In pursuit of ever greater workforce productivity, today’s enterprises are adopting myriad digital tools to enable superior team collaboration, customer relationship management, data analytics, and administrative efficiency. And yet, despite this widespread push for a firing digital workplace, one business-critical activity – the conference call – is still struggling to escape its painful, non-digital past.
Collaboration in the Digital Workplace
Gartner has described the digital workplace as “an ongoing, deliberate approach to delivering a more consumer-like computing environment that is better able to facilitate innovative and flexible working practices.” The firm’s view is that the digital workplace enables new, more effective ways of working; raises employee engagement and agility; and exploits consumer-oriented styles and technologies.
Enterprise collaboration tools are the cornerstone of the digital workplace. In the context of today’s business landscape, where employees, partners, customers, suppliers, and advisers are increasingly remote, mobile and internationally dispersed, the need for effective collaboration technology is clear. And on the premise that productive and incentivised teams are a key driver of meaningful value creation, then the emphasis, budget, and resources given to choosing the best fit tools makes abundant sense.
This broad category of enterprise collaboration tools includes certain well-established capabilities such as email and conferencing, as well as other newer capabilities such as project management and persistent collaboration tools that have been born into the digital workplace. To Gartner’s (News - Alert) point, many of the hottest names in this space are indeed exploiting a more consumer-oriented approach to their product experiences. The best-in-class proponents are demonstrating some phenomenal growth rates. Slack, for example, now has four million daily active users and is recognized as one of the youngest and fastest companies to reach so-called unicorn status.
Have We Lost our Voice?
Conference calling and remote meetings products, by contrast, are rarely lauded for their awesome product experiences. They’re more often thought of as a necessary evil, cumbersome at best and downright painful at worst. The silent majority are still just dialing in to audio-only conference calls and putting up with all too familiar frustrations: continually asking who just joined, contending with distracting background noise, or trying to figure out why guests can’t view their screens. A recent survey by Research Now found that a third of time is wasted on conference calls due to these experiential frustrations.
More capable software products for remote meetings exist, of course. However, the major players’ products tend to be quite feature-heavy and off-putting for the mainstream user, who really just wants something simple that doesn’t require training. This is precisely why basic dial-in audio conferencing continues to dominate; mainstream professionals don’t feel comfortable running the risk of user error and looking foolish in front of clients or senior colleagues. And so they shy away from the feature-heavy tools and resort to the safety of the devil they know – dialing in.
Enterprise buyers recognize this continued dominance and so continue to source non-differentiated dial-in products as the enterprise staple, considering them essentially a commodity purchase. After all, how is one set of dial-in numbers and access codes better than any other?
But what a poor state of affairs that is for something so important. Whether you’re creating a first impression or negotiating a multi-party deal, making everyday decisions or simply connecting with colleagues around the globe, remote meetings are too frequent, and very often too important, to settle for the status quo of frustrating dial-in audio conferencing. There is sometimes just no substitute for a live conversation. Speaking directly to and hearing someone’s voice adds an extra level of honesty, insight, and understanding between collaborating meeting participants. Features that aren’t possible over email or instant messaging – like verbal cues and intonations of voice – can build trust and rapport, and can also provide clarity on intent and meaning that non-oral media cannot. And, in more nuanced conversations, live conversations can lead to positions of resolution so much faster. The silent majority need a better way.
Finding Your Voice: What to Look For
When something has been so poor for so long – and conference calls have been around for 25 years now – it’s understandable if many have given up on a better way. The frustrations are so long-standing that they have become internalized. People no longer consider it an issue with their conferencing product if they don’t know who’s on their meeting or have a call disrupted by a guest in a noisy airport; they just consider it part and parcel of conference calls, par for the course.
But times truly have changed. Consumer-oriented, experience-led product strategies and philosophies that are clearly winning in other parts of the digital workplace have indeed now infiltrated the remote meetings space too. It’s time to take another look at what’s out there. Here are some key traits to look for.
Focused specifically on important, day-to-day usage
While a one-size-fits-all sourcing strategy may sound attractive at first blush, it is in fact a key source of the problem when it comes to the lack of technology adoption in the remote meetings space. Specialist users – company trainers, for example – have a laundry list of specialist feature requirements.
Accommodating such specialist features into a one-size-fits-all product is the sure fire way to alienate mainstream users who want and need something much simpler.
Look for a solution that is focused on the day-to-day use case. It is, after all, the most voluminous use case, so well worth getting right and reaping the ensuing productivity rewards for doing so.
Concerned with a premium experience, not the marginal feature
Mainstream workers have neither the time nor inclination to attend training sessions on how to use a remote meetings tool. They want something that just works.
Look for a solution that puts experience above features – something that is intuitive and anticipates their needs, naturally guiding them through their meetings in a clear and streamlined way.
Works where you work
People will naturally seek out the best tool for the job in hand. This is true across the categories in enterprise collaboration. The winners will be the ones that are not just great at what they do, but also work best with other tools that are great at different things. The end game will be a federated digital workplace of integrated best-in-class point solutions rather than a one-size-fits-all compromise. This is the way to maximize user adoption, user value, and the ultimate objective of enterprise productivity gain.
Look for a solution that leverages, and works well with, other software and devices that your workforce already uses in their daily business.
The Bottom Line
Collaboration tools are undoubtedly driving productivity gains in today’s increasingly global and dispersed business environment. Certain categories of collaboration tools have been born into the digital workplace and have arrived with well-considered, more consumer-oriented user experiences. Other categories – often ones that have been around longer – are at least perceived to be more stuck in their past.
Remote meetings is one such category that has become seen as a price-based commodity due to the historic absence of meaningful product differentiation. This has been a problem, firstly because most business people are dissatisfied with their remote meeting experience, and secondly because remote meetings have become so prevalent in the workplace. But 25 years of conferencing pain is enough. The good news is that times finally have changed.
Steve Flavell, co-CEO and co-founder at LoopUp.
Edited by Alicia Young