2020 disrupted our lives and business communications in ways that we couldn’t have predicted. With the need to move entire organizations to remote work almost overnight, the technology adoption trends slowly unfolding in the workplace were accelerated tenfold by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Satya Nadell, CEO of Microsoft, “we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”.
While there is still a lot that we don’t know about how 2021 will unfold, there is no doubt that this digital workplace transformation will continue. As organizations plan a gradual return to the office, they will be faced with new challenges to keeping their teams connected. Below are the 4 workplace communication trends that we will see in 2021 and beyond.
Many business leaders were skeptical about the viability of full-time remote work. But when a global pandemic forced their hand to switch to telework, they saw real benefits. In addition to the cost savings of a reduced office space and busines continuity during a time of crisis, many organizations also experienced a measurable uptick in productivity. With no strenuous commute and a reduced number of meetings, employees in some industries were simply able to get more done. The option to work remotely is becoming the new norm and plays an influential role in attracting and keeping good talent. As a result, businesses across the country plan to continue offering full-time or part-time telecommuting opportunities long after the pandemic is over.
To keep a distributed workforce connected, we can expect to see a continued investment in communication and collaboration solutions. If they haven’t done so already, many organizations will have to migrate to cloud-based communications platforms, such as hosted VoIP and Unified Communication and Collaboration solutions. Services hosted in the cloud provide the flexibility that an increasingly remote workforce needs and keeps teams connected, regardless where they are located.
As employees continue to access corporate resources from home, remote access technologies that deliver mission-critical applications securely and reliably will be equally influential in 2021. Leading SD-WAN solutions that offer edge security on an end-user level and ensure that important applications function at peak performance for remote workers will see more widespread implementation. Enterprise mobility management strategies are also expected to include the minimization of human-caused security incidents by fostering a cyber risk-aware culture within the organization.
With vaccinations underway, organizations are already preparing to gradually return some of their staff to the office. But whether they plan to return part of the staff full-time or all of the staff part-time, businesses will have to bridge the communication gap between in-office and home-based workers. Teams will continue using the technologies that they have gotten accustomed to during the pandemic and will likely bring newly acquired communications patterns back to the office. This will help facilitate communication between remote and in-office users. But it will not be nearly enough to keep all members of a team fully connected, particularly during in-person meetings.
Conferencing technology that engages both in-office and remote staff equally during meetings will take center stage in this transition. Ensuring that all team members can see the presentation, hear each other clearly and are visually present at least through videoconference can go a long way in helping them participate meaningfully. Businesses should invest in solid conference phones, screen sharing solutions, high quality audio and video equipment to facilitate strong meeting participation in 2021 and beyond.
Between all the communications tools they introduced before and after the pandemic, businesses returning to the office may experience application overload. This not only creates confusion for employees over which tool they need to utilize once they are back, but it is also costing organizations significantly.
Many businesses that invested in a meeting application in addition to their office phone system will be looking for ways to integrate capabilities into a unified communication and collaboration platform. Disparate systems will be increasingly replaced with a single enterprise communications service stack that includes web, audio, and video conferencing, unified messaging (fax, voicemail), instant messaging, presence, team collaboration and more. This not only simplifies communications for end users, but helps organizations ease management and save significantly.
Businesses that found value in the project management capabilities of their meeting tools can also reduce application overload by integrating them into a UCaaS ecosystem. Solution such as a VoIP-Microsoft Teams integration allows staff members to continue utilizing the collaboration and project management functionalities they have gotten used to during the pandemic, while also being able to place and receive calls straight out of their Teams interface. Adding the calling, advanced call routing and call reporting features of a VoIP phone system to their collaboration software will provide them with the best of both worlds.
Remote work is expected to long outlast the pandemic, with some organizations even moving entire teams to permanent telecommuting. But working in isolation can have a significant negative impact on team culture and morale, as many employees report feeling disconnected and lonely when they work entirely from home. Feelings of isolation within a team can affect collaboration, trust, and even innovation, as the best ideas are often born out of relaxed, informal interactions. Creating a sense of belonging among team members despite geographical distance will be one of the biggest challenges companies will have to face this year.
While 2020 was all about technology investments that maximized productivity, in 2021 we anticipate a shift in organizational focus to team engagement. Many businesses will continue to utilize the same cloud communications platforms that enabled them to collaborate last year, but there will be significantly more emphasis on building and maintaining team engagement through virtual events – from virtual happy hours to birthday celebrations and online team buildings. Video conferencing will continue to be one of the best-suited tools to replace in-person interactions and can provide employees with some semblance to interpersonal connections.
The digital transformation and cloud migration accelerated during the pandemic will continue this year, as remote work is expected to shape the business communications landscape long term. But learning from the experiences of the past year, in 2021 more organizations are expected to invest in connecting their newly hybrid workforce, securing remote users, integrating disparate systems into unified, cloud communication platforms, and ensuring that team culture and morale are staying strong.