As we all know, the realities of Zoom meetings can be choppy. The first five minutes will be interspersed with pings, as frustrated people try to connect with a video-conferencing application that frankly doesn’t play nicely enough with its competitors. Or there’s that moment when you get the dreaded ‘Invalid ID’ when a meeting invitation has been shifted to fit everyone’s availability, but leads to a scramble of apologetic emails as ‘use this link instead!’ competes with ‘I can’t get in!’
Millions of people join online meetings using Zoom by clicking on a link from their digital calendars or email providers. Zoom usage may have risen sharply at the start of the pandemic, but as knowledge workers go back to the office (ironically, to spend several hours on Zoom meetings) there’s a big potential vulnerability for Zoom, as digital calendars and email services make it easier to host their own virtual meetings.
This week, as the Zoomtopia user conference kicks off, Zoom has unveiled several new offerings intended to improve user experience, including Zoom Email and Calendar (beta), Zoom Spots virtual co-working space, and Zoom One for continuous collaboration. According to CEO Eric S. Yuan:
Our team has built and launched more than 1,500 features and enhancements on the Zoom platform this year, advancing the way people connect with each other, their organization, and their customers — ultimately, opening the doors wide for creativity and collaboration.
Productivity obstacles – paying the 'toggle tax'?
Jumping from one software tool to another is a natural part of our day-to-day working lives. But does it have to be this way? A recent Harvard Business Review study found that employees spend almost four hours a week re-orienting themselves after toggling between applications. By giving users the ability to access their email alongside other modalities, Zoom claims to reduce this so-called 'toggle tax' and enables users to better focus on their work.
There are two options within Zoom Mail and Calendar (beta) – Clients and Services. With Clients, any Zoom user – free or paid – no longer needs to leave the Zoom platform to access their email and calendar. Instead, those services will be integrated directly into Zoom, allowing users to quickly access their communications and scheduling, and work more efficiently.
For businesses which may not have dedicated IT services, but still have privacy and security needs, there is Zoom Mail and Calendar Service, hosted by and directly integrated with Zoom. Zoom Mail Service is end-to-end encrypted for emails sent directly between active Zoom Mail Service users. No need to use your personal email for sharing sensitive policy briefings!
Can Zoom move beyond meetings?
It’s important to recognize that this announcement includes more than being able to navigate email and scheduling tools to join a meeting. As Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research emphasizes:
There has never been more uncertainty surrounding the future of work than there is today. Work from anywhere, hybrid offices and other trends have created a complex set of questions that business and IT leaders need to address. Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain and that is collaboration tools will be critical in keeping workers connected.
Can Zoom succeed in meeting these collaborative needs? Kerravala says so far, so good:
Zoom has rapidly evolved from being a niche meetings company to a broad collaboration platform that delivers unparalleled employee and customer experience, and helps organizations address the current and future needs of work.
Collaboration is the main focus of Zoom One, which brings together Team Chat, Phone, Whiteboard and Meetings with integrations that create “an always-on functionality so users can flow between Team Chat and Meetings to reduce silos, keep projects moving, and continue the conversation after meetings.
Seamless and flexible as this all sounds, there’s still work to be done behind the scenes to customize and connect all of the chosen integrations together and customize them for an organization. It will fall on developers to be able to build the applications that will meet the demands of users and customers and scale it across the business.
Zoom Apps isn’t actually new - my colleague Derek du Preez touched on this back in June. For context, developers have the ability to use Zoom APIs, SDKs, and tools and resources to build apps and integrations with Zoom to meet the demands of the business and customers.
What does this mean for developers in practical terms in the raft of announcements? According to Zoom’s pitch:
- Plans are underway to make it easier for developers to provision and manage apps that work with Zoom by enabling admin-authorized installed apps. This will allow Zoom account admins to pre-install apps for an organization at the account, group, or user level.
- Developers can build their integration once and plug it into all of their workflows, extending it across the entire Zoom product line.
- Once a Zoom integration has been built, developers can benefit from better awareness and distribution to other Zoom customers.
- Developers are also being given the ability to monetize those apps on Zoom’s app marketplace.
This has the advantage of making sure developers don’t draw the short straw when it comes to 'toggle tax' and reducing manual and repetitive tasks. It also offers the scope to enhance the collaboration experience for users in niche areas that may not make sense to invest in development by itself.
Network visibility and quality is another critical factor. IT teams need to have access to network traffic in near real time for every user, host and participant across meetings, webinar and phone, especially under pressure of event hosting and video reliance. Webhook solutions are part of the packages available for integration with network management systems.
The suite of features that make up the enhanced Zoom communications platform offer could be interesting:
- The rise in automation – and automating the right things to improve workflows – is a hot topic. The launch of new features and add-ons may prove useful to end users that utilize Zoom as their collaboration platform of choice.
- Zoom is upping its game to compete with the bigger provision of Microsoft and Google by integrating a variety of tools sitting within one platform.
- There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach here - Zoomtopia’s announcement suggests Apps bundles and a variety of options that offer a flexible choice to meet the needs of different businesses.
As the Future of Work debate rumbles on, the power of choice and flexibility on where and how we work together is an enterprise priority agenda item. By expanding its collaboration experience, Zoom is adding to the enabling choices on offer, hoping that it can take advantage of network effects that boost its reach across the enterprise.
When it comes to the developer platform announcements, there’s a lot of bundles and subscriptions options. On the one hand, this level of flexibility could meet the needs of developers tasked with managing the tools and infrastructure and could benefit from improved workflows so that more time can be spent on adding value in different ways. On the other hand, this is a whole new level of complexity – and the voices of teams responsible for this work will need to be actively heard early in the decision making process.
But one factor that isn’t a given is organizational culture. We are frequently reminded in our work and personal lives that change is constant. While it’s important to find new ways to reduce friction between applications and processes, technology is only one part of the picture.
We spend a large part of our lives at work. The prospect of reducing manual drudgery is an ongoing quest, particularly for knowledge workers and communicators – wherever we do our work.
Terms such as “always on to keep interactions flowing between capabilities” have the potential to be powerful for customer experiences, but equally could be another way to add weight to employees experiencing negative ways of working, via micro-management and productivity measuring.
The adoption numbers for these expanded offerings aren’t clear at this stage. In some respects, Zoom is racing ‘downwards’ to fulfill email, calendar and collaboration needs, while the likes of Microsoft and Google are racing upwards towards video to compete. It will be insightful to see how the businesses that adopt Zoom’s latest offer go about implementing the necessary changes – and how they engage with their staff to work out their biggest 'toggle tax' burdens. Whether this has the desired impact on end-users and customer experience remains to be seen.