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2021: 5 Collaboration Technology and Market Predictions

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If you had a “global pandemic” on your list of 2020 predictions, then congratulations. For the rest of us without a time machine or the ability to see into the future, 2020 has been a year unlike any other, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global economies, sent the majority of the workforce home, and caused a massive change to work and interpersonal relationships.
 
Organizations made tremendous investments in collaboration applications like video conferencing and team messaging in 2020. Heading into 2021 they are likely to continue to flesh out strategies to improve remote worker productivity while planning for potential returns to the office. With that in mind, and the hope that 2021 will be far better than 2020, here are five collaboration technology and market predictions for the coming year.
 
  1. The office will never be the same. While the last few weeks have brought significant positive news on the COVID-19 vaccine development front, the best- case scenarios offered by public health officials suggest that widespread distribution won’t happen until at least the second quarter of 2021. That means we are not likely to see a large shift back to the office during the first six months or so of next year. What’s more, both organizations and individuals are discovering benefits in enabling work-from-home (WFH). WFH allows companies to reduce real estate costs, hire employees that live outside of home markets, and support flexible work schedules. Employees find value in work flexibility and in avoiding long commutes. Assuming the pandemic finally begins to end in mid-2021, I expect that for most, the future will consist of occasional or a few-days-per-week in the office rather than one in which employees return to offices full-time.
  2. Video becomes pervasive. Before COVID-19, roughly a third of meeting spaces and fewer than half of desktops were equipped for video conferencing, according to Nemertes’ research. Though video adoption was already on the upswing, the pandemic has accelerated it in ways never imagined. Heading into 2021, I expect that video conferencing is here to stay. It will not only be available in every meeting space but at every desktop, as future meetings are likely to involve a mixed group of in-person and remote employees. For those whose work-from-home meeting experience had previously centered around audio conferencing, the ubiquitous availability of video conferencing is bound to be good news.
  3. UC&C consolidation and harmonization. As the pandemic rapidly grew in February and March of 2020, companies struggled to adapt quickly to the new reality. Many quickly adopted a variety of new collaboration applications, including video meetings and team collaboration. In 2021, I expect that IT leaders will increasingly focus on shifting from reactive to proactive mode. As such, they will reassess their overall collaboration environments to eliminate redundancies, reduce costs, and simplify administration, performance, and security management. This change is likely to lead to a continued shift from point solutions to platforms that tightly integrate UC functions, including calling and team messaging with meetings, contact center, as well as a whiteboard, project management, and other collaborative applications. This harmonization on the customer side is likely to drive continued consolidation on the vendor side, as we’ve already seen throughout 2020.
  4. All about workflows. 2021 is poised to become the year of the citizen developer as collaboration vendors increasingly try to differentiate themselves through the delivery of no and low-code options for integrating workflows with collaboration applications. Collaboration vendors, either through their own features, via platforms like Zapier, or by leveraging capabilities provided by CPaaS partners, will make it easier than ever for individuals to create workflows that involve alerts, messaging, notifications, and more, integrated into their collaboration applications.
  5. Remote management and security become mission-critical. One key area for investment in 2021 is in management and analytics to provide IT and business leaders with insight into home worker performance and engagement, while minimizing security threats. Organizations must gain insight into potential challenges resulting from isolation and lack of interpersonal interaction. Collaboration vendors need to play an upfront role in providing dashboards and metrics that measure interaction to identify potential trouble areas. Also, IT shops are likely to continue to focus on performance, security, and administration management of collaboration and communication apps, with a focus on ensuring consistency in user experience and security policy enforcement.
2021 is shaping up to be the year when organizational leaders focus on optimizing the home worker experience, preparing for some level of return to the office, empowering employees to optimize their own applications, and harmonizing application deployments, management, and spending. Let’s hope that 2021 sees something of a return to normal, though it’s likely that the new normal will continue to require proactive strategies for virtual collaboration success.

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