What’s driving cloud video collaboration in organizations today, and what would the workplace of the future be like after COVID-19?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that organizations that have work-from-home policies in place have adapted better and faster to many governments’ social distancing measures for workplaces.

For many organizations without the requisite setups crucial to remote working, this transition caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic could be rather painful – for management, employees and the bottom line.

Those who have transitioned more smoothly can, in large part, thank the advancements in reliable, high-quality, real-time, feature-rich and affordable cloud video collaboration and that communication plan was included into their business continuity plan (BCP).

Before COVID-19, it was the changing demographics of the workforce in Asia Pacific – combined with the widespread adoption of the cloud – that drove adoption, convergence and expansion of cloud video collaboration in the region.

However, what will stand out as an even greater driving force today would be the need to ensure video collaboration is part of an organization’s business continuity plan. COVID-19 serves as a major proof point. Before the pandemic, business continuity was something good to have; when COVID-19 hit, many started scrambling and every business realized the importance of keeping business operations running.

In today’s business environment, no company is exempt from unplanned disruptions – be it from disasters linked to environmental crises, natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and tsunamis, business shutdown due to national security reasons, or epidemic and pandemic conditions – which can have a devastating impact on businesses of all sizes.

The changing workforce

According to Poly, just the professional headset market revenue alone is growing at a CAGR of 9.7% from 2018 to reach 46.8 million units for a revenue of $2.66 billion in 2025.

And Frost & Sullivan expects the total video collaboration market to grow at a CAGR of 11.3% from 2018 to 2022 with cloud video conferencing services, conference USB cameras, and virtual events being the key growth drivers.

This growth is partly due to millennials becoming a majority in today’s workforce.

Born between 1979 and 2000, millennials are on track to forming 50% of the global workforce in 2020 and 75% by 2025. These digital natives grew up with technology right in their hands, which helps them appreciate and understand better how technology shapes the way they work, live and play.

The need to attract and retain this growing workforce is forcing organizations to rethink their workplace design and collaboration arrangements, and the year 2020 is proving to be a major inflection point for this transformation.

Even without the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the way we work and collaborate today, there has already been a growing trend for remote working in recent years. Reasons include: the high costs of renting, leasing or buying office space; increasingly mobile employees in an increasingly global marketplace; work-life balance and diversity to include working mothers and employees with disabilities; and preferences of the millennial workforce in today’s shared, gig economy.

Whether in or out of the office, the young digital-native workforce in Asia Pacific has demonstrated an increased need for standalone collaboration devices and gadgets, and cloud or mobile video-conferencing apps and services.

The changing business technology landscape

As cloud computing took hold as the foundation for digital transformation over the last decade, we also start to see the rise of cloud-based video conferencing soon after. Over the last few years, multi-purpose devices and interoperable cloud offerings are driving the consumption of video across both enterprises and SMEs.

According to Frost & Sullivan, cloud video conferencing services have consistently recorded strong growth in Asia Pacific. The current need to ensure business continuity during and after the COVID-19 pandemic is ensuring that growth.

Meanwhile, newer and more agile cloud services are giving providers the flexibility to fuel the direction of next-generation video conferencing to match pace with evolving market trends.

In fact, a Synergy Research study forecasts that the total group video endpoint market would grow from US$2.1 billion in 2018 to nearly $4 billion globally in 2022. Driven by the rapid growth and dynamic changes in cloud video, expansion into new organizations and rooms that have not used video before, is creating new opportunities for delivering the right experiences enterprises and their employees are looking for.

The growing focus on improving user experience is leading to fast-moving AI enhancements such as intelligent view or intelligent framing in a video call, background noise suppression, rich in-room analytics for better meeting diagnostics, voice interactive commands for starting and ending meetings and recording, and automated transcripts.

The changing workplace

The focus on user-centric collaboration in the video-first enterprise requires versatility in the meeting room and home office of the future. To support today’s tech-savvy, mobile and always connected workers, businesses are designing modern meeting spaces.

With more people collaborating from their desk – whether in the office or from home – and in meeting rooms with social distancing measures in place, the main drawback is that ambient noise and distractions in the environment increase.

This has created a growing user demand for disruption-free settings that offer a productive environment for workers to come together for instant, interactive collaboration. This is clearly seen in the growing demand for active noise-cancellation headsets, background noise suppression, and intelligent framing during video calls.

And, in place of face-to-face meetings, video has taken precedence as the ‘new normal’, especially with the recent restrictions on travel and direct human interactions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. User experience dictates that clarity of video and audio is now a given.

Meetings are becoming short, frequent, spontaneous, and less structured. Users want to be able to start ad-hoc meetings and training sessions – any time – at the click of a button. In this ‘anytime, anywhere’ environment, today’s meetings would find some attendees from the office, and others attending remotely via video conferencing apps, over a phone line or both.

Key application and equipment selection criteria for remote collaboration and online education would include simplicity, ease of use, and affordability. In some cases, walls will be collaboration-enabled with built-in audio-video conferencing, wireless content sharing, multi-touch displays, responsive pen and inking – all enabled by next-gen devices and cloud services, and even AI-infused user experience.

Collaboration in the future workplace is centered on robust audio, intuitive wireless content sharing, engaging video conferencing, and flexible white boarding. Aligned with growing consumerization, these rooms – whether in the office or at home – allow users to either use their own mobile devices and laptops or use pre-installed dedicated equipment.

Looking ahead – what’s different this time round

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the first time that the video conferencing and collaboration have seen a spike in demand. Crises in the past, such as September 11 and the SARS outbreak, have necessitated the business use of video conferencing in lieu of travel.

However, such surges in the past have failed to leave a lasting impact. According to Frost & Sullivan, only 6% of all meeting rooms globally are enabled for video conferencing. The unprecedented scale of the disruptions caused by COVID-19, on the other hand, is expected to fundamentally change user behavior.

What partly makes the pandemic experience different are the technologies enabling remote working and education. With quarantined cities, enforced social distancing, and closures of offices and schools, COVID-19’s impact on video conferencing and collaboration in 2020 and beyond will be transformational.

Adoption of remote-working technologies will be shaped by many factors, including the growing macroeconomic uncertainty, the paradigm shift to everything-as-a service, reliability and quality of hyperscale computing in public clouds, easy availability of free communication and collaboration platforms, and the improved security and manageability coming out of this pandemic experience.

But the stickiness this time round goes beyond technology. What would sustain the current surge in demand for video conferencing and collaboration is how COVID-19 has accelerated the need for flexible and agile work styles and further push the adoption of technologies that improve work-life balance.