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40 million meeting rooms are yet to get video gadgets

Analyst warns that if upgrades frustrate, users might just give phone conferences a comeback

If the new normal for workplaces fails to facilitate proper human collaboration, employees may fall back to old and outdated tech, according to chief analyst Matthew Ball at the Canalys Forums APAC 2021 on Tuesday.

"We have taken a digital leap forward over the last 18 months, since the pandemic, which has allowed us to thrive," explained Ball. He claimed this digital leap has led to new issues, the biggest of which is a new expectation of immediacy. He described the scenario:

We want everything instantly at light speed. We expect next day deliveries on all purchases, our food to be delivered in less than an hour and to be able to binge a TV series without having to wait for the next episode for a week.

Ball listed five races currently challenging industry: one to create enough semiconductors to keep up with demand; another to develop information security resilience and the people to make it happen; meeting demand for intelligent IT automation that deliver delay-free digital experiences that never tax customers' patience; and the race for sustainability as the IT sector increases emissions and electricity consumption amid the climate crisis. That's four.

The fifth race is for better human collaboration. Facilitating this race are cloud and conferencing platforms, and the intangible element of social behaviors.

Canalys estimated the world hosts 59 million physical meeting rooms, of which only 15 per cent are video-enabled. Within these 59 million meeting rooms, cloud storage and conferencing platforms have become quite advanced – but remembering to unmute yourself is another issue.

"These platforms create equality in meetings," explained Ball, adding that "each participant has their own tile. Of course bandwidth, audio video lighting are varying factors but everyone has a chance to have the same meeting experience."

Because each attendee has equal space with equal chance for spouses wandering around in the background, and other modern messes, the workplace playing field has been somewhat leveled.

However, that equality is under threat as more offices reopen and hybrid work environments become the norm. Not everyone will be seen in meetings, and not everyone will have a physical presence in the room decisions are made, Ball opined.

And while solutions are available to bridge the gap between physical and virtual environments, they aren't yet fully optimized in terms of ease of usage, consistency of experience, multiplatform improbability, security and cost.

And with neither optimization nor an equalizer, clumsy adaptation to this tech and associated hijinx could cause employees to give up.

"None of us have ten minutes at the start of every meeting to get everything working. We also don't have time to train people on how to use them," said Ball of this suddenly dystopian work scenario.

"The risk is we could go backward and start using old technology, like audio conferencing that needed 12-digit numbers and a six-digit passcode to access, and then a roll call of 'who is on the line' because you can't see them."

He then warned ominously that collaboration has permanently changed. The not-so-subtle subtext is that we don't want to go back, so we should move forward – with speed. ®

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