The video conferencing industry has long sought to convince the world the technology was ready for prime time and matured to the point where it could handle day-to-day business. Video conferencing found more relevance as a slow movement toward a hybrid and flexible office model began to take shape in recent years as workers, and employers, realized they can be just as productive at their home workstation as they could at the office.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, companies were forced to put video conferencing to the test vendors had long asked for. By most accounts, these platforms passed the test. While the transition from in-person to virtual work was not always seamless, workers managed to get their jobs done. The expectation was for video to prove adequate enough to pull through the pandemic, but the technology was so successful that video will continue to play a large part in the everyday work experience even after the pandemic fades away.
With this in mind, let's take a look into 2021 at the video conferencing trends driving the market for both vendors and users.
1. The hybrid workforce
Even with the pandemic in the past, things will not just return to the way they were. The past year proved that the office computer isn't magically more productive than the home computer. It simply no longer makes sense for workers to spend two hours commuting only to sit at an office computer instead of the home computer. While many argued this point for years, plenty employers maintained a stubborn fear that home workers would take advantage of the lack of supervision and collect a salary while being unproductive. The last year knocked this long-held notion out the door as many bosses found their employees more productive working from home on their own schedules, rather than sitting at the office staring at the clock.
The physical office will not completely disappear, however. Companies will not tear down their office buildings, but the hybrid model where workers come in two to three days a week rather than five means video will continue to be a huge part of the workflow as companies find their new normal.
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2. Home office upgrades
Prior to the pandemic, the biggest trend in video conferencing was huddle rooms. This technology had become manageable and affordable enough to make available to more workers. Companies began to request video implementations in smaller spaces throughout the office, rather than just big meeting rooms, as small teams often contain remote members and need video just as much as the execs in the boardroom.
While huddle rooms were a great way to expand the use of video and empower smaller working teams, the implementation focus was entirely on one side of the call. The discussion centered on the camera and equipment in the huddle room itself and whether it can properly frame and capture the people in the huddle room. Remote workers, while creating the need for huddle room systems in the first place, were an afterthought as far as how they look and sound. It was sufficient enough for companies as long as remote workers could simply see and hear what was happening in the huddle room.
The pandemic changed priorities regarding visual and audio quality. After a year of bad camera angles, poor lighting and just looking unattractive compared to people with better setups, home workers began to demand better. Fortunately, some employers understood the need for people to look and sound good while working remotely and provided workers a stipend to upgrade their home setup. Video vendors are jumping on the home office upgrade trend by offering kits and bundles for home workers -- generally, a webcam and headset -- as well as new offerings of higher-quality webcams for those in client-facing positions who need to make a good impression over video.
3. Productivity-enhancing features
In the older days of business video, the technology was hard to use, expensive and unreliable. All a vendor needed to do to differentiate was prove it was a little easier, more affordable and more reliable than the competition. But, as discussed above, a few years ago, the industry finally reached the point where video was easy and affordable and worked as it should. Customers were no longer impressed with high-quality video that just works, and vendors needed new ways to differentiate.
Some video vendors responded in 2019 by going beyond basic meeting functionality and focusing on improving meeting productivity, including for remote participants. New capabilities included transcription, video clipping, file sharing, translation and integrations with productivity apps. Even before the pandemic, these features were gaining a lot of interest.
When the pandemic hit, many people who rarely used video, or only used it for status meetings, found themselves on video for actual working sessions. Video calls were no longer just for discussing or planning out work, but for getting work done. As a result, productivity-enhancing features are continuing to expand. While this area is still developing -- and a lot of these features are not fully mature -- it will be a core element of video technology going forward.
4. Support for live video editing
Up until now, there have been two worlds of video: recorded and live. Recorded video can have amazing production value and unlimited effects. Live video, whether it's a meeting or a webinar, is generally a raw camera feed from a meeting room or desktop camera.
New streaming software has been developed to offer live video editing, which creates post-production effects during a live video call. These post-production effects range from changing backgrounds to advanced camera effects and tricks. I use these capabilities on every video call and webinar I make, and this is just part of a bigger video conferencing trend for these types of features.
Several vendors, like Zoom, already offer features that support green screen and virtual backgrounds and are actively adding more. In the future, we will rely less on the third-party software as basic business video apps will support live video editing features. This is another trend that bubbled up before the pandemic and is now accelerating because of it. After a year of seeing themselves in generic video boxes, workers crave something more exciting and dynamic.
5. Video continues to go mainstream
Before the pandemic, Zoom was not even a household name. If I wore a Zoom T-shirt from a video convention or event, friends would ask what that was. Now, Zoom has become so standard that it's its own verb, and many of its competitors are also gaining everyday recognition. When the pandemic forced business to go remote, video wasn't simply just a business tool, replacing office meetings with virtual meetings. Weddings, graduations, card games, movie watching groups, doctor visits, music lessons and just about every interaction took place over video after the work day ended.
While the local poker-buddy group will go back to in-person hangouts, the idea of doing them virtually will no longer seem strange, and hybrid events will remain common. Even special events, like weddings, can also stream over video for those who can't or are unwilling to travel. Physical attendance may still be the first choice, but virtual attendance will remain a more viable option than it was pre-pandemic.