Forget the nine to five-thirty and the daily odyssey to the office and back. Recent advances in technology are powering a revolution that is redefining what and where the workplace is – and even the lifecycle of businesses themselves.
Entrepreneurs used to need an office from the moment their company gained its first employees. Now start-ups can thrive in shared spaces, or even working from home, all because of affordable, cloud-based collaboration and unified communications (UC) technologies.
By eliminating distance, they enable businesses to hire talent from far away, even overseas, and communicate with customers, clients and suppliers without expensive and time-consuming business trips.
That’s great news for entrepreneurs, and so for the economy at large, but businesses don’t want to stay start-ups forever: they need technology that will constantly scale to meet their future ambitions.
The workplace revolution
It’s great when a young business can serve all its communications needs through a scalable, cost-effective UC service, as it means they aren’t tied to a large annual subscription, investing in new hardware, as well as bearing the installation and licensing costs of a traditional enterprise AV communications suite.
When it comes to communications tools such as UC and collaboration software, businesses have more options than ever. What’s most exciting about these technologies is that even the cheaper (or free) ones, such as Skype and Google Hangouts, are usually capable of supporting most of the functions that start-up businesses need initially – in particular, remote working.
These capabilities have driven a workplace revolution: it is now no longer a place you go to, but a thing you do. As a result, working patterns have shifted, with businesses able to recruit from a much larger pool of skilled talent around the world, while workers themselves have many more options of whom they work for. It’s no surprise that the gig economy / freelancing boom should have coincided with the rise of new communications technologies.
Improved collaboration benefits everybody: employees are more productive, spending less time travelling to work and working to their own natural patterns, while businesses significantly reduce OPEX and CAPEX, while building the basis for greater employee morale and productivity.
Some of the changes wrought by these new technologies and working patterns have led to rather unexpected, though not unwelcome changes. The decline of the nine-to-five has been accompanied by a growing informality in business, together with new working patterns and practices. For example, if employees no longer have to come into the office, there is an expectation that every meeting will be “virtual”. That might suit individual employees, but it may not be best for a business as it evolves. They may decide, after a year or two, that they need to upgrade to more advanced technologies and conferencing suites, because that’s what their clients expect.
This is obviously a question of the culture that each individual company develops, and it is up to business leaders to decide if there is a value in upgrading to high-quality but expensive conferencing suites. Smaller businesses may, however, find that many long physical or conference call meetings do not suit their culture and find them a time-consuming distraction. These meetings can often be better managed in more intimate, informal AV calls, with only the key people joining.
Even if they prefer this option, they will still require many of the functionalities of these big suites and SMEs can now create their own AV bundle to suit their requirements and the experience they want to give to their employees and partners.
The future of business communications
Collaboration and UC technologies are enabling more people to undertake audio visual calls via their chosen telephony platform as they start to become integrated into conferencing and UC packages. To complement this and further improve flexibility, USB headsets and speakerphones can be used in conjunction with these soft clients to allow attendees to quickly and easily join the conference call without the often-fraught process of dialing into a conference call bridge.
We’re seeing suppliers start to manufacturer conferencing devices that focus on providing a ‘plug-and-play’ experience to eliminate the downtime caused by menial processes, such as remembering and entering dial-in numbers for every conference call. These devices will also be extremely cost effective for SMEs that are unable to invest heavily in traditional conferencing hardware, yet still require a professional audio experience that is both agile and within budget.
The next stage in the evolution of business communications will see increasing emphasis placed on furthering conferencing ease-of-use, as well as developing additional ways of making the technology more flexible to each business’ unique needs.
Software will be an important part of this journey, especially when it enables a degree of customisability – for example, through software development kits (SDKs) or APIs that enable each organisation to develop the specific functions they need. This includes customisable options that increase functionality and usability, that enables each user or business to create programmable feature sets within devices that include programmable buttons, which helps to future-proof the entire AV platform and enable businesses to respond to new needs swiftly and effectively.
These are exciting times for businesses of every size. Communications technologies mean that the future is pregnant with possibilities such as the ability to gain an advantage in the global race for talent, or open up new markets without the associated cost and time burdens of travel.
Communications services providers must meet these new expectations by continuing to deliver new functionalities and better usability across their hardware, software and platforms. The workplace revolution cannot, however, be reset; we should feel privileged to be alive and working at a time when we’re defined by what we do, not where we go.
Nigel Dunn, Managing Director EMEA North at Jabra
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