This year's Enterprise Connect attendees will see the latest collaboration products to help companies build a workplace that treats employees working from home and from the office as equals.
UC and collaboration vendors at the conference from March 21-24 will show off the tools that combine chat, video conferencing and business applications to maintain productivity as employees split their workweek between multiple locations. The live presentations will mark the first in-person Enterprise Connect since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Many companies have embraced the hybrid workplace as an attractive benefit to workers in a tight labor market. The model was an offshoot of the pandemic when people forced to work from home discovered they could skip the long commute to work and still do their job effectively.
But hybrid workplaces present companies with many challenges. One significant stumbling block is giving every employee a similar meeting experience. Remote employees sometimes feel excluded from a conversation, and in-person workers can have difficulty seeing a meeting's chat or virtual whiteboard.
Over the last year, Microsoft, Cisco and Zoom introduced features to level the playing field for hybrid meetings. Zoom and Cisco Webex have capabilities that individually frame conference-room meeting participants so remote employees can read body language more easily. Microsoft's Teams Rooms conference-room product displays remote attendees at eye level to better simulate face-to-face conversations. Vendors are likely to launch additional features at Enterprise Connect, said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at research firm Metrigy.
Other technology expected at the show will focus on preventing burnout in a hybrid workplace. Collaboration vendors could add analytics to notify businesses when employees are meeting too frequently or outside of work hours, Lazar said.
"[Analytics] might give you a sense of the pulse of an organization," he said.
Burnout is a serious problem. Almost 90% of professionals surveyed by consulting group Korn Ferry said they suffered from mental exhaustion, which grew worse during the pandemic.
The lines between UC as a service and contact center products will likely blur further at this year's conference, said RingCentral executive Kira Makagon. UCaaS vendors have expanded their contact center offerings for years, allowing companies to centralize management and use cloud services to support workers.
At Enterprise Connect, vendors like 8x8, RingCentral and Zoom will likely announce more video features for their contact-center products, Lazar said. Companies can use video in their contact centers to build rapport with customers and quickly troubleshoot problems. A Metrigy survey of 1,846 businesses found that video is one of the top three contact-center technologies companies plan to implement this year.
Several Enterprise Connect sessions will discuss how augmented reality and virtual reality will impact collaboration. Last year, Microsoft, Cisco, Zoom and BlueJeans by Verizon announced products or integrations that use immersive technologies to boost camaraderie between remote employees. However, vendors are more excited about the technology than customers, Lazar said.
"There's been some talk about the metaverse, where we have avatars interacting with real people," he said, referring to a future internet comprised of a network of 3D virtual worlds. "It just seems to me to go against the way people like to work with one another."
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 News, Walpole Times, Sharon 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.