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December 15, 2016updated 11 Jan 2017 2:32pm

Are live conversations getting overlooked in the digital workplace?

A transformation is taking place in today’s workplace.

By James Nunns

In a bid to drive innovation, greater productivity and value creation, the enterprise has put an increasing focus on collaboration technologies.

But as the digital workplace develops to complement the physical workplace, are companies paying enough attention to one critical, long-standing business activity: live conversations and meetings?


Collaboration in a digital workplace

A term coined by Gartner – and associated with the increasing adoption of consumer-like technologies in the enterprise – the ‘digital workplace’ aims to enhance employees’ working practices with digital tools.

Steve Flavell. co-CEO and co-founder.

Steve Flavell. co-CEO and co-founder.

The understanding is that innovative, digital tools are needed to enable effective internal and external collaboration in today’s increasingly international and remote working environment.

For example, social and persistent chat tools, such as Slack, are enriching the mix of team communication and coordination options alongside legacy email. Document management tools, such as Box, are facilitating document version control and secure, controlled access. And more functional departmental tools, such as Salesforce and Jira, are aiding team information sharing and work flow management.

Many of the tools emerging as ‘best-in-class’ are indeed exhibiting certain consumer-like attributes: they’re focused in their scope and deliver an excellent user experience.

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However, not all collaboration categories are advancing at the same speed. Remote meetings – or conference calls – have struggled to shake their ‘legacy’ label and become a true peer in the digital workplace. Conferencing tools are rarely lauded for their excellent user experience.

The silent majority of professionals are still ‘dialing in’ to audio-only calls and putting up with all too familiar frustrations: not knowing who’s on the call or who’s speaking, late-arriving and missing guests, and distracting background noise, to name just a few.


Why are live conversations getting left behind?

Does it make sense that remote meetings are getting left behind in the digital workplace? Should they be confined to the legacy category, never to re-emerge, or do they warrant a place in the new digital workplace?

First, let’s look at the need. Conference calls are clearly part and parcel of our day-to-day working lives, helping employees build relationships and collaborate when it’s not practical to meet face-to-face. Wainhouse Research reported 165 billion minutes of remote meetings in 2015, growing at around 15 percent per annum. There is sometimes just no substitute for a live conversation.

Voice adds an extra level of honesty, insight and understanding between people. Verbal cues and intonation of voice, both of which are less easily achieved when messaging, can help to build trust and rapport, as well as provide clarity of intent and meaning.

So, if the need is not in doubt, what about the supply?

Well, many of the leading web-based remote meetings tools have certainly tried to give more to users. As well as mainstream capabilities, such as screen sharing, their tools include a myriad of features such as document annotation, document co-editing, audience polling, remote desktop control, and much more.

At first blush this may all sound great. In reality, though, it’s the very source of the problem. While these features are valuable – indeed essential – for a subset of more specialist users such as company trainers, they’re overloaded and off-putting for the silent majority.

The silent majority are quite risk-averse when it comes to hosting a remote meeting with clients and senior colleagues. They want something that is clear and simple – something that just works. More isn’t more; more is less. So they shun the market-leading digital options and resort to the devil they know: dial-in audio and all its associated frustrations.


Times have changed in remote meetings – at last

Luckily, times have finally changed. Digital remote meetings tools for the overlooked silent majority have arrived. And these tools share attributes common to other best-in-class tools around the digital workplace.


  1. A focused, excellent experience

The silent majority has neither the time nor inclination to attend training sessions on how to use a conferencing product. They want something simple that naturally guides them through the experience of hosting a meeting in a streamlined way, almost anticipating their needs. Important, mainstream features are presented clearly and intuitively; specialist features aren’t presented at all. Less – done well – is more, and so drives adoption and usage.


  1. That plays well with others

People will naturally choose the best tool for the job at hand – it’s inevitable. The resulting issue is the proliferation of tools used by different teams and functional departments around the enterprise. The ultimate winners will be those tools that are not only excellent at what they do, but those which play with other tools that are excellent at different things. The end game will be a federated digital workplace of integrated best-in-class point solutions, rather than a one-size-fits-all compromise.

It’s perhaps natural that it’s taking longer for great experiences to emerge in older parts of the collaboration spectrum. Incumbent suppliers tend to be larger organisations and are slower to move. And users have often become accustomed to the status quo.

Limitations and frustrations of legacy tools become almost engrained in their expectations. This is true in the world of conference calls and remote meetings. The silent majority had almost given up on there being a better way after all this time, and buyers had come to view the space as a commodity. Surely one set of dial-in numbers and access codes is essentially like any other, so may as well pick the cheapest.

But this was premature. Best-in-class remote meetings products have arrived for the silent majority – products that are focused on their needs and deliver an excellent experience that hands-down beats legacy dial-in. And the prize is a big one. The silent majority is most of the workforce, and the importance of their live conversations is beyond doubt.

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