The days of large enterprises being tied to one physical office location are long gone as many enterprises are now global entities with employees in multiple office locations or telecommuting from home. Collaboration between employees and independent contractors who could be working from anywhere in the world is now commonplace. Small to midsize businesses (SMBs) are dealing with the same challenges as large enterprises as both plan out how to allocate resources in order to drive expansion to new locations and more competitive marketplaces.
Online collaboration software is evolving along with businesses to empower this shift in the name of productivity. Distributed teams have more ways than ever to communicate and collaborate in real time, and 2016 is set to bring another wave of innovation around cloud-based connectivity, cross-platform integration, and next-generation multimedia conferencing. The following are five big trends to watch for in 2016.
1. Room-Based Videoconferencing
Videoconferencing is the linchpin of online business collaboration. As new plug-and-play videoconferencing solutions iron out the audio/video (A/V) quality and usability issues that have plagued the space for over a decade, the virtual pow-wow is replacing more and more in-person staff meetings, brainstorming sessions, or small team check-ins. A particularly popular virtual pow-wow are the quasi war rooms that businesses set up during crises in which key personnel around the globe assess damages and hash out plans of action face to face. In 2016, videoconferencing will continue to get smoother, smarter, and more affordable while operating at higher Internet speeds.
These factors are contributing to the rise of cost-effective and easy to install “room-based” videoconferencing systems. Although their outward appearance and functionality acts as simply as a flat-screen TV, these systems pack high-resolution cameras and computing platforms plus communication and collaboration software within one piece of hardware. The room-based solutions combine multi-way videoconferencing with presentation and wireless content-sharing capabilities—all at 720p or 1080p video resolution.
2. Cloud-Connected Everything
Efficient, universally accessible collaboration software and videoconferencing solutions couldn’t exist without the cloud serving as their frontier. Cloud-based integrations are what connect a company’s videoconferencing solution with not only its core collaboration software but also with the myriad of devices employees use to interact with it. Off-site team members are increasingly participating in the collaboration process by using smartphones and tablets as much as they use desktop or laptop PCs (if not more). Whether that means joining a group chat, sending and editing shared documents, or logging into a videoconference from an Android or iOS device on the go, cloud-based collaboration will continue to erode device, location, and platform-based barriers to enterprise and SMB communication.
3. Seamless Interoperability
In addition to accessing it from anywhere, businesses should also have the option to hook their collaboration software into all of the other third-party services in which they’re invested. These can range from more traditional services such as customer relationship management (CRM) or help desk software to the tool an organization uses to manage and gain analytics from its social media platforms.
The easier it is for employees to send data and documents—and flip back and forth between services while collaborating on and managing projects—the better that businesses can optimize productivity. If they can incorporate targeted business insights from business intelligence (BI) services to make smarter and more informed decisions, even better.
In 2016, collaboration and videoconferencing tools will bake in more and more integrations and sharing capabilities with everything from calendar applications and enterprise device management solutions to cloud-based accounting and voice over IP (VoIP) services. If an integration doesn’t exist by default, the collaboration software you choose should include an application programming interface (API) for developers and IT personnel to code and deploy themselves.
4. Distributed Teamwork Without the Hassle
Email is still alive and well as the professional world’s primary means of communication, but modern collaboration software will continue its quest to kill email dead in 2016—at least for in-house communication. Collaboration applications and services are offering more intuitive, hassle-free, live-chat capabilities for direct messaging for groups and teams. These applications are offering channels for business-wide and department-specific communications along with workflow tools to streamline productivity—no matter where team members physically reside or what devices they’re using to communicate.
In 2016, cloud-based interoperability will merge a team’s videoconference window side by side with its live chat, putting every form of collaboration into one place. As this centralized mode of social feed and direct mention-based collaboration gains more traction, long email chain messages full of forwards and “Reply All” messages will become less common in the workplace, which will let employees spend more time actually getting things done.
5. The Web Real-Time Communication Revolution
The next step in the Internet communication revolution is upon us, in the form of voice and video calling directly embedded in browsers. Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) is an open-source technology and application programming interface (API) standard that has been shepherded into the mainstream browser market by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) over the past several years. WebRTC allows Web applications to engage in direct voice calls, video chat, and data sharing without the need for any desktop or mobile applications, add-ons, or browser plug-ins.
Over the course of 2014 and 2015, major browsers including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Windows 10’s Microsoft Edge browser announced support for WebRTC. Chrome, Firefox, and Opera also enable WebRTC on Android. For iOS, there’s Bowser, a WebRTC-enabled mobile browser. Enterprise videoconferencing solutions are already bracing for the WebRTC revolution by offering built-in Web browsers in their systems as a way of not only turning into the skid but latching onto that open-source momentum to innovate and improve their native browser-based communication.
In 2016, WebRTC’s rise should make one space nervous though: standalone voice and video chat applications whose existence may soon become superfluous. Microsoft is already taking steps to enable back-end Skype interoperability with WebRTC but those video-calling applications that don’t do the same may well be left in the dust.