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Zoom Workplace takes another step towards AI-powered hybrid collaboration

Alyx MacQueen Profile picture for user alex_lee March 25, 2024
Zoom's Workplace news signals a significant move towards AI-powered hybrid collaborative working, for employee experiences and contact centers. But how will these features be received?

Zoom Workplace Ask AI Companion © Zoom
( © Zoom)

Zoom reaches another milestone in its generative AI strategy today with the announcement of Zoom Workplace

The latest update for the platform includes features designed to consolidate Zoom’s solutions into a unified platform to streamline the way that employees collaborate without jumping from one application to another. These include:

  • The introduction of a new Meetings tab to facilitate pre, during, and post-meeting workflows. This approach aims to enhance communication efficiency and productivity.
  • Shared spaces within Zoom Workplace - dedicated areas for focused team collaboration. The revamped user interface and customizable features in the app aim to increase engagement levels and creativity.
  • Zoom Rooms now offer smart name tags and smart speaker tags, and the Workspaces tab streamlines office operations by offering features including reservation management, wayfinding and visitor tracking.
  • Document collaboration - multiple users can edit documents during meetings while sharing on-screen. The integration of an AI chat function for phone calls has been included, along with AI-powered features in Team Chat which aim to speed up responses with automatic suggestions and scheduling tasks.
  • Aesthetics haven’t been left out – rather than the option to join a meeting while appearing to orbit the earth or hover in a field of greenery, new virtual backgrounds have been included.

No generative AI announcement would be complete without an assistant. The introduction of Ask AI Companion adds another layer of functionality, enabling users to automate tasks and synthesize information from various sources across the Zoom platform and supported third-party apps.

This combination of developments builds on the features released last year and reflects Zoom's strategic pivot towards offering a comprehensive suite of tools aimed at modernizing work practices.

Bring your companion to work

The announcement of a platform that does it all and plays nicely with others is not unusual these days, but doesn’t always play out in reality. But the inclusion of AI companion features suggest that this has a little extra to reassure seasoned workers who have been wrangling these scenarios for the last few years. So what makes this update different?

Emphasis was placed on the 2,500 integrations in Zoom’s app marketplace, so that organizations can integrate with existing technology rather than having to rip-and-replace. 

Speaking with analysts this week, Zoom’s Head of AI, Mahesh Ram, elaborated on the extra layers of functionality that come with the Ask AI Companion and Zoom Phone:

With Zoom phone, the AI Companion can provide post-call summaries, automatically prioritize voicemails, provide team SMS, thread summaries, and even extract tasks from those voicemails to help you focus on what's important and save you valuable time. Ask AI companion is a step change in capabilities. It will be able to gather, synthesize and share the information you need, including meeting summaries from relevant past Zoom meetings, in chat threads, phone calls or emails, but you can be better prepared for your workday.

For example, in just a few minutes, Ask AI companion can help me prepare for a critical strategy review meeting. All I have to do is click on Ask AI Companion to help me get ready. It quickly scans, notes, chats, documents and prior meeting summaries, highlights important action items and then dissipates potential roadblocks from earlier conversations to prepare me for my meeting. It can even create an agenda as it will be able to incorporate data sources from across Zoom content.

By enabling users to automate tasks and synthesize information from various sources across the Zoom platform and supported third-party apps, this feature holds the potential to streamline workflows and improve decision-making processes. Ask AI Companion's integration with Zoom Phone promises enhanced call productivity through features such as post-call summaries and voicemail prioritization.

So far, so good. But a decent number of video conferencing tools have come along in the last few months that contain agenda mapping templates, different ways to capture information during a collaborative session and visually engaging tools for brainstorming. Is there more of a differentiating factor at play here?

Jeff Smith, Head of Product took a deeper dive into some of the UI enhancements: 

We also have new tabs for workspace reservation and meetings so hybrid workers can easily manage their day from a single app. In the meetings experience itself, you can now personalize the look of the Zoom app. We've preloaded some color themesand there's a view of the wallpaper customization that hosts can use in meetings to change the feel or the focus of their meeting.

We’re adding new multishare and document co-editing capabilities to support meetings that are more than just presenting information but are more about getting work done, making meetings more engaging and immersive. 

Smith continued on the topic of productivity and workflows: 

The new multi speaker view adapts the video layout highlighting active participants. This really helps you focus on the conversation while still being able to keep an eye on everyone else. 

We’ve made it easier to stay organized - within Zoom Team Chat, you can now create dedicated tabs within chat for linked resources, whiteboards, Zoom docs, so that shared resources are easy for everyone to access. Using the tabs, you can collaborate on the assets and chat at the same time.

Moving away from internal employee collaborations, Global Product Lead, Michelle Couture discussed the new Zoom Contact Center innovations and zoom revenue accelerator. The AI companion for customer service agents summarizes calls, generates follow up tasks, and analyzes customer sentiment, with the goal of helping to streamline agent workflows and enabling smoother handoffs. Couture explained:

It gathers the customer information the agents need from CRMs, knowledge bases and other resources, and delivers it right when it's needed. Agents are empowered to go off script and solve more problems complex problems faster. Supervisors will now have visibility into their agents’ live engagements with real time customer sentiment, live transcriptions and conversation summaries all from a single dashboard. This allows them to better manage agents and easily identify when they need to provide assistance. 

Agents also benefit from deep integration with Zoom workplace to seamlessly transfer customers with AI generated engagement summaries to back-office experts with Zoom phone powerpack finally, no longer having to put customers on lengthy holds while they recap the conversation, saving them time and ensuring seamless customer handoffs. 

In addition, Zoom Contact Center customers will be able to store their data locally in Zoom's EU Data Center designed to meet the storage needs of EU-based customers. 

My take

There’s something for everyone it seems, as rounding off the highlights comes Zoom Revenue Accelerator with memos that provide a brief summary of a conversation and offer a built-in automated scorecard that rates customer interactions and provide actionable feedback. For marketing professionals, Zoom Events enhancements offer AI-powered image generation posts to amplify events. It also creates custom images based on simple text prompts for event registration pages, virtual backgrounds and marketing emails “to help bridge the gap between hybrid and in person events.” Jon Reed, I’m looking at you. 

Zoom made headlines last year by bringing remote workers back to the office – and is clearly deepening its footprint in the space for platforms that bring together collaborative working that meets hybrid workplace needs supported by generative AI. The inclusion of wayfinding to help users find their way around a new office or building location is a thoughtful touch for those using unfamiliar meeting spaces - especially for scenarios such as onboarding and training sessions. 

It’s good that this latest update could prove to be more inclusive and accessible for users. For example, neurodivergent friends have shared their experiences of overwhelming fatigue from trying to take in multiple participants, conversations and information being presented for concentrated periods of time.

The Zoom Phone improvements across different operating systems give me hope that the days of opening Zoom to show confused participants a view of my ceiling because the phone settings are different to the laptop could be at an end.

That said, there are some aspects of today’s announcements that may give businesses pause to do some further investigation. Below the surface, what does this mean for data protection, privacy and security? 

During the briefing it was emphasized that Zoom does not use customer data to train zooms or third-party AI models. Admins are given control over the activation and usage of AI companion features, and users can see when AI companion features are active in meetings. But although these features are opt-in and can be switched off at any time, does this bring another enabler for the “always on” culture? Is there potential for organizations to know what their employees are saying at any given time? I’m interested to see how these features will be received by enterprise vendors who use Zoom regularly with multiple clients that have different needs and security requirements - and what use cases come from organizations that both adopt this and implement the new ways of working that have to go with it. 

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