After nearly a year away, many workers will soon have the option to return to the office in 2021. The pandemic hasn’t only changed the offices themselves but how we work in general. And at the same time, the big collaboration players are providing functionality that can make remote interactions even more effective than in person for many instances, which was evident by the plethora of announcements made at Cisco’s WebexOne event
For companies, this portends interesting challenges for returning to “normal.” If, for example, 25% of employees stay with remote work and 50% move to hybrid with half time in the office, the result is a reduction of “in-office” days of 50%. While this can reflect a large reduction in real estate, it will also change the way technology is deployed, especially for in-office technology. Clearly, the need for office equipment will be reduced, as many enterprises move to hoteling or shared usage.
But a larger question that is emerging is what equipment should be in those spaces. As we move into the post-COVID-19 world, it is perhaps valuable to separate IT endpoint assets into two categories: corporate and personal. A personal asset is a device that is either corporate-owned and assigned to a specific employee for exclusive use both in and out of the office (personal PC) or a personally owned device such as a mobile phone. A corporate asset is an endpoint/device that is assigned to a space or location and can be used by any employee assigned to that space. In the pre-COVID-19 world, the laptop an employee would take out of the office is personal, while the desktop phone is corporate.
Cisco, Zoom, and Microsoft either directly or through their hardware partners have all announced desktop/office devices that enable a dedicated and “enhanced” video collaboration experience. Cisco announced two large (24” +) dedicated desktop video systems, a smaller device with wireless mobile device charging, and a smaller camera. Both Google and Amazon have announced Zoom integrations for their personal video devices. And several companies are offering Teams-focused single-user devices as well.
These devices that are dedicated to a specific function rather than being general-purpose devices like a laptop/PC, mobile phone, or even a Chromebook are ideal for creating the best meeting experience for an individual user. For the enterprise, this becomes a significant decision. If this experience is critical and must be included in the in-office locations, what about remote users at their homes as well? If the remote experience is to be a laptop/PC-based experience, why is that experience not sufficient in a hoteling office location? This discussion is like the discussions in 2019 about the value of a dedicated codec in a small team room video system versus a “bring your own codec” strategy. In the same way, the question is where the codec functionality should be for individuals.
This question raises another interesting decision: Is the work alone environment in the facility/office intended to provide functionality that is different for that employee when working remotely? Companies are facing a set of decisions on non-conference room endpoints and devices that will drive significant cost in the organization. The options seem to be:
- Employees use personal devices for all non-conference meetings. Regardless of whether the employee is in or out of the office location, if they are attending a meeting as an individual, they use their personal device.
- Enterprises provide optimized corporate communications devices only in shared/reservation in-office locations to encourage office use and provide a better experience.
- Enterprises provide optimized corporate communications devices only in remote employee locations to provide a more integrated experience over a laptop for remote workers.
- Enterprises provide optimized corporate communications devices at both in-office and remote locations, so employees can use them for most events.
Clearly, the number of devices to be purchased per employee will vary dramatically depending on the chosen path. For example, a company choosing to use an employee laptop as the primary device could use a separate monitor and webcam at both home and hoteling locations for a few hundred dollars per employee. To provide a dedicated video/collaborations device with a 24” size screen at both locations could cost over $2,000. These devices also require more management and support than the laptop with local USB/HDMI devices.
While the dedicated collab/video devices are very nice and do provide a great experience, organizations should analyze their use models and compare the business value these devices provide versus using already purchased and personal computing and mobile devices. For organizations where the value of the dedicated platform is defined, deciding where and who to apply them to will take further consideration. During this extended period of being out of the office, it’s crucial to develop a strategy for devices.