The debate is over — and the cloud won. Most businesses have left their quaint PBX phone systems behind and moved to a unified communications system (UC) that exists entirely in the cloud, because they don’t want to be tied to a particular location to communicate. For today’s distributed and hybrid workforce, cloud-based business communications and collaboration tools make sense.
If your team is clinging to the phones on their desks or your IT team is reluctant to support yet another cloud solution, it’s time to let go, especially if your company is embracing a hybrid work model. Not only is that phone likely to gather dust, but UC has become the technical glue that holds people together when in-person collaboration is a challenge. Failing to deploy it is likely to hold the entire business back.
Hybrid work is the way forward
Distributed work is not new, of course, but making an entire workforce hybrid presents unique technical challenges for IT. With some workers coming into the office — at least sometimes — and others remaining completely remote, teams are increasingly relying on an array of communication tools to replace in-person connections.
According to a recent Economist Impact study commissioned by Google Workspace, over 75% of respondents believe that hybrid or flexible work will be standard within their organizations in the coming three years. A 2020 IBM study also found that 75% of employees want to continue to work remotely, at least occasionally, while 54% want work-from-home to be their primary way of working. Except for service businesses and those requiring a physical presence, hybrid is here to stay. It’s good for workers. And since it puts fewer cars on the road, it’s good for the planet.
As hybrid work becomes the way forward, IT departments are under immense pressure to adopt technologies that will help employees work and collaborate in this new environment. Legacy communication systems and monolithic software solutions were designed for a workforce that gathers in the same location. Since that’s no longer the case, your teams have no choice but to let go of them and embrace tools that work from anywhere — the way the people that use them do.
This means implementing tools that enable effective internal and external communication to make it easy for workers and distributed teams to collaborate from any location. This is where cloud-based unified communications solutions shine. Bringing together voice, text messaging, video meetings, and more, cloud-based UC, or unified communications as a service (UCaaS), improves worker productivity and effectiveness. Capabilities like videoconferencing, team workspaces, virtual whiteboards, and document and screen sharing let your teams work effectively from any location or time zone.
These tools range in cost, but you can expect to pay anywhere from about $20 per user per month for basic calling and messaging to more than $60 per user per month for calling, messaging, meetings, video, and more.
UC is no longer just a phone service
Providing mobile workers with the communication services that fit their mobile work styles, UCaaS solutions seamlessly integrate multiple locations and connect mobile workers with features that their deskbound phone could never dream of. The UC tools that businesses are adopting today go well beyond basic VoIP phones. They consolidate calling, messaging (think instant messaging for business), meetings, team collaboration, file sharing, mobile access from any browser, and more, into a tool that helps improve internal and external communications as well as worker productivity.
The new AI capabilities that have emerged in the past two to three years have enhanced UCaaS solutions even more, especially for meetings and conferences. These intelligent systems reduce background noise, understand natural language so they can provide meeting summaries and highlights, and automatically assign tasks to meeting attendees based on conversations. These tools make for a vastly improved meeting experience. As many workers are no longer in the same physical office with their colleagues and in-person meetings are becoming less frequent, these tools close the distance while improving internal and external collaboration.
Cloud communications and the great pivot
Cloud communications solutions showed their value during the pandemic. Organizations that were already using them were able to quickly pivot to remote work without missing a beat while those that didn’t already use them struggled to stay in touch and be productive.
Here are some examples from published case studies:
- Interstate Batteries used the Vonage Communications Platform (VPC) to transform how employees communicate and operate from the office or anywhere, providing flexibility and ensuring business continuity. It was able to allow teams to quickly pivot to remote and keep 600+ employees in touch, safely.
- Bennett International, North America’s sixth largest specialized transportation company, keeps 3,000 employees and contractors in touch using RingCentral MVP (message, video, phone) cloud solution. It doesn’t matter where anyone is working, because contacts, video capability, and team messaging are on everyone’s phone and computer.
- The Department of Seine-Saint Denis in France uses Avaya Spaces to facilitate communication among its 8,000 employees and partners with no location constraints. That tool’s videoconferencing and other collaboration capabilities are available one any device, and team members can create public or private workspaces, share and store files, and manage project tasks. For example, Spaces makes it easy to visualize workflows through a Kanban board, allowing teams to prioritize and track the progress of tasks collectively.
Going deeper into a hybrid world will likely change the way we communicate and collaborate with customers, colleagues, partners, and suppliers even more. Once UC tools become the norm, location won’t matter. Cloud communications and collaboration make it possible to create and dissolve virtual teams simply by bringing them into a virtual workspace where they can collaborate and connect with colleagues through voice or video. Starting a new R&D project, a new marketing campaign, or brainstorming on a customer’s problem is a matter of inviting the appropriate people to a workspace to chat, conference, and share ideas and documents. And because everything is cloud-based, workers can access the workspace and contents from any location or any device.
All of this leads to greater productivity for hybrid teams. Studies across the board show increased user productivity thanks to cloud communications and collaboration. Enterprises have found anywhere from 10% to 25% productivity improvements from cloud communications and collaboration, resulting in faster project completion, more effective problem resolution, and enhanced innovation.
What tool to choose?
There’s no shortage of new offerings in this space from a growing list of cloud communication providers. From household names like Microsoft, Google, and Zoom, to specialists like 8×8, Avaya, Dialpad, Edify, Intermedia, Mitel, Nextiva, RingCentral, GoTo, and Vonage, businesses have lots of choices.
And the vendor community continues to add more capabilities and functionality. As cloud communication services keep getting better, you can expect to see AI capabilities such as real-time transcription and language translation inside your meetings to enhance collaboration across a global employee base.
The old way of working is changing, requiring new tools and approaches. As workers continue to redefine what spaces they will use for an office, they’ll increasingly turn to cloud-based communication and collaboration tools to stay in touch with colleagues, customers, and partners. For the new hybrid and distributed workforce, the cloud is the way forward.
Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.