solve many of the problems associated with hybrid work, observed Andrew Higgs, Partner Specialist for Microsoft Teams Rooms.
“I think one of the things that a lot of businesses have top of mind is that integration. How are we going to future-proof this videoconferencing platform to not only be an exceptional place for us to meet, but also extend that with phone systems, and in collaboration within other business applications, and that extensibility across other third-party applications within the business?” he said.
For Alex Mooney, Alliance Manager for Logitech, there are lots of possibilities for platform integration, which would satisfy clients’ changing business requirements. The question is, which functionalities should make the cut?
“It’s important for us to understand that there’s an ever-growing number of platforms and tools that are out there on the market. And one of the challenges that you have is, if you’re trying to support all of these different tools, it becomes a little bit muddy as to what are the right policies, what are the right collaboration experiences that will actually enable fantastic experiences,” Mooney noted.
A changing business landscape
At present, more and more businesses have increased spending on online collaboration tools, as executives have grasped the flexibility brought by such technology, Higgs pointed out.
“There has obviously been an increase in budgets, because for the better part, organisations are now understanding that the whole hybrid work thing isn’t going away. It’s not a phase; it’s something that is real. And the meeting rooms are an integral part of that hybrid work, having the confidence that when I return to the office, that I can have a rich collaborative experience as I would remotely. At the same time, though, for a lot of executives, they want their start to return to the office. So by leveraging the meeting rooms as a way to build that confidence, build that drive to come back into the office and not lose productivity, there is an appetite, therefore, from a finance point of view to increase our budget for meeting rooms. You look at the way that they’re augmenting the offices and reducing the floor plans; no longer do you need as many desks. You don’t have as many people coming into the office. People are now working from home and working in the office. So what we’re finding is that as the number of desks are reducing, the number of meeting spaces are expanding,” he said.
Mooney seconded Higgs’ observations.
“I think that the response has been very good from leadership across organisations, that as they really dig in, and they really begin to understand these platforms, the capabilities, the amount of productivity, (that) increase that you get from having these centralised, very seamless experiences, I think that the response has been good,” Mooney said.
On the flipside, there were also businesses who were unprepared for the technological shift, with some still scrambling in the dark to adapt, remarked Sharon Seah, Logitech Video Collaboration’s Regional Business Development Manager for Southeast Asia.
“Coming from an infrastructure point of view, in my opinion, I think the main challenge will really be for organisations that have hardly used any video platform. Now, not only do they have to start using (video platforms), but they have to do it multiple times a day in order to keep their job, to keep their business going. And that’s a very steep learning curve,” Seah said.
“The second challenge really is around not having the right set of equipment. When the pandemic hit us hard last year, employees scrambled. They brought the equipment back from the office, and from then onwards, it became like a mix of equipment, both from office and home. Then, fast forward one and a half years from the start of the pandemic, I think I see a lot of organisations have accelerated, and they’re making a lot of effort to transform the workplace. I see that companies are addressing policies, (and) incorporating workplace culture to make things better. I think now is actually a time that they have gone through the learning curve,” she added.
As such, businesses will want a collaboration platform that works well in an office setting, work-from-home setup, or on the go, moving forward, noted Pratik Chanda, Sales Lead, Intelligent Edge for APAC and India, Microsoft.
“At the end of the day, I would say you want to look for that standardised platform. You want to look at the ability, where a user can either on a phone, mobile, laptop, desktop, or in a meeting room, have access to all that content, because it’s a simplified platform that allows you to do everything from VC (videoconferencing) to chat, to IM (instant messaging), to power apps, to third-party integrated apps, et cetera. That’s the experience that everyone’s going for. And that’s truly where I think we differentiate, and it is the right way to take forward,” Chanda said.
Solutions for changing business needs
To address enterprise concerns about hybrid work, especially the need for integrated online collaboration tools, Microsoft has introduced its Teams Rooms offering, which according to Higgs, provides a “native experience” and “new age technology”, among others.
“All these features that are being built into the Teams Rooms platform are ultimately what our customers are wanting to move towards. And whilst legacy solutions have been good enough, they’re no longer good enough. They’ve been able to provide video and audio and in-screen sharing, but now customers are wanting more. They want to be able to maximise the return on their investments by introducing new technologies that leverage things such as AI, and how they have the intelligence and smarts to be able to provide us a richer meeting room experience,” Higgs explained.
“I can hand off calls from my desktop to my mobile, then back to a Teams Rooms, just with a couple of taps, making sure that meetings are more immersive (and) inclusive by using features such as raised hands, intelligent cameras, content cameras that can obviously capture analog whiteboards, converting that content into digital ink and ingesting that back into the Teams meeting. And then obviously extending that with whiteboarding capabilities, bi-directional annotations, and extending that meeting room experience with also front-of-room displays that are touch-enabled,” he added.
Meanwhile, Logitech has also unveiled its Logitech Tap touch control solution, alongside its Rally videoconferencing kit series, which complements Microsoft Teams Rooms.
“It’s really important, as we look to expand our videoconferencing footprint that we have very consistent experiences. So Microsoft Teams creates a very familiar and intuitive user interface to quickly walk into the touch control and join your Teams meeting. And so Tap is the device that brings that user experience right into the meeting room. Across all of our room spaces, you’re going to see Tap as a consistent experience. And then (what) you see here is Rally Bar Mini paired with Tap for small rooms; Rally Bar for mid-size, and; Rally Plus for large rooms,” Mooney said.
Seah likewise agreed on the importance of consistent user experiences.
“I think having a consistent user experience is very important if you really want to achieve a seamless workplace,” she stressed.
“The other thing that I just want to call up here is, we also need to look at how easy it is to use the technology. From my personal observation, I see some of these technologies that have been around for a long time, but they have not been highly adopted. I think the key reason is because it’s complicated for the end user to use it. And it’s also tough for IT (teams) to support technology. That’s complex. So our goal is to make things simple and easy, and simple has to be throughout the entire journey: Simple to find, simple to start, (and) simple to even shut it down,” she added.
As for what’s in store for work arrangements in the near future, Mooney is convinced that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, at least in the short-term.
“In the short term, we’re going to see a lot of different policies at a lot of organisations. And people need to choose, and organisations need to choose based on data. What is the best for them? What is the best for their workforce, or for their specific organisational unit? I think that probably, it’s going to evolve. And I think that stresses the importance of why we need technologies, both hardware and software that can have the flexibility, and offer the continuity to grow with us to adapt to our changes. So that if we decide it’s 100% in the office, or 100% at home, or any mixture in between, we’re effectively able to just continue on working and implementing these tools, and implementing work-life balance and everything, and focusing on these better sets of problems, rather than constantly trying to solve kind of basic problems,” he concluded.