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Zoom to blur lines between video, phone meetings

Zoom Phone head Graeme Geddes said the lines between video meetings and phone calls will blur, allowing workers to choose the best communication tool for their needs.

The rise of video meetings is not the death knell for traditional phones. Instead, the technologies will complement each other to give employees greater flexibility.

That's according to Graeme Geddes, head of Zoom's phone and rooms division, who said there is still great demand for phone service despite the explosion of video conferencing during the pandemic. Zoom Phone hit two million seats this fall after starting service in 2019. Others see continued demand as well; 50% of respondents to a recent Metrigy survey of 395 firms across 11 countries said their phone system use has increased in 2021.

Businesses want video and phone on a single platform, Geddes said.

Graeme GeddesGraeme Geddes

"The world, over the past 18 to 24 months, has moved in leaps and bounds toward a more video-first culture," he said. The world's embrace of video means companies can choose the tool best suited to a given situation, he said.

According to Geddes, hybrid work will blur the lines between video meetings and phone calls, allowing workers to easily switch between the two as they split time between the office and their homes. For example, workers will be able to start a voice call on their mobile phone in the car, transfer it to their desk phone in the office and easily escalate it to a video call in a conference room should the need arise.

"[A call] used to be a phone call or video call, and it had to be one or the other," he said. "I think we're really blurring the lines between those."

Zoom also plans to add video to services traditionally associated with phones, including a contact center product next year for customer-service calls. The company said a "video voicemail" feature will release before the end of 2021, allowing employees to send video messages to their coworkers' Zoom Phone voicemail inboxes. Geddes believes there will be further integration of voice and video to come.

Flexibility is the key to supporting hybrid workers, and Zoom aims to provide that flexibility with a variety of communication tools employees can easily switch between, he said. If an employee can start a meeting at their desk and transfer it to their phone, they can break up their day by taking a walk while still participating in the call. If an employee can send a video message instead of taking part in a live meeting, they can collaborate with coworkers without syncing up their schedules.

Of course, Zoom is not the only company that sees opportunity in adding video to traditional phone services. Vonage and 8x8 have made acquisitions to bring video to their contact-center products. Cisco and Slack have introduced video-messaging features, pitching the capabilities as a means to cut down on excessive meetings.

Geddes noted that excessive meetings have been a challenge with remote and hybrid work, leading to video conferencing fatigue. He said Zoom has a responsibility to help customers address video-meeting burnout, and that increasing flexibility is one way it can do so.

"[Zoom fatigue] is definitely a multifaceted problem," he said. "I do think that asynchronous use cases for video [like video messaging] give a lot more flexibility to the user and can potentially be part of the solution."

The entire Zoom platform will evolve to accommodate hybrid workplace practices like hot desking, Geddes said. Employees will be able to use Zoom at home to reserve a desk, find their way around the office using Zoom Rooms kiosks and get to work at a desk with a Zoom Phone.

"[The hybrid workplace] is definitely an area of focus for us, and we know it's an area that our customers are really looking to embrace," he said. "[There's] a lot more to come."

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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