So much for plans to return to the office after the workday. Apparently, all NPIs and jabs are not enough to reassure employees and managers in the face of new SARS variants and the convenience of working at home and to postpone office openings indefinitely.

The Wall Street Journal headline this weekend sums up the zeitgeist: Remote work can now be two years and worry some bosses. It points to an aspect of human nature that is familiar to anyone trying to break a bad habit: the longer you do something, the harder it is to change. The journal highlights how executives are affected (emphasis added):

The longer people stay at home, the more difficult or disruptive it can be to eventually bring them back. Many employees developed new routines during the pandemic, swapping commuting for exercise or blocking hours for uninterrupted work. Even employees who were once reluctant to do their work outside of an office have come to appreciate the flexibility and productivity of home living in the past 18 months, many say. Surveys have shown that the enthusiasm for remote working has only increased as the pandemic has lasted.

Although surveys found that 60% of employees working remotely would feel comfortable returning to the office, with the rise in Covid activity and an 18-month track record of successful remote working, companies have become cautious. In fact, the same survey shows that more than 80% of employees enjoy working remotely, a level that has been remarkably consistent for almost a year.

The cascade of companies dropping office return appointments is daunting: Apple, Amazon, Chevron, Facebook, Prudential, Wells Fargo, Lyft. Mobility statistics show that activity around offices is about half that of pre-pandemic levels, while Bloomberg reports that in New York, “The average monthly subway rider in July was about 49% lower than pre-pandemic traffic Base value was “. Meanwhile, only 19% of office workers in San Francisco have returned, and the number of office space available for rent is four and a half times what it was two years ago.

Video conferencing is here to stay

Remote hybrid work means that video conferencing, like e-mail, is now an integral part of the work environment. As teleworking takes a second year of graduate education, it creates new standards that are difficult for most companies to change. As another magazine story put it, for the generation that works from home, the office is a remote concept. Those who grew up on IMs, Snapchat, FaceTime, and Zoom schools may regret not having personal mentoring, but they don’t see it as the same handicap as their elders, who grew up on different employment habits. In fact, after a long period of remote work, many employees feel that they do not need any personal supervision at all.

As a result, remote video participation options are expected for any business meeting, corporate event, or conference. Although mega-events like CES, which is known as the business meeting place for gadget manufacturers, could try to host a live event in the next year, many (most?) Former attendees will likely choose the marginal benefits of a personal one Participation The associated logistical effort is not worth it. Some researchers even advise using video conferencing even after most employees are back in the office.

Regardless of when the corporate office doors swing open, the reality is that most organizations will have a hybrid workforce with a significant proportion of employees working remotely on any given day. This means that tools like Zoom, Meet, and Teams will not only stay, but will permeate any business process that previously required face-to-face interaction.

A tripartite oligopoly

No matter how you measure it, the video conferencing market is large and growing. It is estimated that total video conferencing revenue will be about $ 4.7 billion this year and about $ 10 billion by 2028 with a CAGR of 11.4 percent. For another, the market is growing a little slower at 9.7% annually, but will reach around $ 11 billion by 2027. The market is dominated by Zoom, Google and Microsoft, with a search volume estimate showing that the three products account for 85% of the video call volume. Add in Cisco WebEx and LogMeIn (GoToMeeting) and you’ve got Gartner’s top recommendations for online business communication and collaboration.

Investors never wavered on the successful future of the market-leading zoom in a post-pandemic, hybrid office world whose share trading has been within a 20% range of mid-300s since the end of last year and quadrupled the pre-pandemic level. Google and Microsoft are way too big for their respective video conferencing products to significantly impact their sales, but both see the category as strategically important and have invested heavily in the platforms over the past year. We have thus achieved a tripartite video conferencing oligopoly that other companies cannot usefully penetrate.

From temporary meetings to permanent collaboration

The trick for conferencing software developers is to turn products designed for short one-on-one or small group meetings into virtual replacements for office conference rooms, project team workspaces, and mass events. As I wrote last February, virtual event software is a special category with requirements that general-purpose products geared towards the hybrid workplace cannot meet. However, since remote employees are now an integral part of the working world, video conferencing products must develop beyond real-time meetings into a virtual roof for all forms of communication in the office. Here Microsoft and Google have the advantage of integrating video conferencing into existing productivity and messaging suites, as they enable both real-time and asynchronous communication.

The need to support a full range of communication modalities is critical for hybrid organizations, especially those with workgroups that span multiple time zones and regions. Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, described the needs of remote organizations in an influential article last year. In Our Work-from-anywhere Future, Choudhury wrote the following (emphasis added):

WFA [work from anywhere] Organizations therefore need to familiarize themselves with asynchronous communication, be it through a Slack channel, a customized in-house portal, or even a shared Google Doc, where geographically dispersed team members write their questions and comments and trust other team members to leave Time zones will answer the first opportunity. One benefit of this approach is that employees are more likely to share ideas, plans, and documents at an early stage and welcome early feedback. There is less pressure to present elaborate work than in more formal, synchronous team meetings. GitLab calls this process flawless problem solving.

In contrast, Zoom’s intention to acquire Five9 suggests there is little point in attacking a fortified hill where Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce (Slack) dominate the productivity and collaboration services market. Instead, Zoom is finding more opportunities in vertical expansion into omnichannel customer support for businesses that are still struggling to serve users and employees in an online first world. As Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said when announcing the acquisition:

Businesses communicate with their customers primarily through the contact center, and we believe this acquisition creates a leading customer loyalty platform that will help redefine the way businesses of all sizes interact with their customers .

Zoom has expanded its SDK and introduced Zoom Apps that developers can use to add new functionality to the Zoom platform. It also added OnZoom, which, as my colleague Phil Wainewright wrote last fall, “build[s] about Zoom’s appeal to personal trainers, performers and educators among others [and] gives businesses and individuals the ability to host and promote paid video sessions and events on Zoom. “

My recording

For most office workers, the days of long commuting, interrupted by a coffee break for a drive-through coffee, lugging a backpack or briefcase across the parking lot before unpacking and starting their day-to-day work, are mostly, if not entirely, over. As Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger put it to the WSJ:

When you have a small rash, people go back to the old way. Well, that’s not a slip up.

What began as a stopgap solution in a sealed-off world – with tools designed for impromptu ad hoc conversations to replace face-to-face business meetings – has grown into a rich form of communication for the work-from-anywhere organization. What we lose in the form of the subtle signals of body language, we gain in the ability to break the shackles of time and space through video conferencing and collaboration technology. We will soon have a generation of employees who think the unavailability of such tools is unimaginable as life before the cell phone.