The COVID-19 pandemic forced most organizations to fast-track digital transformation initiatives, and no concept shot to the top of the priority list quite like video communication and digital collaboration. As leaders reevaluate their employees’ work environments, they have to account for how much more revenue-generating business is happening digitally. At the same time, they have to respect the fact that the social fabric of their organizations has changed due to reduced in-person interaction.
We call this intersection of professional and personal digital interaction the Human Enterprise — a subject we’re exploring in this series from CMO Josh Kivenko. Read the first piece on “Building the Capacity for Hybrid Work” here. In this second installment, Josh outlines the improvements that are still needed within video communication applications to better suit modern work and the humans behind it.
Our remote work lives for the past year have changed everyone’s view of video collaboration. It’s more pervasive, sure, and the annoyances (“You’re on mute!” or “Next slide, please!”) persist. But the real shift in perception, for many, is that they no longer think video conferencing apps can just be “good enough.”
I’ve worked with professionals across many industries and roles. For the most part, video conferencing has been a more-or-less standardized experience for everyone when meetings are simply meetings. But when it comes to activities that actually generate revenue, workflows that involve sensitive data or tasks that require participants to be more immersed beyond video, many apps we’re familiar with are either woefully lacking or too focused on flashy extracurricular features rather than nailing the basics. If hybrid work is the future — and we most certainly think it is — video conferencing needs to continue to evolve in several ways to meet the needs of humans in the enterprise.
Four pillars of evolution
The pandemic shined a spotlight on shortcomings in video conferencing that many didn’t know existed before — or at least hadn’t internalized until they needed to execute all their work responsibilities remotely. As every organization reevaluates their strategies and communication toolsets in the wake of the pandemic, here are four main pillars of evolution we believe need to occur in video to make hybrid work and a true Human Enterprise possible.
Fidelity and reliability
At the end of the day, we expect the communication tools we use to deliver the right message. So when the basic reliability and fidelity of a video platform can’t be counted on, it threatens employees’ ability to execute. In the Human Enterprise, we expect our tools to help us connect on a human level, not make those connections difficult or impossible.
- Fidelity: The quality and clarity of video itself has undoubtedly improved on many cloud video platforms — it’s good enough for most huddles and check-ins. But what about brainstorms in which some participants are virtual and others are using a physical whiteboard in the office? What about showing a blueprint or fabric swatch over a video meeting room system? Fidelity considerations apply to almost any activity where conveying live visual information is critical to connecting and getting work done — like during quality control checks, lab tests, legal document reviews and telehealth visits. Fidelity can be affected by the hardware, the platform and the network, so it can be a complex challenge to address and advance. Still, the fact remains that the pan-industry threshold has a ways to go to progress beyond “good enough” quality.
- Reliability: Dropped calls, connection problems and frozen streams were the butt of jokes in the early months of remote work, but quickly became more than simple annoyances. A video platform that cannot reliably deliver wastes both time and money, especially in professional services segments, where hours are being billed and services can’t be effectively rendered unless real-time communication is in play. Reliability must improve for human interaction (and business) to go on unencumbered.
Ease of use
Much of the conversation about video communication surrounds the tools being easy to use, but the concept of ease of use is much more nuanced than it seems. An R&D team, for example, may require a feature-rich suite of video tools so they can properly convey and collaborate on a model or sketch. But in scenarios where most users are infrequent guests, like in virtual healthcare consultations, patients require a digital front door that is clean, straightforward and welcoming.
“Ease of use” means something slightly different to everyone, but it always comes back to setting a baseline of simplicity that can scale. In the great video conferencing arms race, we seem to have lost sight of the fact that sometimes less is more. When tools become excessively complex or cluttered, collaboration and productivity can suffer, and the ultimate goal of connecting human-to-human and getting down to business becomes clouded. This truism is now amplified by the fact that video has extended massively beyond knowledge workers and has become a vital medium of service delivery.
There was already an important ongoing discussion around increased digital accessibility happening before the pandemic, but now this very human issue is at the forefront. The pandemic has changed the way we think about accessibility, particularly with regards to video being a mission-critical communication medium, not a luxury or an alternative. Here are a few questions to ask to monitor the evolution of accessibility:
- Ability: We think mostly of obvious abilities and disabilities when we consider accessibility features for video, like whether the tool has a high-contrast mode for low-vision individuals or has live caption capabilities for those who have different hearing abilities. But video accessibility can involve more. Can the tool or system be operated by voice? How much physical setup does the system require?
- Geography: Does a given video platform function the same in all regions, countries and languages where employees, customers and partners may be working? Do employees and customers in rural, underserved or less densely populated areas have high enough bandwidth to handle video?
- Skillset: Accessibility requires us to check our biases and assumptions. Some employees — frontline workers like support staff and those who operate in the field — aren’t always as familiar with video communication as the rest of us. As such, video providers need to account for all levels of technical proficiency and backgrounds.
Security and compliance
The mass remote use of video conferencing has raised a number of new and valid concerns around security. Bad actors now have more entry points and attack surface than ever into organizations, and video conferencing apps or third-party integrations that don’t prioritize security may create vulnerabilities. The Human Enterprise means exactly that — humans are ultimately at its core, and humans make mistakes. Vendors’ emphasis on security as well as the mandatory mechanisms and customizable controls engineered into video platforms must keep pace and account for that truth.
Plus, with video tools increasingly offering transcription, recording and other ancillary services and integrations, there are genuine questions about our ability to keep human employees in complete compliance. Is storing a client conversation compliant with all regulations in a given industry? How easy is it to find and delete video recordings, as demanded by laws like GDPR and CCPA?
Evolving to thrive
Video conferencing that is simply serviceable or rigid and unevolving is no longer a viable option to support modern, hybrid work. Likewise, consumer-grade applications that are over-featured do not serve all use cases that have emerged. Building a thriving Human Enterprise in the coming years hinges on video communication continuously improving upon the pillars of fidelity and reliability, ease of use, accessibility, and security and compliance — ultimately finding a better way to support the humans behind modern work.