By Kelly Teal, Contributing Analyst, and Laurie McCabe, Co-founder & Partner, SMB Group
In the midst of a fluctuating pandemic, small and medium businesses (SMBs) find themselves adjusting once again to new operating models. Remote work will remain a permanent fixture. But some staff still need, and want, to gather in a corporate office, even if only part time. SMBs are adjusting to this shift to hybrid work, and looking for help as they create long-term strategies for more flexible workstyles.
Zoom is responding to the call. At its annual Zoomtopia event last week, held virtually, the company announced a slew of new features and capabilities that promise to bring more teamwork, humanization and personalization to digital interactions. Zoomtopia attendees responded enthusiastically to these additions, signaling that Zoom’s path forward is in tune with its customers’ needs.
Zoom’s popularity and its financials have soared during COVD-19 as companies shifted overnight to remote work. Prior to the pandemic, the company’s market cap totally about $20 billion. As of mid-September 2021, this figure hovered around $82 billion.
Now, Zoom is refocusing its strategy to help companies more easily bridge between remote and on-site work. The company introduced numerous new solutions and upgrades designed to help SMBs effectively support new workplace trends and requirements. Here, we recap the ones we view as particularly valuable for SMBs.
Whiteboard: Zoom is enlarging its whiteboard and adding virtual reality through Facebook Oculus to create a more engaging and natural video experience for participants. People can work in an avatar environment that looks like a conference room, and draw on the whiteboard as if they were physically present, accessing the whiteboard from mobile and desktop devices. Users can attach sticky notes, documents and tag one another. The new interface is designed help remote workers to feel more present and engaged, and help those onsite to feel more connected to their remote colleagues.
Video Engagement Center (VEC): SMBs always need to stay connected to clients. But in a COVID-19 world, many are hampered by virus variants and trimmed budgets, and employees may not be able to travel as often as needed. Customers or prospects may also need to connect briefly to ask a few questions, or to get a glimpse into their supplier’s environs. Zoom built its new VEC contact center (slated to launch early next year) on its meetings architecture, and tweaked it specifically for organizations to interact with customers. Zoom will also provide templates for certain use cases and vertical markets. SMBs need simple but effective virtual tools for connecting one-on-one with customers, and VEC looks like a solid contender.
Hot desking: Hybrid work calls for fluidity and flexibility. Fluctuating corporate traffic means it only makes sense to dedicate real estate to select specific people, and at many companies, few employees maintain assigned desks. In this type of environment, people need to be able to reserve desks and conference rooms, for themselves and for teams, when they will be on site. Zoom’s upgraded hot desking function enables just that. Later this year, employees will be able to book workstations and spaces through an AI-powered interactive map, and the AI will help users choose seats and arrangements. Then, when an employee signs out of the workstation, all data disappears. Zoom Phone already offers some hot desking but not to the extent announced at Zoomtopia.
SMBs need all the efficiency-generating resources they can find, and Zoom hot desking helps meet that need. This more in-depth hot desking capability will remove the pressure from office or human resources managers to determine, and juggle, seating and conference room assignments. These new capabilities will free up professionals from these chores so they can focus on more strategic responsibilities. Similarly, employee won’t have to waste time trying to find a workspace.
Smart Gallery: Zoom first announced Smart Gallery at its 2020 Zoomtopia event. Now available in public beta, SMBs can and should start kicking the tires. One of the missing pieces in web conferencing has been the ability to read peoples’ facial expressions in detail or see if they’ve raised a hand, especially if they are circulating within the room. Smart Gallery delivers individual feeds of in-room participants, even those who are moving around, giving remote employees an up close view of each person in the conference room. Now, a boss conducting meetings from her home office, for instance, can watch each staff member’s reactions and engage accordingly, as if she were in the corporate conference room. This should help improve communication and collaboration among teams and leaders — a plus for any SMB.
Apps: Earlier this summer, Zoom released Zoom Apps, letting people pull up and work in apps directly through Zoom Meetings. Capabilities included whiteboarding, project management and note-taking. Now, Zoom is ramping up apps access with an immersive experience. Just like it sounds, users will be able to access apps, such as Google Docs, within a collaboration session and work hands-on in real time. This eliminates jumping back and forth among screens and seamlessly draws in participants for better productivity. What SMB doesn’t want that?
Backstage: Webinars remain a primary method for SMBs to reach out to existing and prospective clients, as well as to staff. Yet one longstanding complaint from organizers has been the lack of a “green room” for speakers. Until now, people have cobbled together workarounds within Zoom to create that space, but virtual conferences flow more smoothly with dedicated spaces for specific groups. Backstage fills this gap with a green room for speakers, further simplifying the platform and making it easier to use. There is one caveat, though: SMBs must have a Zoom Events license to use Backstage.
Additional upcoming functions SMBs should know:
- Expanded translation and transcription for automated transcription to 30 languages and live translation to 12 languages, coming in the next year
- Zoom Widget, for at-a-glance access to meeting schedules
- Elimination of “next slide, please” commands thanks to remote control that lets multiple people advance slides
- Waiting Room two-way chat, allowing meeting participants and organizers to communicate prior to the event itself
- Huddle View in Zoom Chat channels, providing a sense of togetherness
- More integrations with cloud-storage platforms such as SharePoint and Box
- Video Voicemail in Zoom Phone, a step above transcribed voicemail that lets callers leave more personalized messages
- Zoom Phone Provider Exchange, expanding the number of carriers from which SMBs may choose
- End-to-end encryption in Zoom Phone for greater security during one-to-one calls
- More appliances from Poly, Logitech, Neat and more for displays, docking stations and speakerphones
- Zoom Conference, for hosting multi-day, multi-track events and including marketing and analytics tools
As the world transitions and adjusts to hybrid work, Zoom is moving toward providing a unified collaboration platform to more connect remote workers, teams, customers and partners in a more cohesive and easy-to-use manner.
SMBs need the capabilities Zoom is delivering; they needed them last year but the scramble to remote work got in the way of many a platform rollout. Zoom has caught up — and, in many ways, is getting ahead of expectations to create a better collaborative experience for remote and on-site users. We see Zoom as making the right moves, enabling more in-person-like activity, including the ability to read body language. That’s a vital part of human communication and an aspect that web conferencing historically has failed to translate well.
In addition, Zoom is ahead of the curve with the addition of Facebook Oculus-supported virtual reality. It may be that many workers will often find it less stressful to use an avatar than to constantly have to have their live image on screen.
Overall, the updates Zoom has revealed show that the provider listens and responds to its customers. The “backstage” green room serves as just one example of that. Zoomtopia attendee reaction this feature was especially enthusiastic and effusive.
Some SMBs may find the onslaught of upgrades overwhelming, and some will not require all the new features, but that’s okay. Zoom is hiding many of the new capabilities in the settings so users must intentionally seek them out, rather than be bombarded. Zoom knew it was unleashing a flood of capabilities, but the company has taken care not to overwhelm users with them.
The enhancements announced at Zoomtopia 2021 underscore Zoom’s strategy to adapt to new workplace requirement, and to help SMBs to do the same. We’re looking forward to Zoomtopia 2022 to see how readily SMBs take advantage of these new capabilities to level up collaboration—and to see what’s coming next from Zoom.
© SMB Group 2021