BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
Consumer culture has embraced video communications with cameras in everything from gaming consoles to mobile devices. The shift toward a visual-heavy culture has also extended to the workplace.
The importance of video conferencing adoption has grown as organizations move their video systems out of the boardroom and into smaller more accessible spaces. Vendors are responding to this cultural shift by providing more flexibility in their products.
In this Q&A, David Maldow, founder of market research firm Let's Do Video, explains how changing attitudes toward video have led to increased productivity for teams with remote members. He also explains how video vendors are moving away from proprietary systems as more hardware vendors enter the video communications market.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What changes are driving the importance of video conferencing in organizations?
David Maldow: One of the big things we've been talking about for a while is this idea of making video really accessible to everyone. For a while, we didn't know if the idea of taking video out of the boardroom and putting it into huddle rooms was just hype or a real possibility. Video isn't really a new trend, but how it's being used now is vastly different.
Video has been available on mobile and desktop for some time, but it wasn't really accessible in meeting spaces. For the most part, the two or three people joining a meeting remotely were using audio, not video. In some ways, that's because things like Zoom were really only for mobile phones or desktop. But now we're exploring the room-based versions of these applications, like Zoom Rooms and BlueJeans Rooms. Vendors have realized it isn't as simple as taking desktop software and putting it in a room. Rooms need an entirely different product that still feels familiar to people used to the mobile or desktop version of the technology.
How have vendors responded to changing attitudes about video for business?
Maldow: We're seeing fewer vendors offering systems that work with proprietary hardware. Room software services are popular, but vendors aren't as interested in creating the hardware that goes with these room systems.
For example, Poly -- formerly Polycom -- used to make proprietary hardware. But, at Enterprise Connect this year, it received best in show for Polycom Studio, which is designed to work with whatever software you want to use. Vendors are realizing that they need to provide a level of flexibility in their offerings.
It also means that we're seeing vendors transition to the UC [unified communications] space from other markets. Logitech started as a computer company, but now it makes meeting room cameras and is dominating that space. Hardware vendors are finding a place in the market because, once a space has the software, organizations look for a good speaker, microphone and camera.
Even companies like Dolby, who was previously thought of as consumer-focused, are realizing, even if they don't want to focus on an entire conferencing system, they do want to be in the space. They can do it by offering the hardware that they're good at.
What is driving innovation and adoption in the video conferencing market?
Maldow: It's a mix of innovation from vendors and demand from businesses. But it's really a change in the culture overall that's driving more video conferencing adoption. Consumer culture is video-centric. When video platforms, like YouTube, became commonplace, we started to see that shift. Now, it's gone further; instead of people making phone calls, they're FaceTiming. This video-centric attitude has also reached meeting rooms.
David MaldowLet's Do Video
There seems to be a collective agreement that video conferencing is important because it encourages a more productive workflow. If you're trying to get work done over a call, it's difficult to tell if the person on the line with you is still listening. Video helps everyone be more productive and hold each other accountable.
When video was first introduced, we thought it was going to be mostly for customer-facing interactions, like closing sales. But the entire work culture has shifted from a focus on individual work to teamwork. Teamwork is more than just having an easy way to share files or contextualized chats. We're becoming a culture of people who prefer to work as a team. If you have a team, you need video, especially as more people work remotely. Video can take a group of people located in different places and change them from individuals contributing to a project to a cohesive group.
What problems does video conferencing still face outside the boardroom?
Maldow: In the past, we've had organizations adopt expensive systems only to find out that they were being used maybe twice a year because they didn't fit into the everyday workflow of the business. Often, there is this compulsion to adopt technology first and assume that workflow will follow. But, more often than not, that isn't the case. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to video conferencing. It's important to really understand how your team works and choosing the right video conferencing technology to support it.
If meetings make use of the whiteboard, it may be worth looking into digital whiteboard options or screen sharing. If you notice that people are uncomfortable adjusting the camera for meetings, you should be exploring offerings that feature smart framing or automatic camera adjustments. Five years ago, technology was the center of the universe; now, it's more focused on giving teams the flexibility that lets them be more productive.