Zoom bolsters collaboration capabilities beyond video

Zoom became the brand name for video conferencing during the pandemic. The company wants to expand that dominance to other areas of collaboration, like chat and whiteboards.

Zoom has introduced a slate of features, as it works to transition from a video conferencing provider to a vendor that can accommodate all of a company's collaboration needs.

The firm held its Zoomtopia user conference this week, announcing capabilities meant to host conferences, make in-meeting collaboration easier and solve hybrid work challenges. The company's upcoming features include updates to its video meetings, events platform and chat offerings.

Research firm IDC said it expects the collaboration market to more than double to $50.7 billion by 2025. Nevertheless, Zoom reported slowing revenue growth in the last quarter and released lower-than-expected earnings projections for the coming months. Zoom has sought to boost its fortunes by branching out from its video conferencing roots.

"Zoom is making major bets it can become a larger, integrated player in all the places [where] its easy-to-use video capabilities can serve well," said Dion Hinchcliffe, vice president and analyst at Constellation Research.

Zoom boasted that more than 1 billion people had attended a webinar on its virtual events platform, Zoom Events. This fall, the company will add conferences to that platform, allowing hosts to hold events of up to five days, with up to 13 sessions at once. Conference hosts will send out branded emails and surveys and provide attendees with itinerary builders and an individual chatroom for networking.

Irwin Lazar, president and analyst at Metrigy, said attending a Zoom event is very much like attending a Zoom meeting. Users familiar with the Zoom user interface may prefer attending conferences hosted on Zoom Events, rather than learn how to use a different, purpose-built events platform.

"[They're] not coming into a different environment," he said. "They don't have to learn something new [to attend an event]."

An upcoming Zoom Events feature would give speakers and panelists a private place to meet before going live and check up on their session's chat and Q&A. The feature, called Backstage, will go into beta later this year. Pankaj Prasad, group project manager and head of Zoom Events, said in Zoomtopia's keynote that this was the most requested capability from event hosts.

Zoom's video conferencing competitors have also beefed up their ability to host all-hands meetings, webinars and trade shows. Cisco completed its acquisition of Socio Labs this summer to provide its Webex platform with the capabilities to host events that combine in-person and online elements. Microsoft launched a webinar feature in Teams earlier this year, boosting the number of people who can attend a session.

Zoom will also make a push to get into hybrid offices, where workers no longer have permanently assigned desks. This year, the company plans to add features to facilitate hot desking, where multiple employees use the same desk at different times. With Zoom, employees will book a desk or conference room ahead of time using an interactive map. AI will suggest seating arrangements based on who's in the office on a given day and which coworkers collaborate the most. When workers arrive at their desks or conference room, they can scan a QR code displayed on a Zoom Rooms or Zoom Phone device to sign in.

Zoom hot desking
An upcoming Zoom hot desking feature will let employees sign on at a desk by scanning a QR code.

The announcement comes as many businesses are planning their return-to-office strategies. Bob O'Donnell, founder and chief analyst at Technalysis Research, said Zoom made a timely appeal to those firms.

"Most employees don't care for [hot desking], but there are organizations that are going to try it," he said. "Zoom [is] extending their platform into related areas to show they're capable of more than just basic video calling."

As part of those expansion plans, Zoom will release a video contact center product, called Video Engagement Center (VEC), in early 2022. VEC's video calls will let customers show the problem they're facing to service agents. Also, VEC will integrate with CRM software to help companies track client issues.

Company executives said a video call would build customer trust, as clients will see customer service agents' faces and hear their voices. Gartner analyst Mike Fasciani said the healthcare and finance industries might benefit from VEC, as a video meeting would help providers gauge a client's emotional state and comfort level.

Later this year, Zoom plans to launch a new virtual whiteboard to provide a visual space for collaboration. Workers will be able to draw on the whiteboard, as well as add sticky notes and comments. The whiteboard will be persistent, meaning employees will refer to and alter it outside of video meetings. Zoom touted the ability to access whiteboards in multiple ways: on computers, mobile devices and Zoom Rooms hardware. The company plans to integrate the whiteboard with Facebook's virtual reality (VR) workspace, Horizon Workrooms, in 2022.

Hinchcliffe said the new whiteboard functionality is a positive feature for enterprise video conferencing, and Zoom's step into the VR space is notable.

"[It's] a key bet on where the future of meetings may be heading," he said.

Zoom plans to bolster its chat collaboration tool this year. Before the end of 2021, Zoom will integrate cloud storage tools SharePoint and Box into its chat feature, allowing workers to share and work on documents within the Zoom client.

A Huddle View feature will superimpose employees in a chat channel onto a custom image, like an office floor plan, and provide visual cues as to whether they're available to talk. The view will create a sense of togetherness among members of a team, Zoom said. The company plans to release the feature in the next few months.

Zoom further announced that it would:

  • Add live transcription and translation to 12 languages in the coming year.
  • Make Zoom Apps available in webinars, mobile apps and Zoom Rooms devices later this year.
  • Allow Zoom Rooms users to create and manage breakout rooms this fall.
  • Bring end-to-end encryption to Zoom Phones in the next year.

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 News, Walpole Times, Sharon 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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