Guest Blog by Justin Hamilton-Martin, Centile Telecom Applications
Despite video conferencing technologies being widely available and affordable for years, the vast majority of businesses are still mainly depending on just audio, whether through traditional PBX or more IP-based solutions. However, audio does not give the millions of people now working remotely the visual stimulation that they are used to when working in an office alongside colleagues.
This is why video-conferencing is so important right now. Even people who are shy about being seen on webcams benefit from the collaborative aspect of screenshares, not only helping them get more from a meeting, but to reinforce the social aspect of business life too. Video assists morale and — in small groups — enables participants to pick up on the visual clues that body language gives us.
We are going to see a big shift in the video conferencing part of the UC marketplace, not just temporarily, but permanently. Those UC solutions that do not already provide video conferencing as standard will do so, and vendors like us which already include it will focus on ways to enhance those capabilities. We will continue to see the ease-of-use inspired by consumer and mobile apps replacing complex user interfaces and features. In the meantime, there is a lot that can be done right now to help users have a better video conference experience.
Smartphones are still the easiest way to move seamlessly from one room to another while taking part in a virtual meeting, including ones where video is involved. Children starting to get noisy in the background? A smartphone UC app allows users to move instantly from one room to another, even to an outdoors space. The fact that adoption of our own mobile app has grown by a third in the first week of the lockdown alone suggests that people are already doing this.
UC features that enable integration with diaries and other apps make it easier to extend workplace culture into the home. ‘Presence’ shows colleagues when they are available, and either initiate an instant video call, or request a video call back when someone is free. The starting point for those impromptu calls can be from various sources: integration with diaries, contact directories, the last call had with them, the last email received from them, the last online chat and so on.
To give everyone a truly seamless experience, it is essential to avoid siloes, for instance having a different app for each usage: in a truly integrated, federated environment, a phone number becomes the link to a variety of different apps.
In some respects, virtual video meetings have advantages over physical ones. Time constraints help to ensure that they are more focused. Distributing pre-reads encourages people to be prepared in advance — rather than getting up to speed during a meeting — so use of time is more productive. If the video is truly integrated within the UC solution, then it is also easy to quickly check on something in another business app, or ask a question of someone not in the meeting.
Here at Centile we have a group video coffee break every afternoon during the working week, even our children and pets are invited. Substituting the benefits of being in the office is important.
Maybe there are some meetings that do not really need video, or maybe you just want a break: while video is proving vital for communications and collaboration, we do not have to use it all day for everything.
A lot of businesses have had to make very quick decisions about how to get their workforces working remotely. Some of those quick fixes — such as using consumer apps — are keeping firms operational, but longer-term, ensuring an efficient remote workforce is going to depend on UC solutions that not only include video, but also offer deep integration with a wide variety of business apps, plus have the reporting and analytics functionality that many businesses require. Plus, there is no one-size-fits-all: what works best for one organisation may not be a good fit for another, so more than ever, open API architectures are going to be vital.
The workplace of the future is being transformed, and video-conferencing has overnight become part of working life for a much bigger percentage of businesses right now. Importantly, it is helping businesses who have had to make that transition quickly to extend the office culture into people’s homes. That gives the workforce continuity and comfort: something everyone could do with right now.