By Paul Scholey, SVP and General Manager, BlueJeans by Verizon
Predictions are always a dangerous game; more so than ever in these wild, unprecedented times! Who ever would have forecast this time last year that video conferencing would explode and become essential to the way we live and work? Playing it a bit safer this year, what follows are three predictions based on what I’m already starting to see play out in our customer base and the wider market.
On a ‘burning platform,’ Digital Transformation gains new urgency
In 2021 I predict that companies whose digital transformation programmes stalled will step hard on the accelerator. Even though most companies built strong business cases for digital transformation, some didn’t feel a sense of urgency to move beyond the planning stages.
However, when the Covid tide went out it became clear which players were ‘swimming naked’ – to paraphrase Warren Buffet. The early digital innovators with robust UC systems proved so resilient they made a virtually overnight transition to remote working and virtual events. The rest scrambled to play catch up; not only to implement technology but to introduce new processes and adapt the culture. In that sense Covid-19 became the first ‘burning platform’ for Digital Transformation. This crisis year has injected real urgency into innovating for agility, flexibility and resilience.
Deloitte Insights outlined seven ‘digital pivots’ that enterprises must make to achieve digital maturity. One is implementing a ‘flexible, secure infrastructure that balances security and privacy needs with the need to flex capacity according to business demand’ – the very definition of IT resilience.
Unified communication – so key to flexible working – will be a top priority in enterprises’ transformation programmes. Fortunately there is no longer any need to choose between flexibility and security. Smart companies will insist on both.
Internal comms will become top priority and more sophisticated
Along with a rush to digitally transform, next year I predict organisations will work fast to mature their internal communications programmes. With so many people working remotely, internal communications, once seen by many organisations as ‘nice to have’ (and given minimal resources) will become a top priority in 2021.
One thing that’s become abundantly clear is that organisations need to fine-tune their meeting strategies. Everybody’s starting to feel burnt out from attending too many virtual meetings – just like they did with in-person meetings. A lot of this is down to ‘virtual presenteeism’ as people feel added job insecurity and want to be seen to be involved and delivering value. Again, a similar phenomenon occurred with in-person meetings.
To address this, I predict that organisations will communicate and train staff on new ways to prevent meeting burnout, ensuring both productivity and employee wellbeing. One tactic that some are likely to take is changing organisational structures to democratise communication and improve flow. Tall corporate hierarchies that rely on information to be cascaded down becomes very inefficient in virtual office settings and leads to meeting overload. We’ve flattened our own hierarchy so that our CEO communicates to ten reports, rather than two.
Organisations will also introduce a wider range of virtual meetings and events for employees. One notable casualty of remote working has been the office ‘watercooler moment’. Unified comms providers are offering more capabilities to let people spark quick, impromptu chats to address this. At the other end of the spectrum, we see organisations hosting more ‘town hall’ meetings to update employees on key events and answer questions.
In 2021 videoconferencing platforms like ours will help organisations deliver increasingly sophisticated internal comms programmes by adapting to a range of formats beyond the standard meeting. Smart meeting features like whiteboards and annotations, for example, are ideal for creative brainstorming sessions; personal meeting IDs are ideal for ‘watercooler moments’; and intelligent transcriptions that log written meeting highlights and action items support those people who can’t attend every meeting and want to avoid “FOMO”.
Virtual events will endure and be judged on their own merits
Those old enough to remember the early days of online events in the late 90s and early 2000s might recall great expectations followed by major disappointments – all due to technical immaturity in areas of internet bandwidth A/V quality, meeting functionality and security.
This year’s crisis led to a renaissance of virtual events. Many were highly successful and boosted this time around by huge technical advances in all the key areas listed above. And while virtual events will never replace the live experience, they have brought many unexpected and unique benefits. That’s why in 2021 I predict that people will stop comparing virtual events to live ones and start judging them more on their own considerable merits.
What are those merits? Above all, video communications technologies have ‘democratised’ events in several important ways. Firstly, they have opened up events to more people from every corner of the world. With many organisations having tightened the pursestrings on long-haul corporate travel, so-called ‘global’ events were attracting the majority of delegates from the host city or country. Salesforce, for example, attracted 80,000 live viewers to its first virtual ‘World Tour’ event in Sydney; the live event was only expecting to attract 15,000 attendees.
Virtual events democratise events in other ways beyond attendance numbers. It’s often the case that many people who would like to attend industry events get left behind in favour of more senior or sales executives. But even many of those people who are lucky enough to attend events don’t get to ‘access all areas’. Typically some attendees are restricted to the exhibit hall, while the more senior people get to attend the inspirational keynote talks and popular breakout sessions.
With most virtual events, everybody’s a VIP. This year event participants have been able to take part in live discussions with renowned speakers from the bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell to the millennial YouTube and comedy sensation, Lillly Singh. Even more democratising is the fact that many of these events are offered free to qualified, registered attendees.
Finally, virtual events provide accessibility to more introverted people who are shy about asking questions, contributing ideas and socialising at live events. One customer told me about their annual company meeting, which ran breakout ‘ideation’ sessions as part of this year’s virtual format. Surprisingly, she found that the quality and quantity of ideas had improved this year because some shier people with great ideas felt more comfortable contributing from their home offices.
I have every reason to believe that in 2021 as (hopefully) live events re-emerge in some geographies, organisations will continue to run virtual events in order to continue to engage with people in more countries, more roles and more personality types. These events will increasingly be part of an integrated events strategy of live and virtual and assessed on their own merits.
2020 was a showcase for UC’s awesome potential
The symbolic act of starting a fresh new year provides us all with a sense of hope and optimism. However despite all 2020s challenges, let’s remember how people around the world connected in virtual communities to do truly astounding things in the fields of technology, science and medicine. In that sense, it was an awesome global showcase for the power of unified communications. Roll on 2021!