Before the pandemic, I had the opportunity to visit a variety of corporate offices designed with a culture of collaboration in mind. And to me, nothing quite says, “We get it,” then a wall-to-wall immersive visual collaboration experience.
Even scaled down — say to half a wall or just a single oversized wall-mounted screen — these systems are impressive. Simplistically, they’re jazzed up virtual whiteboards, featuring capabilities such as digital touch, content sharing, and embedded videoconferencing and chat that scream “group collaboration.” But, alas, it’s not like just anybody has had access to this technology — building out one of these immersive collaboration environments doesn’t come cheap, so uses may be limited to client-facing, product ideation… i.e., those that may bring in the dollars.
So even before the global office shutdown that cut-off access to these sorts of environments, visual collaboration vendors had been shrinking their technology footprints. Wall-sized systems have their place, but downsizing democratizes the technology’s use and opens the immersive collaboration experience to a great many more teams. Squeeze the digital canvas down to laptop size, and even a far-flung team of remote workers can benefit from being able to collaborate visually.
I recently chatted with tech veteran Peter Jackson, CEO of one such tool provider, Bluescape
, about the remote visual collaboration trend. Now that everybody is working remotely, he told me, the market has seen interest skyrocket overnight. The demand for this type of collaboration tool went from eight or nine on the list up to number one, across verticals, he added. “Almost every company we run into is trying to get more productive, and they’re trying to find the tools to do that,” he said.
You might take that with a grain of salt, as I did, since Jackson has a vested interest in hyping the market. However, not but a day later, I essentially heard the same thing, but from an enterprise IT executive at a global pharmaceutical, medical device, and consumer health company looking for said collaboration tools for his workforce. A big focus for him over the last year has been in ramping up implementation of virtual meeting apps from Microsoft and Zoom, but with that well in hand now, he’s shifted attention to the visual collaboration tools “that help in the meeting itself,” he said.
Pointing to their value, he used the metaphor of a sticky note on which you can jot down ideas and move around a blank canvas. So besides meeting spaces themselves, back when everybody is in the office, “these in-meeting collaboration tools are becoming pretty important for us to get right,” he said. However, the sharp uptake in interest as, from what he’s seen, caught these providers off guard. Their business models could use some work, he said.
Regardless, IT, facilities/real estate, HR, and other workplace strategists would do well to find ways of improving the in-meeting experience while rethinking the future of work. Bringing collaboration tools, like those traditionally designed for in-person brainstorming, to all workers regardless of location can provide a host of workplace benefits. Democracy at work.