Published: August 7, 2020
The 451 Take
COVID-19, work-from-home and UCC
Conducted between May 26 and June 11, 451 Research's VotE: Coronavirus Flash Survey June 2020 is an event-driven survey designed to measure the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on businesses. It follows a similar survey conducted between March 10 and March 19, and offers a basis for tracking its impact over time. Key data points from our survey show three trends influencing long-term market requirements for UCC are beginning to emerge:
Organizations are spending more on communication and collaboration, information security tools
The sudden need to support employees working from home during the COVID-19 quarantine led to an increase in technology product/service spending, with employee communication and collaboration technologies and information security tools emerging as two key areas in both our March and June surveys. Survey results show that, in many categories, nearly half of respondents indicate an outbreak-motivated spending change, with some such as IT resources and information security leaning distinctly toward spending increases. More specifically, survey results show that organizations are spending more on communication and collaboration technologies (50%), employee devices and services (43%), information security tools (42%), and network capacity (38%), as shown in Figure 1.
Work-from-home is here to stay
The shift in IT budget allocation to support WFH scenarios reflects how organizations responded to the outbreak in the early days of the quarantine. Among policy responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, expanded or universal WFH policies were implemented broadly and quickly by a large majority of organizations. However, our VotE: Coronavirus Flash Survey June 2020 shows that remote work will continue to be relevant for a substantial number of organizations and employees.
By the time our June Flash Survey fielded, most organizations expected those expanded WFH policies to remain in place long-term or permanently. Survey results show that, of those organizations that had expanded WFH policies in response to the outbreak, two out of three (67%) expected them to remain in place long-term or permanently. This is a significant increase from the 38% that expressed this expectation in March, as shown in Figure 2.
The office environment will see a reduced footprint
Several factors are leading organizations to consider plans to reopen their offices. These include the relative success of WFH efforts, which – as previously noted – will continue to be relevant for a substantial number of organizations and employees. Other factors include the difficulties presented by the prospect of returning to work in physical office environments, namely the conflict between proximity and employee safety.
Survey results show that one-quarter of organizations (25%) plan to wait a month or more beyond when regulations allow before employees return to offices. Furthermore, a significant portion of organizations are expecting to reduce their office footprint. As shown in Figure 3, 47% of organizations with office space say they expect to reduce their physical office footprint as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, with over 20% expecting to reduce it by more than 25%. Our VotE: Coronavirus Flash Survey June 2020 shows that office reductions are most common at the largest firms, with 60% of companies with more than $10bn in revenue looking to reduce their office footprint.
UCC in the post-COVID-19 era
The most visible example of how UCC is evolving in the wake of COVID-19 has been the shift to video collaboration, which we covered in a recent report. Vendors have reported an unprecedented surge in demand during the quarantine, and are investing heavily to expand their infrastructure accordingly. We have also seen vendors accelerate their product roadmaps, looking to expand admin capabilities to help IT organizations enable and support distributed work environments. These include vendors such as audioconferencing provider Nureva, which recently announced the availability of Nureva Console, a cloud-based platform that enables organizations to manage Nureva audio conferencing systems across multiple locations, eliminating the need for on-site configuration and monitoring. Microsoft recently announced new capabilities in the Teams Admin Center that enable organizations to easily deploy and manage a fleet of devices – including collaboration bars and IP phones – with improvements across device set-up, bulk management tasks and health monitoring.
Other vendors enhancing remote management capabilities include audio and video technology provider Crestron Electronics with its XiO Cloud Remote control, which allows hardware to be managed remotely without risking exposure for support staff, and the recently announced Crestron Flex R-Series, a mobile UC system that can easily be moved to transform any space into a meeting room. Cisco continues to expand the capabilities in its Webex Collaboration platform to support remote workers and the hybrid workplace with innovative features such as automated and remote onboarding and alert notifications for meeting-quality issues at home or in the office.
We have also seen WFH UCC devices emerge as an important opportunity. Laptops and desktop PCs include built-in webcams, but these are typically equipped with moderate resolution and a limited viewing angle. The shift to remote work represents an opportunity for vendors to provide WFH UCC devices and peripherals with enterprise-grade capabilities for video meetings, phone calls and interactive whiteboard annotation.
Vendors targeting this opportunity include Zoom, which recently launched Zoom for Home – DTEN ME, an all-in-one device that consists of a stand-alone 27-inch screen equipped with three wide-angle high-resolution cameras and eight microphones, and Cisco with its Webex DX80 device, a video-conferencing terminal with a 23-inch HD display, built-in camera and speakerphone, and several USB, HDMI and Ethernet ports. Other examples of enterprise-grade UCC WFH devices include the Logitech Connect, a desktop device with a camera that provides 1080p and 720p video modes, 4X digital zoom and 90-degree field of view, two internal microphones, and a rechargeable battery for portability; the Logitech C930e Business Webcam; the Lenovo VoIP 360 Camera Speaker; and the Poly EagleEye Mini.
In addition to enterprise-grade devices and peripherals, the shift to WFH will require that vendors adapt their approach to marketing and distribution – for example, by enabling centralized procurement and direct-to-employee shipment of previously approved WFH UCC devices.
Hardware as a service could also be a relevant approach, allowing customers to acquire devices for a fixed monthly cost, with flexibility to add and upgrade hardware as needed. For example, Zoom recently announced Zoom Hardware as a Service, a new offering that allows customers to acquire hardware devices from the company's partners – including DTEN, Neat, Poly and Yealink – for a fixed monthly cost. Customers have the flexibility to add hardware as needed and can refresh their equipment every three years; they can also opt for a fully managed service with hardware installation and management included.
While the spotlight has been on WFH technology, the need to revamp facilities and meeting-room equipment and devices to enable a safe environment is another factor driving UCC market requirements. Even as organizations extend their WFH policies and reduce their office environment footprint, we expect that the meeting room will continue to be relevant. While still unfolding, the trends highlighted in this report seem to indicate a shift, with the workplace becoming a collaborative environment and individual workspaces being eliminated or replaced by meeting and huddle rooms.
We previously noted how the need to provide a safe environment that complies with social distancing guidelines will make the use of voice and contactless interfaces, including voice user interfaces, intelligent assistants and biometric authentication, more compelling. For example, video and audio telecommunications company Lifesize recently announced that it will provide native integration with Alexa for Business – the intelligent assistant technology for the workplace launched by AWS three years ago – to enable voice-activated controls in meeting-room systems.
Our Voice of the Enterprise: Coronavirus Flash Survey June 2020 shows that remote work will continue to be relevant for a substantial number of employees. Furthermore, even as businesses reopen, social distancing will be a key factor in the post-COVID-19 workplace. These factors will influence market requirements for communications and collaboration technologies, with organizations looking to support remote workers in the long term.
Raúl Castañón-Martínez is a Senior Research Analyst at 451 Research, a part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, based in Boston. He focuses on business communications and collaboration technologies such as enterprise messaging, voice, bots and intelligent assistants, speech recognition and cloud communications.