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Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, team collaboration apps were present but not at the center of daily workflow and communications. Now, remote workforces are seeking more maturity from features such as video conferencing, workflow integration, AI and security to safely keep them connected and to improve productivity while the work-from-home norm continues to be standard.
"The concept of collaboration is going to become more and more expansive. As a result, vendors are going to keep layering on more capabilities, " according to Jon Arnold, principal of J Arnold & Associates.
Organizations should be on the lookout for how the vendors plan to improve the most desired capabilities.
Team collaboration providers have their work cut out for them with the physical office slowly becoming a relic. With many enterprise employees deprived of a sense of community and socialization during the global pandemic, these tools have a unique opportunity to create new ways for employees to create a community.
Here's how the markets break down on developing new collaborative capabilities.
Video -- fighting Zoom fatigue
The market has become saturated -- one where "video vendors are all trying to outdo each other," Arnold said.
New features have helped to make the video experience better and more intuitive, he added, pointing to the addition of background effects, meeting capacity limits, calendar and app integrations, breakout sessions and whiteboard features. But enterprises and their users still have not been able to evade "Zoom fatigue."
"We're seeing a pushback against video. Part of the novelty is wearing off. Video is immersive and draining after a while," Arnold said. People simply want to get their work done without having to be conscious of their clothes, messy apartments or other things going on at home, where it's harder to appear professional, he added.
To keep video burnout at bay, enterprises are initiating efforts to space out meetings and encourage employees to break after calls, and vendors are releasing features that make the experience less taxing and more stimulating, said Irwin Lazar, president and principal analyst at Metrigy.
"Video was the biggest feature to take off after coronavirus began. While we are not seeing a decline in videos, companies are getting better about scheduling meetings so people are not stuck on multiple calls with no breaks or, as we call it, a 'Zoomerang,'" Lazar added.
On the tools side, vendors are also aiming to make the video experience richer to maintain user engagement.
"There is an interest in recreating a whiteboard, along with more brainstorming and collaborative features, like Post-it notes," said Mike Gotta, research vice president analyst at Gartner. Interactive features, like social media streaming, breakout sessions, polling and Q&A, are also becoming more common in video platforms to drive a more interactive experience. "Enterprises want to enrich the visual experience in meetings, and this interest to reimagine meetings is here to stay," he added.
AI slotted for bigger role
Arnold, Lazar and Gotta agreed AI will play a greater role in team collaboration app functions. Along with behavioral analytics that can track breaks, along with how users visit certain platforms, AI functionality can automate administrative tasks, such as meeting scheduling and note-taking, to free up employees for more business-critical and mentally intensive work. "We will see companies leveraging AI to create meeting summaries and basically automate as much as possible in the meeting space," Arnold emphasized.
The presence of AI is also driving the increase of intelligence bots within applications. Bots orchestrate certain user interactions that occur either through the main chat interface, channel or a separate private chat. Platforms provide the options for customers to add bots as they see fit.
Fine-tuning workflow integration
Workflow integration is being fine-tuned to eliminate the need for users to constantly switch back and forth between different windows and applications, which can hamper focus and productivity. Team collaboration companies are seeking to make their platforms a single interface where users can access everyday tasks like email, chat, meetings and documents in one place.
"Users can integrate many functions like other applications, workflows, customer relationship manager notifications, expense reporting, project and document updates," Lazar said. "Everything can live within that team space, so that can become the new work hub."
Gartner's Gotta spotlighted collaborative work management as an area team collaboration apps will begin to introduce into their products to position them as all-encompassing platforms.
"Collaborative work management is task coordination, task completion, workflow, budget sourcing and oversight -- basically, all of the steps that go into managing a distributed team of 10 to 15 people." he said.
Remote use creates security concerns
The remote use of team collaboration tools has opened a door to new security concerns. With employees connecting to public Wi-Fi, unsecured broadband and devices, and unsanctioned third-party apps to complete work, IT has had to step up initiatives to protect the sensitive company data that flows through team collaboration platforms. "All these vendors have had to raise their security game since so much traffic is off-site," Arnold said. "Collaboration environments need to be as encrypted and secure as possible." UC vendors boast about how secure their environment is, which may provide peace of mind for IT folks when -- in reality -- they have had little control, Arnold added.
One first step IT security teams have taken is to limit and standardize employee apps so IT can more easily mandate functionalities like single sign-on, encryption and channel creation, Lazar said.
Some vendors are even granting authority to IT departments themselves to control the rollout of new features and have the option to turn major changes on and off. "Features are coming so fast and furious that updates happen more frequently," he said.
With remote work as the indefinite new normal, team collaboration app features are poised to grow. Lazar predicted these tools will continue to expand to the point where they can connect users employed at different companies as a B2B federation with capabilities like smart guest accounts and identity verification services to keep connections secure.
"Even today, most people still revert to email when communicating with those outside of their companies," Lazar said. "But these days, a team can be [composed] of people both inside and outside the company, so they're not getting the full benefit of the team space, and it may become a viable replacement for email."
"People need some type of intermingling and serendipity with their colleagues as the whole day is consumed by work," Gotta said. "They need communication regarding what else is going on in the organization. Companies need to think about the total employee experience and not just simply roll out a new team collaboration app."