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Unified communications strategy shifts in wake of COVID

Unified communications strategy has to accommodate both remote workers and those employees who may come back to the office. Where are companies allocating their UC budget dollars?

COVID-19 has run roughshod on UC and IT budgets. Nemertes' recent global study of more than 525 end-user organizations found that more than 91% now support work from home, up from 63% prior to the pandemic. On average, 72% of workers are now remote, more than double the percentage prior to March 2020.

The impact on unified communications strategy and budgets has been profound. Overall, 53% of organizations benchmarked expected their IT budgets to increase in 2020 and 2021 to support the rapid shift to at-home work. An additional 19% said, while their overall IT spending would decrease, they still planned to increase spending on collaboration hardware and software to support home workers.

Key areas for new spending include the following:

  • Video conferencing services to enable remote employees to collaborate and engage virtually. Nearly half of participating companies said they acquired a new video conferencing or meeting app since the start of the pandemic. More than 28% planned to change apps or purchase new apps by the end of 2020.
  • Team collaboration applications that enable remote workers to shift from email to a contextual messaging-based means of collaboration and communications, integrated with other business applications and UC features.
  • Video streaming, content management and delivery platforms to support innovative internal and customer-facing use of video, such as training, broadcasts and telehealth.
  • Home devices to improve the end-user experience. Examples include high-quality cameras to replace or augment built-in webcams or as auxiliary equipment for those who use endpoints lacking cameras. Other examples include headsets and speakerphones to enable high-quality voice communications.
    Overall, 53% of organizations benchmarked expected their IT budgets to increase in 2020 and 2021 to support the rapid shift to at-home work.
  • Physical infrastructure, including desks, lighting and backdrops, to create a productive workspace and a consistent image for customer-facing video calls. Lighting may also be used to improve the appearance of those on video calls.
  • Network services, such as business-grade internet, mesh Wi-Fi, security agents and VPNs, to enable home workers to ensure peak performance of voice, video and other application traffic. As schools open for remote learning, reliable network connectivity has become more critical while students, spouses and others working in the home contend for bandwidth.
  • Management capabilities to ensure that IT can properly monitor UC performance, enabling technicians to either proactively or reactively address problems as quickly as possible.
IT spending
IT spending habits are changing as a result of COVID-19.

Focusing budgets on the return to the office

The shift to working from home is also accelerating spend on cloud services. Nearly 65% of companies say the pandemic has made them more likely to use cloud meeting, calling, messaging or integrated cloud-based UC offerings.

Finally, the pandemic is leading organizations to tweak their unified communications strategy as they investigate how to modify their facilities in the anticipation that some portion of their workforce may return to the office -- either full-time or part-time.

More than 34% are investing in LAN, WAN or Wi-Fi upgrades to address the expected growth in demand for video conferencing and video streaming applications as workers remain in fixed, socially distanced locations rather than meet in conventional conference rooms. Other areas for likely investment include technologies that enable monitoring of room occupancy, schedule cleaning, support touchless use of meeting rooms and phones, and enable organizations to establish check-in/check-out of workspaces based on predefined capacity limits.

The pandemic has already driven a dramatic adoption of cloud-based video conferencing and messaging technologies. It will now redefine the physical workspace -- both at home and in the office. Unified communications strategy and UC budgets must adapt to the new reality by providing a foundation supporting high-quality experiences, as well as manageable returns to the office.

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