Needs of employees take centre stage – Steve Joyner, Managing Director UK&I, Avaya
1 Every job in the western world will be influenced by AI in 2021, particularly with the rise of ‘work from anywhere’ .Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already impacting remote collaboration, where it can be used with existing cloud-based video meeting and team collaboration solutions to cancel out background noise or blur an entire background, and 2021 will be the year that organisations across the spectrum begin using AI to better innovate and compete. The UK government, for example, plans to use AI to spot side-effects in its COVID-19 vaccination program, while in a recent poll by MIT, almost 100% of educators said AI would be instrumental to their institution’s competitiveness within the next three years.
2 Organisations will accept the reality of a ‘three days in the office’ work week. We’re witnessing a shift towards true employee-centeredness, and it’s going to create unprecedented improvements in satisfaction and efficiency. COVID-19 erased the world we once knew, where remote workdays were stiffly negotiated during the hiring process. Executives have seen that their workforce can survive and even excel in a world of social distancing and I predict that there will be a steady rhythm of people coming into the office Tuesday to Thursday and working remotely on Mondays and Fridays.
3 Empathy will become a top workplace priority. In COVID times, it has become commonplace to quieten your barking dog or turn off your camera and mic to help your child who’s distance learning at the same time. B.C. (before COVID), there was immense pressure to be perfectly coiffed and have a highly professional setting when working remotely. Executives have been forced to see that empathy – lightening up a bit and extending courtesies – does not compromise business outcomes. In fact (spoiler alert!), it accelerates them. Recognition of this is an exciting breakthrough that I hope stays with us for the long haul.
Channel well placed to help customers deploy emerging technologies
Richard Roberts, VP UK & I and Northern Europe, Mitel
Video collaboration will evolve to offer more immersive experiences
Video collaboration has experienced tremendous growth during the pandemic and this trend is likely to continue into 2021 as organisations accommodate the needs of a hybrid workforce. Industry players will be looking to add new features to existing collaboration apps, such as a shoulder tap button or a quick-call function that allows users to recreate the spontaneity of in-person meetings.
There will be more focus on combining video conferencing with other emerging technologies to create more immersive experiences. For example, we can imagine augmenting videoconferencing solutions with AR and introducing features like enhanced digital whiteboards that make collaboration in meetings feel more ‘real’ or enabling a technician to get help solving a problem from a colleague connected via an AR-enhanced videoconference. AR will be a major boon to remote training, particularly when in-person training is more difficult or expensive to deliver.
Technology that enhances the customer experience will drive channel growth
As customers rethink their business models and digitise their services, we’ll see stronger demand for technologies that enhance the customer experience, such as AI, chatbots, blockchain or AR. Businesses will look to the channel for help in figuring out which technologies are mature enough and where they can add value.
Our recent research into the impact of COVID on consumer behaviour reveals that nearly half (45%) of UK consumers have increased their use of online customer service during the pandemic and of that number, 73% will rely more on digital options going forward. Next year, we’ll see more brands experiment with chatbots, AI and messaging apps in a bid to enhance the digital consumer experience.
With CX becoming more integral to the success of modern businesses, the channel is well placed to identify strategic CX touch points beyond the call centre, for example HR setting up a CX function to engage with employees or the procurement team using a CX solution to liaise with suppliers. Channel partners will be able to add value by helping customers understand the interplay between collaboration solutions and emerging technologies such as AI apps, VR and AR.
The office of the future will require a different approach to technology
While some organisations are downsizing their offices or looking to rent satellite office spaces outside the city centre, others are focusing on ways to attract employees back to the workplace. This will result in a boom in office collaboration hubs, where a mix of smaller meeting rooms, social areas and learning spaces encourages informal communication and productivity.
These changes will influence the technology employees use. During the pandemic we’ve seen a rise in productivity applications, virtual assistants and CRM software and this is likely to continue. There will be a stronger focus on adopting cloud-based UC solutions that support a hybrid workforce, enabling employees to access everything from virtual assistants to in-depth analytics and video collaboration tools on the go.
Work post COVID-19 will drive wider adoption of cloud UC solutions
During the pandemic, cloud has emerged as an essential strategy for enabling businesses to transition to a more agile working model and in 2021 we’ll see wider adoption of cloud solutions for unified communications (UC) and business collaboration. High-performing companies will take time to assess their current infrastructure and plan the best way to gain the benefits of cloud without having to start from scratch, become burdened with expensive deployment models or get locked into a specific vendor. We’ll see a rise of multi-cloud approaches to cloud migration and virtual desktop solutions delivered as-a-service.