Editor’s Note: Commercial Integrator originally published this article on hybrid work predictions and related prognostications on February 7, 2022. The article has now been updated with additional perspective gained since its original writing.
Today’s era of hybrid work is not about where we go; rather, it’s about what we do and how we do it.
David Danto, director of emerging technology for the Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance (IMCCA), as well as director of UC strategy and research for Poly, now an HP company, has echoed this statement for the last nine years. Now, however, he said, it has reached an “undeniable state.”
Even though many crave a “return to normalcy” amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, “there is no going back,” Danto warned. Members of the IMCCA board of directors agree with him: The change is permanent.
They believe that, amid ongoing health and safety concerns, as more and more companies adjust to staff members working from home, unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools will be at the forefront of the future of work.
As the calendar flipped from 2021 to 2022, Commercial Integrator spoke to board members from the IMCCA, a New York-based nonprofit industry association whose mission is to strengthen and grow the UC&C industry. In so doing, we sought to gather and share their predictions regarding what 2022 would hold.
So, how well did our subject matter experts do in predicting how last year unfolded? Read on to see what they forecast….
The Future of Work is Asynchronous
One of the major challenges facing customers is how to align and adopt practices that fit in with the hybrid-working model, Nigel Dunn, vice president and managing director, EMEA North, Jabra, said at a UC Today: Trends roundtable discussion. A common sentiment among integrators and end users alike is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to hybrid work. Organizations will have to consider their own unique needs as they seek to optimize hybrid work.
Daniel Rogers, VP of global accounts, AVI-SPL, said, “We used to design workplace technology to support synchronous work. It was a safe bet that most employees would commute into the office, five days a week, from 9am to 5pm, [and] sit at their desks. And when they needed to meet, they would turn up at a conference room at the same time as a bunch of their colleagues.”
“The synchronicity of space, time and people provided us predictability, and, with that, we designed ‘built-to-last’ solutions with the room being the center of our universe,” Rogers added. He continued, “Today, with the emerging reality of hybrid work, we no longer have predictability. The employee is at the center — not the room.”
Although productivity is still high, it’s being boosted by the same people working in many different locations, across multiple time zones, with highly flexible calendars, using tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which allow everyone to collaborate in real time and near real time.
Rogers offered a prediction, saying, “Microsoft Teams will become dominant in the enterprise, and, with licensing and deployment mostly done, customers will be looking to integrate room technology, extensively train, utilize the full depth of existing features, and embrace the emergence of AI and automation.” Rogers’ allusion to AI seems especially prescient given the emergence, after this article was written, of ChatGPT and other AI-driven technologies.
Advanced Camera Technology in Meeting Spaces
Members of the IMCCA board all seemed to agree that it’s going to be crucial for every space to have videoconferencing capabilities, collaboration technology and the means for users to manage room use.
Andrew Gross, who was formerly VP of enterprise sales at Crestron, but who now works for HaaS specialist Xyte, predicted that camera technology will come to dominate the meeting space. He laid out his view, envisaging multiple cameras and multiple screens all around the space. This approach, he said, not only “envelops the room but [also] immerses the meeting participants into the meeting itself.”
Before we get to the metaverse, Gross continued, “We need to leverage the tech we have to provide individual, personal viewpoints of all folks in the meeting, regardless of where they are and where they are looking.”
Cameras with tracking capabilities are going to be popular as more people move around the conference room. The technology will be able to recognize hand gestures and body language, and it’ll allow all meeting participants to see each other without requiring a VR headset.
As technology continues to improve, Danto predicts traditional PTZ cameras will fade away. “Cameras will have the needed resolution to see the entire space that they’re meant to cover, and they will electronically frame the needed shot,” he predicted. “Motors will become dinosaurs, giving way to new electronic PTZ systems. Manual zoom cameras will only exist in circumstances in which each one has a full-time operator—that is, in video production. Everything else will be—or will soon be—automated with AI and machine learning algorithms,” Danto said.
Good Enough isn’t Good Enough Anymore
Since the start of the pandemic, Gross said, we have collectively become experts in the videoconferencing world. Thus, he continued, “Simply having the ability to ‘join a meeting’ in a new, upgraded office isn’t enough.”
“Expectations have changed, and, thus, it must be made not just easy but [also] enhanced,” Gross declared. “Better audio, better video, automation, control, etc. Just putting a soundbar at the front of the room, [putting] a touchpanel on the table and running an HDMI cable isn’t good enough to draw remote workers back to the office,” he said.
Rogers reminisces about the huddle-room explosion, during which integrators were seduced by the idea that “good enough is good enough.” Thinking back on those days, he said, “As long as I could plug in my laptop, display content, and see and hear what was going on, [then] a cheap display, webcam, USB microphone and speaker would have been good enough.”
The huddle-room explosion ended up easing the transition to remote work. “When COVID-19 hit, there were plenty of cheap webcams, USB peripherals and broadband internet connections to enable the whole world to work from home overnight,” Rogers said.
Rogers continued, “But something miraculous is happening when we now work from home [and] we switch our cameras on: We care about our backgrounds and lighting, and [we] get increasingly frustrated by barking dogs and noisy kids. Our mere presence in meetings is now being supplanted by our desire to perform in meetings.”
To that end, these days, workers can use self-administrated apps like Krisp, an AI-powered noise-canceler that removes background noise and echo during online calls, or ManyCam, which allows users to deliver professional live videos on any streaming platform to facilitate semi-pro video production. Alternatively, they can use similar functions embedded in devices or other software.
Danto argued that, these days, the professionalism with which one conveys oneself is of paramount importance. “How knowledge workers present themselves to clients and colleagues will significantly impact how successful they are and how successful they’re perceived as being,” he noted. Since this article originally published in early 2022, that conclusion has only grown firmer, with more remote employees recognizing that how they appear on video calls is no mere triviality; rather, it’s often a measure of how you represent your organization and yourself.
On that point, Rogers expected to see companies start to invest in mini home broadcast kits for their hybrid workers. “Not necessarily for internal meetings,” he says, “but [for] those all-too-important and more frequent client meetings where first and last impressions either make or cost money.”
The Big Upgrade
“Twenty-twenty-two will be the year of the big upgrade,” Rogers predicted. “Not only have many conference rooms been left untouched and poorly maintained throughout the pandemic, but most of them also don’t work the way employees now want them to work.”
“We have all become used to ‘one-click-to-launch’ applications from our home PC, and our ‘Brady Bunch’ view displays lots of beautifully framed heads and shoulders with eye contact and decent audio,” he continued. “It’s important that everyone is seen and heard in meetings, whether they are physically in the meeting room or joining remotely.” Rogers adds, “And, quite frankly, that’s not how we designed most of the meeting experience historically.”
“More money is being redirected to support wholesale upgrades, most of which will be driven by the UC&C platform of choice,” Rogers added. “Supply-chain issues are likely to ease by the end of Q1/22, so watch for massive upgrade activity that is likely to last well into 2023.”
“This could be one of the most liberating and exciting times to be in technology,” Rogers concluded on a propitious note. “The rulebook has been shredded to pieces, so our view is: Let’s be brave, experiment and try stuff we have never done before.”
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