Expert Speak

What Can Recent Developments in Collaboration Tech Tell Us About its Future?

Written by Nathalie Leignel, Vice President EMEA and Americas, at Barco

The second year of the pandemic work environment saw the concept of the more flexible hybrid operational model become reality. While the blueprint for hybrid work – in which employees split time between a physical office and a remote location of their choice – began to take shape before COVID’s emergence, businesses now are witnessing its impact.

Hybrid work will look different for every industry and company, and the successes, struggles, and needs of one team likely will differ from another. However,  what has become clear in the initial phase of broader hybrid adoption is the value of collaboration technology. Businesses continue to implement new tools to increase productivity and maintain a sense of connection among a workforce that is more widespread and diverse in its needs and preferences.

With the adoption of hybrid work likely to grow in 2022, businesses are uniquely positioned to set the tone for the model and define how hybrid best suits their day-to-day needs. As leaders begin to look ahead to the New Year, these four hybrid collaboration and technology trends should be front of mind.

Hybrid will shine a light on employee needs
One positive that has come out of difficult times is that employees feel more empowered to dictate their own ways of working. Workplace technology is no longer just a functional part of the day, but a key component of employee satisfaction. Many employees are not yet ready to forego the routines and systems they’ve become comfortable with at home as they return to the office.

As employee needs to evolve, collaboration technology likewise must evolve to support them. Barco’s ClickShare Hybrid Meeting Survey found that 71 percent of employees struggle with hybrid meeting technology, indicating an opportunity for innovators and business leaders to apply enhancements that make their lives easier.

The good news is that we’re already beginning to see this push for simplicity come to life through more flexible and compatible video conferencing. Unified communications and collaboration (UCC) software tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and WebEx quickly became fixtures of the pandemic workplace. Now, businesses are finding new ways to enhance the functionality of these tools across hybrid collaboration platforms and improved meeting room peripherals (including cameras and microphones) for a dynamic and familiar conferencing experience.

The best technologies will strive for seamless usability
Remember the “old age” process of setting up for and launching a multi-location meeting? Between securing a dedicated room, navigating cords and clutter, and ensuring clear visibility and audio among all participants, meeting organisers often found their conversations starting late and among a frustrated audience.

During the pandemic, remote workers enjoyed the ability to join a meeting from their laptops with a few simple clicks. Even as they return to the office, workers will not want to go back to the obsolete and complex legacy routine. As a result, we expect more businesses to invest in workplace collaboration technology that synchronises workers’ laptops with meeting room components and allows immediate connectivity and start-up as participants walk in.

Ease of use also will serve as the foundation of future workplace technology. We’re already beginning to see artificial intelligence enter the workspace, creating new potential for smarter and hassle-free professional engagement. For instance, if a meeting leader begins to lose his voice, automated technologies can pick this up and disable his camera to allow for a momentary pause or sip of water. In the coming years, we expect this will also expand to include holograms, virtual reality, and multi-projector and display wall alignment.

Meeting equity will become the new currency
Although the structure of the hybrid workplace ideally encourages unity and collaboration among a workforce that at times struggled while fully remote, the model can come with an unintended divide. Even as technology evolves, it’s difficult to truly replicate the camaraderie and connection that comes with an in-person meeting. For some workers joining a hybrid meeting remotely, it can feel more challenging to have their voices heard.

The evolution of the hybrid workplace will see a greater focus on meeting equity, and the integration of technology that prevents remote workers from feeling like “less than” participants. Beyond equipping remote workers with adequate cameras, microphones and video conferencing platforms, business leaders are recognizing the value of ensuring they have an equal seat at the table. Modern workplace collaboration platforms include virtual blackboarding and annotation, easy content upload and sharing, and breakout room functionality to remove many of these barriers.

Meeting equity also will become more important as functions and gatherings that previously took place in person transition to hybrid or remote settings. With some organisations hesitant to resume travel, or recognising the budget benefits of continuing virtual operations, we’re seeing everything from sales presentations to training sessions now taking place across multiple locations. Future hybrid technology will need to be versatile and powerful enough to support this transition.

The decline in collaboration will get the attention it needs
If hybrid working environments are to experience success in longevity, enabling collaboration is essential. On this point, it is important to make the distinction between productivity and collaboration. At the start of the pandemic, when home working first began, productivity actually improved. This phenomenon isn’t new to the Covid era and was analysed in a study by Nicholas Bloom in 2013. His experiment involved employees of a travel agency who were assigned to work from home for nine months, and it saw their performance increase by 13%.

Despite this improvement in productivity, however, levels of collaboration have decreased. An employee’s productivity boils down to their individual performance, whereas being connected to colleagues is a necessity of collaboration: enabling collaboration is about creating an environment ignited by a sense of sharing.

Given that employees are now distributed across multiple locations, a major challenge when it comes to the future is: How can the collaboration that existed in an in-person workplace be achieved in the hybrid world? By digging into this question and responding with investment and innovation, the hope is that the future will bring new and improved opportunities for collaboration regardless of whether colleagues are able to be together physically.

When it comes to hybrid working, there are no doubt challenges ahead. Employee needs are constantly evolving, and in the COVID era, those needs are exacerbated by uncertainty. Despite these difficulties, we believe collaboration technology is up to the challenge. For business leaders who prioritise the technology that enhances employee experience, the future of the hybrid workplace looks bright.

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Chris Fernando

Chris N. Fernando is an experienced media professional with over two decades of journalistic experience. He is the Editor of Arabian Reseller magazine, the authoritative guide to the regional IT industry. Follow him on Twitter (@chris508) and Instagram (@chris2508).

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