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Zoom delays hybrid workplace video feature

Zoom had planned to release Smart Gallery in beta this week. The Zoom Rooms feature gives all meeting participants equal placement within a video meeting.

Zoom has delayed a Zoom Rooms redesign that would display within individual video frames meeting participants in conference rooms and at home. The hybrid workplace feature makes everyone appear equally important.

Zoom had planned to release the feature, called Smart Gallery, in public beta Tuesday but suddenly decided to hold off. The company did not say why.

A Zoom spokesman said Thursday that the company still planned to release the Smart Gallery public beta this summer.

Video conferencing vendors have touted individual framing as a must-have for the hybrid workplace. Besides treating meeting participants equally, the format helps at-home workers read conference-room attendees' facial expressions and body language. Cisco and Microsoft have announced plans to release the video format for hybrid workplaces this year.

However, placing groups of people in individual frames requires special conference room gear from hardware manufacturers. Zoom said Neat and Poly will release cameras that support Smart Gallery in late July, with Logitech following later in the year.

A conference room with Zoom Rooms equipment
Zoom Rooms requires specialized hardware to support all its features.

A level playing field for all workers will be important as companies switch to a hybrid workplace. Gartner expects 51% of knowledge workers -- which includes professions such as writers, accountants and engineers -- to work from home at least one day a week by the end of 2021, compared with 27% in 2019.

Even if Smart Gallery-type features prove helpful, hurdles remain in making in-person and remote meeting participants equal, said Forrester analyst Art Schoeller. Off-camera interactions, or cases where people in the conference room are looking at each other and not the camera, can still alienate at-home workers.

"If there is a physical [whiteboard] that people are drawing on, that is another [situation] that slams remote attendees," he said.

Zoom did introduce this week improvements to Zoom Phone and Zoom Chat. The company has added stricter Caller ID to Zoom Phone, using additional checks to ensure scammers cannot spoof Zoom-provided U.S. phone numbers. An update to Zoom Chat simplifies finding bookmarked messages, shared files, contact requests and messages that mention someone directly.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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