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COVID has brought many changes to our lives in last 3 to 4 months, especially how we work and interact with the outside world.
Office space has moved from an office in a building and a seat in a cubicle, desk and cabins to small corners of bedrooms or study rooms, often impinging the space occupied earlier by someone else at home. Laptop (mostly) connected to power and ready for use, is a regular feature in homes where someone is either working or studying.
Most of us while working from home, for multiparty discussions and presentations, have interacted with each other on various new video platforms such as Google Meet, Skype, Webex, Zoom, Uberconference and Microsoft Teams. Most of these video communication platforms are used prolifically for presentations, system demonstration of products/ services and for face to face discussions. Zoom, in particular has led the usage surge.
Leading in number of users and controversy, Zoom has been accused of being controlled by the Chinese Government. Worried by the meteoric adoption of Zoom, security agencies in India and around the world have been raising concerns on data privacy, security and information being compromised.
Pic Courtesy: Wion
Directives have been issued on what you should and should not do while using the platform.
Most of my friends who are engaged with large organizations said they were using Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex. Most avoided platforms like Zoom and Google, reemphasizing the trust bigger organizations pose in pure-play IT firms. Fair enough, it’s the firm’s IT security that is being discussed and no one wants to take a chance. The CIO and Information Security Group Chief are a happy duo.
Leaving aside office discussions, newly discovered and fast mushrooming eCelebrations, eCheers, eCatchingUp, eHiHello, eFamilyGetTogether, eKitty, eHousie, eArtCompetion and other eSocial meets have also started trending on these platforms. It speaks a lot on how fast humans can adapt to any situation.
The biggest beneficiary of these platforms were educational institutions, which started conducting eClasses and got students quickly hooked onto it. Tech has always played a role and adapts soon to changed dynamics as it did this time as well. Post COVID peoples increased reliance on digital infrastructure means your friendly neighbourhood internet guy has now become a critical contact and single point of failure, speaking illustratively only.
Some of the more passive platforms in this space upped their ante by introducing multi user video and audio conference calls. While Google Chat had this option, Whatsapp quickly raised the limit of users on video call to 8 participants, to ensue that the platform remained relevant; both for personal and office usage. Focus of Whatsapp, however, remained on personal usage considering many of us use different phones for office and personal usage, primarily due to the fear of being included in too many office groups, an increasing trend that is seen impinging on personal space of employees.
One platform that failed to ride the surge, I feel, was Skype. The first mover in data calls and video interactions, Microsoft failed to press its advantage at this critical point of time when everyone wanted to speak to his or her counterpart on Voice or Video calls. Skype should have been the first option for users but it fumbled and handed over its users to other platforms. Failure to understand the changed market dynamics providing an opportunity, Skype almost met the same fate as Blackberry, which became unviable with both Apple and Android creating and publishing easy to use user focused applications.
I am afraid, Skype has met the same fate, missing the bus in last few months.
Why some platforms became more successful
Staying with Zoom, an important aspect that must be discussed, is the success of the platform even in the face of adverse atmosphere which labeled the platform as “Risky” though we are yet to see any concrete evidence of it. It comes to me as no surprise that company has registered massive growth and the news link below quotes the following;
"Zoom has reported a total revenue of $328.2 million in first quarter of 2020, a growth of 169% year-over-year. Besides this, it reported a growth of 354% year-over-year in the number of customers having over 10 employees to approximately 265,400. Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said Zoom "peaked at over 300 million daily participants" joining Zoom meetings in April 2020. (Source - Inshorts.com)
The platform gained massive popularity and overnight became a synonym for Audio-Video Calls, “Let’s meet on Zoom”, or in Hindi “Zoom pe aa jaao sab, 4:00 baje”.
Zoom, at least in India, achieved during COVID lockdown what PAYTM had achieved during demonetization..
Here are some of the reasons how Zoom changed the Status Quo almost overnight:
1. You need not be associated with platforms like Google through Gmail to access Zoom.
2. Any email ID is fine.
3. Anyone can host a Video or Audio Call.
4. Device agnostic; Mobile, Laptop, Desktop or iPad, all is fine.
5. OS agnostic – which most of the others also are, except Google meet which works only on Google browser - Chrome.
6. Initially restricted to 45 minutes of call duration for free, users were pleasantly surprised to find their calls were often extended indefinitely.
7. No need to download the app or a native app, even browser provided the ease of access, both on Mobile and Laptop.
But the most important factor that crowned Zoom the winner was its superior UI and UX. Right from hosting a video call to joining a call is seamless and intuitive. Add to that custom features that allow you to change your picture backgrounds and layouts showing the participants etc. Sharing of presentation and screens is very user friendly.
Talking of UI & UX, there is no better way to explain the difference a good UI UX strategy can bring to your product than comparing the Space X Dragon Capsule to the Interiors of Apollo 13.
Pic Courtesy: uxdesign.cc
The Space X Dragon looks like a gaming console with iPads or similar in front of you giving you a view of progress the capsule is making as it hurls past atmospheric layers to dock with International Space Station (ISS) which is cruising at 27600 KM an hour.
Users generally prefer their handheld devices for video calls. Zoom was the only platform that provided users with a superior UI & UX experience for their handheld devices, similar to what Whatsapp and WeChat achieved with their messaging platforms.
We, representing the Sell side or the IT solution providers or OEM, have been most accommodative, asking customers; “Please let us know which platform can we connect on or please share the meeting link of your preferred platform.” Life is simple, why complicate it!!
Many online polls conducted by reputed online platforms predict that employees will continue to treat homes as virtual offices. Tech at home will determine how organizations manage their employee’s WFH.
Here are some Tech Trends I feel are likely to continue in foreseeable future.
1. Applications or platforms connecting participants would need to ensure high quality of User Interface (UI) & superior User Experience (UX).
2. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) will gain more acceptance amongst organizations. This will also ensure new employee onboarding is fast, seamless and cost efficient.
3. Device authentication will be a strategic need as security related concerns will be the top priority for Organizations providing WFH access to its employees.
4. Flexible work timing could gain more currency, putting pressure on data centers for 24/7 system availability.
5. 24/7 system usage will also increase clamor for Cloud Hosted Applications as more CFOs ask for cost reduction. Hardware itself should be able to give strong enough reasons to port some applications on Cloud Services.
6. IT software vendors may want to offer products both for personal and office use at different pricing, may be altogether free for personal use.
7. Data Bandwidth consumption will increase through enhanced usage by households.
8. Desktop is nearing its end. Usage would be limited to transaction processing area where user needs high interaction with application and platform.
9. Advent of new monitoring tools to assess productivity is on the anvil. Many big solution providers, especially focusing on HR side of tools, will find this space interesting.
10. Organizations may like to review policy to allow some of the applications that employees use for personal purposes, such as SM platforms and news services, so that employee does not toggle between devices.
11. Personal email IDs might have to be allowed on company provided devices or BOYD of employee. Data security will need to be addressed.
12. Above also means more investment in data security framework.
13. There would be more instances where senior functionaries will access system, even requiring to generate the data and reports themselves, applications will need to be extremely capable on reporting – even connecting it with reporting tools such as Tableau & other BI tools, often used by senior officials.
14. Get used to different time-zones and ensure calendars to sync appropriately, you would not like to miss a meeting which was scheduled 2 hours before.
15. Employee or people working from home may use & share information, such as Calendars, Mails & Meeting Platforms across devices.
16. Higher storage, faster machines, biometric enabled devices will be basic requisite.
17. Social Media usage or time spent on SM platform has gone up and it will retain its eyeball share.
18. Online reading of magazines and newspapers has been a new trend. Getting more comfortable with reading content online on Laptops or Tablets, many may finally subscribe to Online Memberships to newspapers / magazine, which is not only much cheaper but is also green. Publishing houses should seize this opportunity and offer different model of subscriptions to consumer.
19. Sustenance and security will play major role in organisations deciding their priorities for tech spend. New large projects, especially using newer technology such as Blockchain may not get much buy in.
20. AI and ML will drive more and more solutions to become a starting point and be the differentiator. Providers will strive to give more bang for the buck spend and better ROI will be driven by superior use of AI and ML technology integrated
And now for some not so tech driven changes you need to get used to:
1. Get used to speaking on phone or on video chats, physical meeting even within office will surely be discouraged as we go along.
2. While on Audio or Video calls, be vary of movement around you, same with noises. If not speaking, keep your device on mute.
3. Keep an eye on your Audio and Video mute buttons, no one wants to listen to the video that you have clicked on Whatsapp family group.
4. Be vary of what you are wearing, while it may be fine to wear a coloured T shirt in a meeting within the organization, it may not be cool when you are e-meeting your customers, partners, dealers, suppliers etc…, overseas or otherwise.
5. “Hey, am I audible?” is absolutely fine and should be used to ensure you are being understood clearly as you speak.
6. Some of the geographies have different accent posing a challenge to us and to them. A good idea would be to speak slowly and give time for one to go through the content.
7. Repeating important points is not a bad idea though you may like to present it differently.
8. It is not cool to have your mobile phone ringing while meeting is on, so ensure to put that on mute.
9. eMeetings are tricky as against the physical meetings. Plan your meeting well in advance, especially what you are going to cover. Even introduction of your team members and self should be prepared well.
10. Data often poses challenge in response both in Audio and Video. It makes sense to leave some pause between starting to speak or asking a question etc.
11. Do not present cluttered / long excel sheets with lots of data. If required, it should be concise.
12. Even presentations, since might be seen by your audience on various kind of devices, should have large font and less of clutter.
WFH, while introducing us to new environment, has also challenged us to learn a lot of new things. It wants us to be eReady and I have found this quite enriching and exciting.
“Has everybody joined in, shall we start?” Eric Yuan has logged in!!
Author: Sharad Bishnoi,
Practice Head, CARE Risk Solutions