Back in early 2020 and pre COVID-19, according to the ONS, just one-in-three British employees worked from home - and that was split between people who did so all of the time, and those who just worked from home occasionally. 
Fast-forward to late 2020, and the majority of the UK workforce is experiencing a ‘new normal’, seeing more than seven-in-10 of online adults in the UK making video calls at least once-a-week, up from 35% pre-lockdown. 
The WFH lifestyle is proving popular. 57% of UK employees now want to continue to work from home following the pandemic, so it looks like video conferencing, or collaboration technology, will remain central to our working lives. 
No strangers to video conferencing, with this technology having formed a critical element of their working lives for many years, we caught-up with lead business analyst and business architect, Lee Matthew, scrum master, Richard Coplan and principal software engineer, Andrew Hutchinson, to get their expert opinions, thoughts and predictions for the future of collab tech. 
Let’s start with the benefits of remote working 
LM. “If there’s one thing Covid-19 has highlighted, it’s the fact that working from home has the potential to open-up new opportunities. In the past geographical location was a limiting factor, given that most organisations wanted employees to be in the office for the bulk of their week. 
However, the move towards mass remote working has been a smooth one. Now contractors can explore roles across the UK and even the world.” 
RC: “Until lockdown, many managers truly believed that staff had to be in the office so that they could ensure their staff were working. I have spent many years working remotely and have consistently made the case that work is about delivery, no matter where you are located. 
Remote working, en masse, has been a game changer for many companies who now realise the benefits and cost savings. This will continue to fuel demand and therefore collab tech will keep innovating.” 
A little on the IT industry’s favourite platforms and why 
RC. “As my clients are predominantly Microsoft users, I use MS Teams for all my meetings, mostly with video cameras on. I am also set to introduce Miro for real-time whiteboard collaboration as this, combined with Teams, creates an awesome, immersive experience when needing to “huddle round a whiteboard” remotely. 
The combination of Teams and Miro is perfect for quarterly PI Planning. You can call on experts to contribute with little notice, and get SMEs to drop into the planning session for 5-10 minutes without having to wait for an arbitrary scheduled slot. Ultimately, with the right blend of technology, planning can be a fluid experience, not only effective in its immediacy, but also economically.” 
AH. “Microsoft Teams is my preferred tool - slightly biased as Microsoft is my chosen technology stack. I feel that the introduction of Slack previously introduced a new way of collaboration across businesses, and a refreshed way of working. Microsoft responded with Teams, which all integrated into Windows and Office 365 - which is important with so many people being remote.” 
What could be done to make this or any platform even better? 
RC. “More stable internet connectivity and routers.” 
AH. “If the video frames that currently sit at the bottom of the screen in Teams could be moved, this would allow for a much more personal, eye-contact feel to the calls, as most people have their webcam at the top of the screen.” 
What technological developments could providers introduce to further enhance the experience? 
RC: “An immersive in-room experience where, through the power of AI, you can sit round a virtual table with your colleagues.” 
LM: “One thing lost in video conference calls is body language. When meeting in a physical location you can see if someone is feeling uneasy, unsure or perhaps has more to offer but in a virtual environment that is lost. 
A form of Virtual Reality capability, which allows you to see aspects of the attendees body language, could be invaluable in facilitating sessions. In addition, this technology could provide people with that sense of being in the room together, sharing a whiteboard, talking over problems creatively etc.” 
How could screen-sharing be streamlined? 
LM. “In a physical session you might just spin your laptop around and show someone something whilst they’re presenting, but in a virtual environment, it tends to be one screen at a time. 
Providers could simply enable multiple screens to be shared concurrently AND things on one desktop to be dragged and dropped to another. For example, I have a diagram or notes that I can display at the same time someone else is displaying their content, and I can simply drop this onto someone else’s screen so they can sketch on it and pass it back. 
Whatever progress is made, surely collab tech can’t compete with human contact. 
LM: “One thing I definitely miss is coffee shop conversation. Bumping into someone who says “Oh, I was meaning to catch up with you about.....”. In a remote working environment that obviously never happens, and that important input is lost. 
I think the introduction of virtual cafes could go some way to improving what’s lost in informal human contact. Somewhere where people can drop-in, see who is there, have a casual chat and head off......once you’re in there, other people can view you as some form of personally developed avatar as you move around the café and engage in conversation.” 
And finally 
LM. “The world is, increasingly, a small place and organisations will have teams spread across the globe. 
Therefore, the development of robust, super-reliable and near real-time translation capabilities would be brilliant - so everyone can contribute to the meeting and gain a clear understanding – essentially reducing language boundaries to good communication and broadening business opportunities.” 
Even without technological developments, what could USERS do to improve their experience?  
LM. “Ensure they prepare for a virtual workshop as thoroughly as they would an office-based one. Produce high-quality inputs that can be used to guide the session. Ensure there are regular breaks and timeouts to check that all parties have had their chance to comment. There will always be quiet people in any session, and ensuring they’re given a voice is important....especially when body language is unavailable.” 
Exciting times... 
One thing that is for certain, working from home is here to stay, and this is set to drive the likes of Microsoft, Zoom, Google and Skype, to name a few, to really up-the stakes when it comes to ongoing developments and improvements in their services. We cannot wait. 
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