Why mobile unified communications is enabling the flexible SME culture

In just a few short years, Unified Communications (UC) has changed the way that employees connect and collaborate. Unified Communications is not just benefiting employee productivity; it is enabling the workforce to be flexible, an essential asset that allows smaller businesses to compete with larger rivals.

Mobile UC technologies are enabling remote working, on-the-fly meetings and mobility across all business units. This is helping SMEs to reduce their cost base, taking on smaller office spaces complimented by remote workers and freelancers.

While BYOD - Bring Your Own Device - has been the watchword for the last number of years, the latest emerging trend is BYOA or Bring Your Own Application. Employees, in particular millennials, are often self-organising, using applications that will give them the productivity boosts they require. SMEs are evaluating how they can give their employees that same kind of mobile, intuitive experience via their UC platforms.

Without doubt, the mobile app market and increased connectivity are writing the next chapter of UC, and it is quickly developing around us. SMEs are well positioned to benefit from this technology, with less bureaucratic processes and therefore faster adoption rates. UC technology will help these businesses to better manage their workforces who are increasingly finding the desk unit a productivity desert.

Getting Ahead in Mobile UC

It is already easy to deploy UC applications via a mobile, with many available from all the leading collaboration vendors such as Microsoft and Cisco, or dedicated video conferencing applications from vendors like BlueJeans, Vidyo or Zoom. Other players are investing in their collaborative capabilities that are primed for mobile devices. Mobile features in UC have now expanded to include features like white boarding, screen sharing and single-reach number.

At present though, the main mobile UC adoption issue is connectivity, as office Wi-Fi and stability of 3G and 4G signals within the building still struggle to enable technology to full capability. This is mirrored outside of the workplace, when poor signal will often equal dropped voice/video calls and frustration by the user.

The UK Government fully recognises this and further investment in connectivity is on its way, with the Chancellor announcing that 95 per cent of the UK population will have access to superfast broadband by 2017. As connectivity becomes less of an issue, companies will find that the mobile application works in the same way as a desktop application, whereby there’s a seamless and easy-to-use experience for the user.

Start-ups should not fear the plethora of different UC vendors. The cloud is permitting the interoperability between different vendors facilitated by system integrators. Technology is maturing and companies are already widely adopting UC, rather than proprietary technology. It also facilitates small business’ communication with global customers and suppliers.

Back at the Ranch

All this tech means that employees just don’t need to be in the office as much to be connected and productive, and as a result, they’re not. In January 2015, a Wainhouse research paper looking at collaborative businesses found that over two thirds of respondents had initiated an audio or web conference from a mobile device, so the popularity of mobile video is clearly on the rise.

The trends towards UC, mobility, remote working and open office spaces are only accelerating. Furthermore, open office spaces are proven to increase space utilisation rates and create a sense of collaboration and a more open culture.

However, there are some disadvantages to having an open office space. For example, the increased level of noise and distraction impacting employee concentration is in turn leading to another trend - a rise in the number of collaboration or conference spaces in these offices. According to recent reports, there are over 55 million meeting or conference rooms worldwide, of which 24 million - or 40 per cent - are medium sized conference rooms. Companies are seeing the demand for ‘huddle rooms’ explode – smaller, dedicated collaboration spaces where employees can meet and collaborate with local and remote team members ‘on-the-fly’.

Many businesses are looking to take advantage of existing UC investments and are looking for ways to utilise these in smaller collaboration spaces in a way that is scalable and which won’t explode the budget. The new breed of video conferencing devices make it very quick to grab a laptop, find a conference room or huddle space and have a top notch team meeting with great sound quality and video using the same UC solution employees use at the desk.

Consider the delivery stage

For many companies, the cost savings can be tremendous, yet adoption can still be challenging. SMEs need seamless communication experiences with their employees, customers, suppliers and partners. For example, a bespoke furniture design agency will be able to share their product at the early design stages via a video call with the manufacturer and client, obtaining early feedback that will help to shorten the production cycle and speed up time-to-market.

Despite the constant intrusion of social interfaces, organisations should not dismiss employee training for video collaboration on different devices. A clear communication strategy should be in place so that users fully understand the benefits that their devices can bring to their work. The changing demographics of the workforce will play an important part in this delivery stage. Millennials will form 50 per cent of the workforce in just a couple of short years; while businesses today are distributed across multiple sites with remote workers forming part of the team, and 60 per cent of meetings are now virtual.

The Wainhouse research paper on collaborative businesses confirms this, noting that: “The way users get their work done is undergoing a dramatic, historic change. This new work environment is embraced by work-life harmony-seeking millennials and driven by highly collaborative interaction.

"Technology has transcended the ability to simply enable virtual collaboration, making it effective and desirable – with few barriers, anyone and everyone can instantly become engaged and help with the task at hand.”

Anne Marie Ginn, senior category manager at Logitech for Business, Collaboration in EMEA