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Next Steps for UC in the Enterprise

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In the first quarter of 2020, it felt like the world turned on its axis. Days blurred together, although a single day sometimes seemed to last a week. Normal activities like going to a movie, a restaurant, or a sporting event became inadvisable, then impossible, while handshakes and hugs morphed into health risks. Eventually, enterprises everywhere were forced to become intimately familiar — in some cases, overnight — with a technology some had been resisting – unified communications (UC).
 
While some enterprises were certainly using UC prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the user base consisted of more tech-savvy employees. There wasn’t across-the-board buy-in from all employees in all enterprises, but the pandemic has proven to be a catalyst for UC — and not just for its adoption.
 
The swift move to UC has created a new level of expectation, even from non-technology workers, that employees will be able to continue to collaborate from anywhere using these platforms. UC thus will become non-negotiable in the majority of enterprises, even when we get “back to normal.”
 
That’s just one of the ways the pandemic will reshape the future of collaboration within an enterprise. Here are five other predictions about what UC has in store.
 
Conference rooms are here to stay.
Enterprise employees working from home have been forced to turn their spare bedrooms, living rooms, and garages into makeshift conference rooms supported by video conferencing and collaboration platforms. These meeting setups aren’t ideal – especially with everyone connecting via sometimes-spotty home internet on a variety of devices – video, and audio quality varies.
 
We’ve all made it work, but this situation has also made it clear that authentic office conference rooms aren’t going away anytime soon — and the way we think about them has changed. Transitioning to a complete remote environment has shown employees that there are lightyears of difference between their home workspace equipment and company-supplied in-office technology.
 
Now that workers better understand the value of enterprise-grade meeting room technology, they will demand room systems and software that create seamless, high-quality in-room experiences. They’ll also be more open to learning software and systems that enable them even from home.
 
We will reconsider the need for future business travel — but first, tech will have to step up its game.
 
When an extenuating event is brief, people learn to do things differently for a time, but often go back to their former methods as soon as they can. When the event goes on for a long time, the workarounds eventually become habits.
 
This latter scenario may represent what happens to business travel because many companies have placed restrictions or eliminated employees traveling for business. Even before March 2020, organizations forced to find different ways to connect with customers and colleagues around the globe. Some will return to their former travel schedules as soon as they’re able. But others will reconsider whether the costs and disruption to the employee’s time is worth it, and may choose to reallocate some or all of their former corporate travel budget for other purposes.
 
However, that will mean UC technologies must be able to replicate the personal and social connections that are forged when talking in a face-to-face meeting during work hours, or over dinner and drinks after hours. One way that might happen is, the companies that create these products may choose to redirect business travel funds toward product development, which could get us collaboration software that is almost as good as meeting a customer or vendor for a steak and a glass of wine.
 
Audio is king —and will continue to reign.
Another thing that has become clear during a time of all-virtual meetings: Video is a nice-to-have, but the audio is a necessity.
 
During Zoom or Teams meetings, if the video becomes choppy or grainy, people can turn off their cameras and continue the meeting as a phone call while remaining productive. If the audio quality is bad, they’re likely to end the call.
 
While video conferencing can add social and human elements to a virtual meeting, those aren’t tradeoffs for productivity, and that’s why audio will continue to be critical. We should still look to replicate the personal connections of human-to-human meetings in our UC software, but it has to be done without sacrificing audio fidelity.
 
Augmented and virtual reality technologies get fast-tracked.
As organizations reducing their travel budgets look for technology that can simulate in-person meetings, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) may be natural fits.
 
Say an employee used to fly to Tokyo multiple times a year for meetings with customers or vendors, relying on a translator during the meeting to communicate with their Japanese-speaking colleagues. Instead of the company spending its money on travel and paying an interpreter, the organization might turn to technology instead. AR &VR and artificial intelligence (AI) could allow this professional to stay at her office. They could also project her avatar into a meeting room in Tokyo, while AI software translates between two (or more) languages in real-time.
 
This arrangement would certainly be an adjustment at first, but in addition to saving on travel time and costs, it will also enhance a meeting by allowing inclusivity. That means everyone can speak the language with which they feel most comfortable, and people who can’t travel (because of health issues, lack of childcare, etc.) will be able to attend.
 
UC and the “New Normal”
We still don’t know what the “new normal” will look like for an enterprise (or in general). There are still challenges to be solved when it comes to UC platforms that center around the technology itself, and softer ones – like the inability to have sidebar chats or breakout conversations within video conferencing.
 
But the UC floodgates have been opened; employees aren’t going to forget that these platforms allowed them to collaborate and stay productive from anywhere in the world amid a global crisis. This situation creates a great opportunity for UC organizations to shore up their technologies and redefine business goals — because the future is looking very promising indeed.

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