SVP of Product & Design at Fuze, a global cloud communications and collaboration software platform for the enterprise.
In recent years, business leaders have increasingly turned to unified communications as a service (UCaaS) to keep distributed teams connected and to remain competitive in the ever-evolving digital economy. However, after the global Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent rapid shift to remote work, practically overnight UCaaS no longer became a nice-to-have investment but rather a key pillar for business success across the majority of industries.
In fact, according to a recent report from Avant Research & Analytics (via Computer Weekley), general interest in UCaaS increased by 86% immediately after the Covid-19 pandemic. While it’s clear that UCaaS is a foundational tool for businesses today, the increase in demand raises a critical question for business leaders: “What will the future of UCaaS look like after the threat of Covid-19 subsides?”
The Evolving Role Of UCaaS In The Workplace
Just as the importance of UCaaS has evolved in recent months, so has its role in the workplace. With the overwhelming majority of knowledge workers now working remotely, UCaaS has taken on a more crucial role in providing direct support, connectivity and flexibility for workers regardless of where they are working from. Workers who once relied primarily on in-person cues to communicate and only used UCaaS to collaborate with a select few remote workers now depend upon UCaaS for all of their communications. Sales personnel, for instance, must now conduct all of their work using videoconferencing tools in place of in-person pitches and business meetings.
The video component of the UCaaS experience has become more important than ever. As a global cloud communications and collaboration software platform for the enterprise, our company saw a 596% increase in video meetings in the weeks following the Covid-19 outbreak. This reflects a global trend toward a video-first experience. According to a report from mobile market data provider App Annie, videoconferencing software downloads reached 62 million in mid-March — the highest ever reported.
Other features of the UCaaS experience have evolved or been developed to meet the unique needs of an increasingly distributed workforce. For example, presence cues that indicate whether a colleague is away, in a meeting or on a call have become paramount when everyone is working remotely and can no longer rely on the visual cues that came with sitting next to someone in a traditional office setting.
These cues have also played a key role in helping remote workers maintain work-life balance by indicating to their colleagues when they sign off to go for a walk or help their children with schoolwork. Furthermore, with the increased reliance on remote work, UCaaS vendors have debuted new features enabling users to express themselves with reactions, strike better work-life balance with quiet hours, and turn to tools that help eliminate distractions and augment presentations.
The Future Of UCaaS In Hybrid Work
While the timeline for returning to in-person work remains unclear, one thing is for certain: More companies will embrace remote work and more workers will view remote work policies as an expectation, not just a nice-to-have perk. Tech giants from Facebook to Google have already extended their remote work policies through 2021, and we can expect more companies to follow suit.
With this expansion of remote work, it’s to be expected that most companies will embrace a hybrid model where employees are given the option to work remotely or in-person a portion of the week. According to a recent internal poll at Fuze, a majority of employees said they wish to only come into the office one to two days a week. With workers spending fewer days in the office per week, in-person work is expected to take on a more intentional significance after Covid-19 subsides, as workers will use that time for collaboration meetings that are best carried out in person, such as annual performance reviews.
As a result, UCaaS will need to evolve once again in order to accommodate this hybrid model. With a larger portion of employees working remotely while others work in the office, the nature of videoconferencing will need to adapt. For example, in large meetings where some participants are in person while others are remote, in-person participants may be expected to turn on their personal video in order to capture their individual reactions and provide remote participants with the same experience. As employees begin returning to the office, instead of hosting meetings in a crowded conference room, businesses may also encourage workers to take video meetings from their desks.
The seismic shift toward remote work in recent months will forever change the way businesses leverage UCaaS tools to keep remote and in-office workers alike engaged and connected. To accommodate the transition to a hybrid work model once the pandemic subsides, UCaaS providers will once again need to evolve their offerings to be more inclusive toward different ways of working.
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