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2021 trends driving the future of unified communications

While 2021 is full of uncertainty for many organizations, four unified communications trends will drive buying decisions as IT leaders prepare for the future of work.

It has been a year of unprecedented change in the unified communications and collaboration market as COVID-19 dramatically affected how organizations do business. Nearly half of organizations implemented a new video meeting platform to support work from home, according to a Nemertes Research global study of 525 organizations.

In addition, more than 60% of organizations accelerated their adoption of cloud-based UC platforms. In many cases, companies quickly adopted a variety of apps to enable teams to function remotely, often with little time to conduct thorough evaluations or plan a cohesive strategy.

Looking ahead to 2021, while there is much uncertainty related to virus spread and vaccine availability, several unified communications future trends have emerged to paint a picture of how IT leaders are planning for the coming year.

1. Reimagining the workplace

There is little momentum behind the idea of eventually returning to the way things were before the pandemic, where most employees commuted full time to traditional offices. Now, the expectation is the workforce will consist of full-time office work, full-time remote work and those who split their time between home and office.

This means IT leaders must rethink the physical office. Video capabilities must be ubiquitously available as meetings will consist of individuals working at multiple locations. Permanent desk locations are likely to be replaced with hoteling, requiring workers to reserve space in advance. Companies must also continue to focus on improving the usability of collaboration applications, as well as workflow integrations, to eliminate productivity barriers.

The expectation is the workforce will consist of full-time office work, full-time remote work and those who split their time between home and office.

2. Consolidating vendors

The UC market is likely to continue to consolidate as best-of-breed, standalone vendors either broaden their offerings to include fully integrated voice, video and team collaboration offerings or get acquired. Over the last year, we've seen a slew of acquisitions and integrations on the vendor side, including Salesforce's recent $27.7 billion acquisition of Slack.

The buyer side is also likely to more aggressively move toward replacing single apps with integrated suites to save money, reduce management complexity and simplify the user environment.

3. Remote management

Managing remote workers was the primary challenge organizations faced in 2020, and it's likely to continue to be a major pain point next year. Companies struggle with ensuring productivity, managing security and application performance, and measuring engagement of their home workers, according to a Nemertes study. Expect continued advancement in -- and adoption of -- analytics, security and management platforms that equip managers with insight into employee performance and enable consistent policy enforcement.

4. Optimizing home environments

Organizations will likely adopt a more aggressive approach toward optimizing the home worker environment. This means investments in audio and video devices, as well as management tools, to ensure high-quality experiences. It also means that organizations are going to focus on how best to implement rapidly emerging features, such as virtual backgrounds, alternative video formats, virtual cameras and other aesthetic capabilities designed to make meetings more interactive and, dare I say, fun.

It has been a year like no other in terms of global disruption and change. Optimistically, I hope that 2021 will see some semblance of a return to what was once normal life. However, in the new normal, UC leaders must continue to focus on how to best support remote work to optimize employee experiences. These unified communications future trends can inform buying decisions and strategy for UC leaders.

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