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The pros and cons of custom home collaboration devices

Home collaboration devices can help employees remain more productive. But make sure to carefully consider the drawbacks before buying dedicated hardware.

Now that working from home, or WFH, is shaping up to be a permanent policy for many businesses, IT leaders are looking beyond headsets and built-in webcams in favor of more sophisticated home collaboration devices.

Technology vendors have also identified this trend and are heavily touting new collaboration hardware tools that offer WFH employees an enhanced video and collaboration experience that rivals corporate boardroom setups. For some companies and users, deploying more sophisticated home collaboration hardware is worth the expense. For others, however, the benefits of a much-improved collaboration experience don't outweigh the cost and effort. Let's look at the pros and cons of the emerging home collaboration endpoint market.

Advantages of home collaboration devices

Many home collaboration devices come with built-in HD screens and cameras and custom-built collaboration software. That lets employees use their existing laptops or PCs to perform other tasks instead of being tethered to an ongoing meeting. Additionally, it's easy to place these standalone home collaboration devices where they are needed. Most can be effortlessly moved around on desks or tables -- or even mounted to the wall.

Enterprise home collaboration devices are equipped with much better cameras and microphones, which help reduce the distractions and frustrations remote users frequently register when attending virtual meetings or conferences. If the goal is to mimic in-person communication, home collaboration device manufacturers can deliver on this expectation.

If collaboration tools run only on a dedicated device, many of these compatibility issues can be eliminated. If IT has the goal of simplifying WFH IT support tasks, home collaboration devices may be able to help.

Because collaboration devices are purpose-built and rely on custom software, the overall end-user experience is often greatly simplified. Benefits such as one-touch meetings, integrated remote control functionality, multitouch whiteboarding and annotation capabilities, and built-in calendaring features are options that some end users will find they can't live without.

Finally, dedicated home collaboration devices make tech support an easier proposition. Troubleshooting collaboration tools on multipurpose laptops and PCs can become a problem when these tools or drivers conflict with other services or software users install on their workstations. If collaboration tools run only on a dedicated device, many of these compatibility issues can be eliminated. If IT has the goal of simplifying WFH IT support tasks, home collaboration devices may be able to help.

Drawbacks of home collaboration devices

While home collaboration devices offer benefits in certain situations, they also come with potential drawbacks. For one, understand these tools may be viewed as just another device that must be purchased, managed and supported by IT staff. The cost of enterprise-grade collaboration tools is not cheap. Expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to equip an employee with one of these endpoints. Additionally, keep in mind that both end users and IT support staff will have to be taught how to use and troubleshoot the new devices.

Another factor to consider is that some purpose-built home collaboration devices can only be used with specific collaboration services. For example, DTEN Inc.'s ME collaboration appliances are only compatible with Zoom services. If employees often jump among Zoom, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams and other popular collaboration tools throughout the day, they won't be able to use the dedicated collaboration device in all instances.

Finally, remember that no two home offices are the same. In certain situations, physical desk or wall space is tight. Asking employees to add yet another device that requires physical space, power and networking may not be a reasonable request. Employees may be left scratching their heads as to why they need yet another display, camera and microphone when they already own several that can perform similar tasks.

Don't forget to assess user needs

Before you go out and purchase home collaboration devices for employees, it's important to understand whether users will find value in these types of tools. In most cases, heavy collaboration users will embrace dedicated hardware collaboration appliances, while others will fail to grasp the need for them. IT departments should work with the organization's department heads and end users to determine who will find value in such tools and deploy them on a case-by-case basis. This approach will likely provide the most overall value to the organization, while also curbing wasteful IT spend on hardware that some employees will likely never use.

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