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The workplace trends shaping UC and collaboration in 2016

Evolving workplace trends are affecting how employees collaborate. Learn how UC and collaboration technology must adapt to support new ways of working.

With a new year comes new ways of working. This year, enterprises and UC vendors will have a renewed focus on evolving...

workplace trends to support mobile workers and employees in open workspaces.

Employees who spend much of their time out in the field will have greater influence on collaboration offerings. Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar said the collaboration market has been focused primarily on knowledge workers and employees who spend most of their time at their desk and on the phone. But mobile employees -- whose responsibilities include inspections, deliveries and insurance adjustments -- need better collaboration capabilities for the apps they use.

"We will see a lot of effort to equip people out in the field with better tools for real-time collaboration with peers," Lazar said.

Open workspaces prompt headsets trend

While most organizations still have the traditional cubicle environment, open workspaces are a growing workplace trend to encourage employee collaboration. But open workspaces bring new communication and collaboration challenges.

A study on open-office floor plans found that noise distractions and loss of privacy were the main sources of workplace dissatisfaction. The benefits of enhanced employee interaction in an open workplace did not offset these disadvantages, according to the study.

Lazar said the biggest issue with open workspaces is video. Use of desktop video is growing in the enterprise, but employees concerned with privacy and noise may be reluctant to use video at all, he said.

"Offices are filled with people, but not necessarily the people you collaborate with every day," said Jennifer Adams, director of enterprise solutions marketing at Plantronics.

In an attempt to block noise distractions in open workspaces, employees have been turning to headphones and headsets. But consumer-grade headsets aren't meant for office communication.

Plantronics developed a range of headsets with noise-canceling technology for employees in open workspaces. The headsets include a noise-canceling microphone to reduce background noise during a call and keep employees focused on their conversations, Adams said.

Adapting UC to workplace trends

UC and collaboration technology will evolve to support these emerging workplace trends.

Lazar said APIs to add communication capabilities, such as click-to-call to business apps, will become more prevalent in the enterprise. Users now have the option of going to API vendors, such as Twilio and TokBox, to communication-enable the apps that they use often.

But these APIs present some challenges for IT. Employees have the ability to embed APIs from these vendors into their business apps without IT's knowledge, creating a new shadow IT issue, Lazar said.

New technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) could also find its way into communication and collaboration technology.

Alan Lepofsky, principal analyst at Constellation Research, said AI -- known as assisted collaboration -- will enhance employee productivity with their business apps.

"While still in the early stages, AI will help us filter, tag, prioritize and eventually even respond to work," Lepofsky said.

Mobile workers will find assisted collaboration especially helpful, as the technology can take information such as geography, weather or audience, and filter and prioritize what is displayed on a smartphone or tablet, he said.

"Imagine you were at a customer site, and your collaboration tool only displayed information about the people you were meeting with and relevant content to the location you're in," he said.

The first generation of assisted collaboration will focus on recommended actions, he said. For instance, Google recently released Smart Reply for its Inbox Gmail service. Smart Reply uses machine learning to suggest up to three responses to an email a user receives based on the email's content.

"It's very basic," Lepofsky said. "But it's a sign of things to come."

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