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Web Conferencing in 2021: The Top Three Trends

The pandemic cemented web conferencing as an essential component of business continuity and remote work. Yet, with a return to the office looking ever more feasible for the tail end of 2021, organizations need to ask what role web conferencing solutions will play moving forward – in what contexts can we best use these solutions, and what key trends will pan out as we move into next year?

There are three web conferencing trends to monitor for 2022: organizations adapting to hybrid work, vendors offering enhanced inclusivity capabilities, and suites increasing in popularity over best-of-breed web conferencing solutions.

1. Web conferencing must adapt to hybrid work

With 74% of organizations planning to shift some of their employees to remote work permanently, and 72% of workers stating that they want a combination of remote and office work, IT needs to contend with the new default of flexible hybrid work environments. Reliable and intuitive conferencing technology should be installed to support the fluid interchange of persons meeting face-to-face and joining remotely. Adapting to hybrid work has implications for people, process, and technology.

First, if it did not exist before, organizations need to prioritize supporting their workers with training to best leverage a meeting room’s technology. Ensuring that IT has the skillset and non-IT has the general know-how will be crucial to prevent frustrating instances of technology failure or late meeting starts.

Second, hybrid meetings call for a change of process for how such meetings should be conducted. Establishing formal procedures that give equal floor time to in-person and remote attendees will be necessary to level the playing field.

Third, the organization should decide upon a default web conferencing software and hardware solution that integrate well together. For example, suppose workers are switching between web conferencing applications. This will create friction with ensuring the tool can be used effectively with in-house conferencing technology, and having to play collaboration bingo will decrease end-user satisfaction. Indeed, this latter issue is exacerbated by web conferencing vendors supplying their own specialized conferencing technology for their software – Zoom Rooms, Microsoft Teams Rooms, and Webex Rooms, among others. Organizations’ awareness of what software your technology can and cannot work with will be crucial to create a seamless hybrid meeting environment.

2. Vendors will increasingly offer enhanced capabilities to improve inclusivity

There are some web conferencing capabilities that, by now, are simply expected by the end user – screen sharing, hand raising, breakout rooms, auto-mute, and meeting chat, to name a few. Web conferencing solutions lacking these table stakes offerings in 2021 will soon be left behind, because the next phase of enhanced web conferencing capabilities has already started.

This next phase is geared heavily toward ensuring an inclusive experience for all end users. Steps to improve the inclusivity of the meeting experience can already be seen through text-to-speech capabilities, closed captioning, and ease of changing font sizes. Further additions include offering real-time translation closed captioning and live interpreters in meetings and providing such services in many languages (including sign languages). Vendors such as KUDO and Cisco have already laid the groundwork for these capabilities, and we should see other vendors follow suit as we move into 2022.

Other kinds of capabilities beginning to mature include AI-driven noise cancellation. Through its acquisition of BabbleLabs in 2020, Cisco Webex can natively distinguish human voice from background noise. Microsoft Teams also offers types of noise suppression to aid with reducing certain distractions. Vendors will continue to refine these capabilities over 2021, before (no doubt!) they are taken for granted in 2022.

3. Suites will likely win out against best-of-breed web conferencing solutions

Vendors offering web conferencing solutions are usually not just in the market for web conferencing. As SaaS-based collaboration, communication, and contact center capabilities mesh, vendors specializing in either of these spaces now tend to offer their own web conferencing solution – be it productivity suites (such as Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace), UCaaS players (such as RingCentral and Avaya), or contact center vendors (such as Five9 and NICE inContact). Even Zoom, the archetypical best-of-breed solution for web conferencing, has branched into telephony with Zoom Phone and started making headway into the contact center space.

What this means is that best-of-breed web conferencing solutions, such as Whereby Business, will increasingly struggle to capture the attention of organizations. Instead, as organizations address larger projects, such as modernizing their phone systems or migrating their productivity suite to the cloud, web conferencing solutions now come prepackaged with vendors’ suites. In other words, there’s no real justification for spending the time and resources hunting for a best-of-breed web conferencing solution, unless there is an exceptional need to do so. As we move into 2022, unless a best-of-breed solution has a standout capability (such as KUDO’s live-translation services), it will be increasingly difficult for such solutions to maintain their viability in this fiercely competitive space.

Source: SoftwareReviews Web Conferencing Data Quadrant. Accessed May 14, 2021.

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