Zoom talks up a video-centric workplace

At this week's Zoomtopia event, the company rolled out plans for video call centers, better transcription and translation features, integrated whiteboards, and hot-desking options for the hybrid workplace.


Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, and the necessary uptake in video collaboration, Zoom has become the go-to video answer for a lot of companies. At this week's Zoomtopia event, the company spelled out how it plans build on its recent success, unveiling a slew of new products, capabilities, and updates designed to further solidify its customer base.

Video in the contact center?

The 10-year-old company highlighted what it sees as its biggest push: the launch of a cloud-based video contact center in 2022 that “will connect organizations with their customers in new ways," according to Heidi Elmore, head of UCaaS at Zoom.

Elmore, in a briefing before Zoomtopia began, argued that contact center innovations typically focus on improving agent productivity — answering more calls in less time — meaning agents have just enough information to answer questions. Adding video to a contact center, allows agents to “connect with empathy” and build rapport and trust with customers. (As part of this push, Zoom bought cloud contact center Five9 in July for $14.7 billion.)

The company plans to automate the workflow of call delivery, she said. “We're going to help automate how video interactions are scheduled, [offer] a waiting room experience, and, of course, [continue] to make that easy medium joint experience in a Zoom way. Then, after the call, we will help automate follow up with items like surveys or follow up tasks,” Elmore said.

Zoom plans to offer a set of templates for call centers that will be industry specific, such as for healthcare, and include analytics and management capabilities to help organizations boost productivity.

Mike Fasciani, senior research director at Gartner, said Zoom will need to re-imagine video-based customer experiences if it is to succeed in contact centers. “Simply adding a video calling option to a typical customer service engagement through a contact center application will not generate much interest from companies that use traditional contact centers.”

Fasciani also noted that contact center agents work in differing conditions worldwide, settings that may not always be appealing on video. As a result, Zoom needs to create virtual customer experiences for specific scenarios where the addition of video offers real business value. 

“Adding video to virtual doctor visits makes sense, because both the doctor and patient can see each other," Fasciani said. "[That] brings added trust that the patient gains from seeing their normal healthcare provider and the doctor can get a better read on the patients’ health, emotions, etc.,” he said, adding that video could be useful in other areas, such as for remote banking, virtual courtroom settings, or city council meetings.

Video meetings get more transcription support 

In-meeting transcription capabilities are becoming the norm for many video conferencing platforms. But Zoom is has been behind that particular curve. Though Pro Zoom and Pro Otter.ai users have had access to transcriptions since 2020, regular users have had to wait. As of today,  Zoom now supportd real-time translation capabilities, “bringing multiple languages and multiple people together," according to Jeff Smith, head of Zoom Rooms.

“We're excited about how this not only extends teams [across] language barriers, but we think this will also add inclusion for folks who maybe are in noisy environments, and you can't always hear the spoken word," Smith said. "It’s also part of our expanding inclusion efforts for those who are differently abled hearing capabilities."

In a keynote speech at Zoomtopia, Zoom officials said the platform expects to add 12 languages to its translation capabilities in the next year and 30 languages to transcription.

Another in-meeting addition coming soon is a “personal assistant" known as Zoom widget. It's designed to provide greater transparency into meetings, allowing those on the call to see who’s entered a meeting before they join; let a host know if they're running late; and when a meeting runs long, check on whether a user's next meeting has started and who’s already joined. 

For the hybrid office, Zoom Rooms Smart Gallery

Zoom is expending the availability of Zoom Rooms Smart Gallery, its in-meeting effort to create a consistent experience for hybrid meeting participants, no matter where they are. The result is that meeting attendees can be seen more clearly by remote attendees and will be able to participate more naturally.

As meeting participants move around the room, the camera will now follow them, making participants who are remote feel as if in the meeting. The new and improved Smart Gallery can also process audio to highlight the person speaking and analyze conversation dynamics to identify the best video angle to display participants.

“It's like having a virtual movie director in the room,” Smith said.

Zoom whiteboard beta coming soon

The most anticipated in-meeting update is liekly to be the new Zoom whiteboard, which is slated to be  available in beta later this year.

Zoom whiteboarding Zoom

Zoom whiteboards.

Described by Smith as “a modern collaboration canvas, enabling persistent visual collaboration,” users can create whiteboards in or outside of a meeting invite, allowing others to build their ideas and control access for both internal and external contributors.

Whiteboarding is typically used for brainstorming and the visualization of complex ideas; Zoom’s version includes shapes and connectors to illustrate the relationship between thoughts, sticky notes to highlight ideas, comments to generate discussions, and a detailed version history so participants can track changes and see who’s contributed to the board.

Fasciani expects this to resonate well with Zoom customers — especially in hybrid work arrangements where a shared visual canvas can be particularly useful.  “The physical whiteboard is often cited as a missing element when meeting participants cannot all sit together in same room,” he said. “The digital whiteboard has become a standard requirement for collaborating with remote colleagues.”

While Zoom’s whiteboard plans are a step in the right direction, Fasciani said the company will need updates over the next 12 months to catch up to leaders in the space. By highlighting what's coming up,  Zoom may be able to get customers to reconsider any plans to use third-party options, he said.

The new whiteboarding tool will work on hardware that can currently access Zoom, including desktops, mobile devices, and Zoom Rooms.

Zoom is also teaming up with Oculus Horizons to bring Zoom meetings and whiteboards into the Horizon Workrooms Experience. According to Smith, the integration is designed to make it easier to effectively use the Zoom whiteboard without a large screen.

“In the Oculus Horizons Workrooms experience, the Zoom whiteboard can be accessed from the physical desktop of the user, by using the remote to write directly on the surface of the table in front of you,” he said. “This gives a tactile feel of writing in this entirely virtual environment.”

The whiteboard can also be accessed at the front of a virtual room, giving users a bigger canvas. The  whiteboard can be located against a real, physical wall, meaning it can mimic the feeling of writing when a user "writes" with the remote.

Although Oculus Horizon Workrooms has received mixed reviews, Fasciani doesn’t believe the Occulus integration is a bridge a too far. “We are seeing increased interest from buyers looking for Augmented/Virtual Reality options. It may not be a huge requirement any time soon, but it makes a cool demo and illustrates the potential innovations ahead,” he said.

Hot-desking for the hybrid office

It's bcoming an accepted fact that, post-Covid-19, many employees will no longer be in the office five days a week. The hybrid work model (part office-based, part remote) has been gaining traction among  companies that see it as workable option.

zoom hot desking Zoom

Zoom hot desking is designed for the hybrid workplace.

With that in mind, Zoom unveiled a hot-desking feature that allows employees to reserve desks and spaces in their office. The solution is accessed using a browser app and allows people to reserve office space using an interactive map. Zoom’s built-in intelligence helps employees select a seat based on individual preferences, job role or whether other members of the team are in the office that day.

That information is communicated via Zoom Rooms Appliances to transform the desk into a fully customizable personal device that lets users replicate their home office settings at their hot desk in the office.

The company also touted a variety of additional features and updates, including:

  • Zoom Events Conference: An event platform that allows hosts to organize multi-track, multi-day events with rich functionality, including an event lobby, chat, networking, sponsors, surveys, recordings, analytics, and more. It's designed to provide hosts and attendees a customizable, engaging, and connected virtual event.
  • Zoom Apps: Built to optimize meeting workflows, Zoom Apps (initially unveiled in July) will be available across the platform later this year; they include Zoom Apps for Webinars, Zoom Apps for Mobile, and immersive apps  for better collaborative.
  • Zoom Chat Huddle View: A visual layout of channels designbed to give give teams a sense of connectedness while working virtually. Channel members will be able to choose a unique virtual background, chat, easily see who is in the channel, and quickly identify if they are busy or available.
  • Zoom Phone Video Voicemails: Designed to provide a more personable alternative to voicemails, this lets users leave video messages for colleagues in their voicemail inbox.
  • Zoom Continuous Collaboration: Designed to make it easier to collaborate, these planned enhancements will make it easier to share files, recordings, and chats from Zoom Meetings to Zoom Chat.
Zoom events Zoom

Zoom Events Conference allows hosts to organize multi-track, multi-day events.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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