Unified Comms: Lessons from 2020 and Predictions for 2021

How we communicate, in business and in our personal lives, has changed massively over the last year. No longer in the close confines of an office or our friends’ and families’ homes, we have turned instead to Unified Communications (particularly collaboration apps) to keep our conversations going.  

With such a focus on Unified Communications (UC) this year, it seems only right that we reflect on how this aspect of business has evolved and the direction it’s heading in. 

Communication is at the heart of every organisation and preparing for UC in 2021 means understanding how you can become more agile, delight customers and stay ahead of the competition. 

In this blog post, we discuss what we’ve learned this year and provide four 2021 UC predictions to prepare you for what’s next.  

Lessons learned

There is a use case for Unified Comms (UC), for almost every business 

This use case turned out to be a global pandemic and the Government’s announcement that everyone (who could) should work from home. The pandemic really shone a light on the need for almost every organisation to have a remotely accessible collaboration platform.  

Here at N4Engage, we saw customers from various sectors – banking, automotive, insurance and so on – requesting fast deployment of collaboration solutions, that only 18 months ago they were adamant they didn’t need.  

Multi-site businesses have gone from say, 20 sites, to needing support for 800+ home offices, which means keeping all of their employees connected and collaborating with each other. With the home office the standard operating model for now, UC is key to business continuity.  

Collaboration apps are a reasonable (and sometimes better) substitute for other communication channels

Alongside accelerated adoption of collaboration technologies, we’ve seen a big shift in how comfortable people feel with being on camera.  

People from all generations are using video, some of the uneasiness has gone, and a new social etiquette is emerging. (Sidenote: yes, switch on your camera when you’re kicking off that important project with a new customer).  

Group chat and instant messaging have increased too, in the absence of a desk-based phone or being able to chat across an open-plan office.  

Here at N4Engage, we’ve also seen a decline in telephony traffic. A significant number of people that now have access to collaboration tools are using them to host a meeting, for what would have previously been a point-to-point call.  

This has likely come about because it’s easy. Leading collaboration tools are integrated with apps like Outlook, which means with just the click of a button you can add Microsoft Teams or Webex Teams to a meeting invite. Far easier than desperately searching for your invitee’s number minutes before the meeting starts. 

When it comes to choosing collaboration apps, user experience is king

As illustrated above, people prefer technologies that are easy to use over those that aren’t.  

When we look at the collaboration apps that have come out on top this year, it’s clear that great user experience has got them there. People want applications that are simple to use and don’t seem to care quite so much about vendor pedigree or an endless list of features.  

2021 collaboration predictions

Looking to 2021, we predict… 

Businesses will refine collaboration solutions for remote and hybrid working 

2021 will be the year that enterprises bring rapidly adopted collaboration solutions in line with business policies, which in some cases were relaxed to enable speedy adoption. Now, businesses are moving from a ‘best endeavours’ approach to ‘remediation’ of their remote working solutions.  

This involves addressing various concerns, from securing end-user devices. to rolling out new applications and updates to large, home-based workforces, to implementing call recording and reporting for compliance.  

There’s also the productivity side of collaboration solutions. To get a better handle on this and drive efficiencies, businesses will be looking more closely at data, identifying what’s going on in their workforce and where they might need to make adjustments.  

We’ll say goodbye to legacy on-premises PBXs

2020 opened business leaders’ eyes to the need for more flexible collaboration systems, that enable people to work productively from wherever they are – onsite, in the field or at home.  

So, undoubtedly, we’ll continue to see the retirement of less flexible solutions such as on-prem legacy PBXs (of which there are many).  

However, rather than migrating to hosted telephony solutions, many businesses will move to one of the new collaboration applications and only enable telephony features for those users who need them.  

Video will remain a key communication channel 

While on-prem PBXs are on their way out, video is on the up, and we expect to see more businesses embracing such collaboration trends in 2021.  

Over the last year, video has reigned supreme as a way for people to communicate with each other – whether socially at home, in an enterprise environment or for customer contact. The evolution is two-fold: customers are now used to accessing services via video, while agents, too, are showing a preference for video interactions with customers and colleagues alike.  

Beyond customer services and elsewhere in the workplace, video conferencing will continue to play an important role in engaging staff, reducing isolation and improving the mental health of the workforce.  

We’ll see increased uptake of video across different sectors, with organisations that traditionally stuck to in-person services (such as healthcare providers) moving even more in the direction of video.  

With the rise of video, there will be demand for a higher quality experience. So expect to see everything improving in quality – from your camera and headset hardware through to features on the UC clients. 

UC tools will just keep getting better

UC tools like Microsoft Teams and Webex Teams have released new features at speed this year– from breakout rooms to polls to fun background tools. It’s not going to stop here, as vendors pump more R&D resource into competing with one another and getting a bigger share of the market.  

In addition to more features, we expect there will be more integration between clients, so that presence works across platforms. This could include extensions for adding content and meeting notes to productivity applications. 

The takeaway? 2020 has been the catalyst for really changing the way we work, and the way businesses operate. With mass vaccination on the horizon, it looks like we will resume some of the ‘old’ ways of working – but not without abandoning new collaboration trends. 

While some businesses have already announced they’re not re-opening offices to fully embrace remote working, many others will take a hybrid approach with a mix of onsite and remote staff. Even those businesses that want everyone back onsite, will hold on to modern collaboration solutions which employees and customers have become comfortable using.  

Now, it’s just a matter of businesses moving on from inflexible legacy technologies and enhancing and refining their new collaboration solutions. 

Want to hear more from our experts on the changing face of customer contact?

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