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Before the pandemic hit, things were moving very quickly in the video conferencing space. New huddle kits and devices from every corner of the market were making big debuts. Powerful new partnerships between software and hardware vendors were popping up left and right. Video technology itself was finally being recognized as fully mature -- intuitive, high quality, affordable and reliable.
More important, video conferencing had overcome its old reputation for being so troublesome. For decades we were anticipating the year of video conferencing and in 2018-2019 it was finally happening. Then the pandemic hit, and our already accelerated video adoption increased by several orders of magnitude.
Pinpointing what may happen not easy
How can we predict trends in video conferencing for 2021 when 2020 has been so incredibly unpredictable? How can we anticipate the post-COVID-19 workplace when we have no idea when the pandemic will end, or what that will even look like? The simple fact is, we must acknowledge and plan around our own uncertainty. It is obviously less than ideal to plot your course from the middle of a fog, but that is where we are. We aren't ready to give up and close our businesses. Companies will have to adapt and overcome whatever challenges the future holds.
This means video conferencing trends will have to center around flexibility and readiness if we expect to thrive in 2021. We don't know if or when future lockdowns may occur, how long they may be in effect, or which of our business locations and workers may be hit by mandated restrictions. We can't plan for them in advance, and we can't take two weeks to shift the way we work every time the world throws another curveball at us. We must be ready on a day's notice, perhaps even less, to continue our work from the home, the office or any location where we may find ourselves.
New way of thinking
One way to address this fluidity is a simple change in mindset. Today, we still think of work as the physical office building and when we work remotely, we use video to connect to that building. Unfortunately, this means if there is a disruption at the building, like a lockdown, it affects everything. We may feel limited in our ability to work without connecting to physical offices.
But what if we thought of work as simply having access -- regardless of location -- to the virtual tools we need to complete our projects? Consider if, say, your team's task list is written on a whiteboard at the office, your colleagues will work on those tasks when they are there. Now, let's say that list is on a smartphone app. Employees can check those assignments and knock them out whenever they'd like. Amidst this pandemic, a cloud meeting is much easier to attend than one held in the office.
Putting a personal stamp on things
Trends in video conferencing in 2021 will also feature a secondary (and more fun) dynamic: personalization. People are realizing they can individualize and improve their appearances on video. When the pandemic hit and everyone shifted to video, the major concern was simply connecting so that business could continue. But after almost a year of seeing ourselves looking like ghouls with bad lighting, or just occupying that same boring video box, people are looking to jazz things up.
Human beings are creative and expressive by nature. Put us in a box (whether it be a dorm room, an office cubicle or a video window), and it is only a matter of time before we try to decorate it and make it our own. It wasn't a huge surprise when virtual backgrounds became the runaway hit video conferencing feature in 2020. While backgrounds are a great start, video feeds are now sporting a variety of enhancements as people look for ways to tailor their appearances. Custom lower thirds (name and title at the bottom of the screen), company logos and other graphics are becoming more common. Employees can even switch between completely different layouts in the middle of a meeting. Right now, these tweaks require free third-party tools. I believe, however, as part of this trend, video conferencing companies will continue to add these features to their basic offerings.
It looks as if we are going to conduct a lot of our business on video for the foreseeable future. Post-pandemic, video conferencing will play a much bigger part in our work lives than before. I would hate for us to feel more locked down and burnt out than we need to as a result. By embracing trends in video conferencing that support both flexibility and personalization, people can work the way they want to work, and can express themselves creatively while doing so. Just like everything else in the world right now, the goal is to make the best of this new normal.