The conference call continues to be a feature of the contemporary workplace but the company that pioneered the technology, Polycom, is preparing for a world where the traditional nine-to-five paradigm no longer exists.
For Polycom’s recently appointed global chief executive Mary McDowell, in Australia this week, the company’s future lies in getting the collaboration story right.
Polycom’s business was built on delivering best of breed audio technology into the boardroom, but the nature of the market has undergone a dramatic shift.
“Decisions are no longer made by people sitting in boardrooms and, with flexible work arrangements and remote working now part of everyday workplaces, we are all about enabling people to collaborate,” Ms McDowell told The Australian.
It was a case of technology scrambling to keep pace with changing public perceptions, she said.
According to recent research, commissioned by Polycom, Australia is one of the world’s most flexible countries to work in: 90 per cent of companies offer flexible working benefits.
The Polycom study of more than 25,000 workers, which had 2000 Australian respondents, found that 75 per cent of the Australian workforce prefers to work free from the confines of their offices.
Almost 79 per cent of Australians use video collaboration multiple times a day to stay in touch and the productivity benefits of the flexible arrangements are almost universally acknowledged.
According to Ms McDowell, there is a demographic shift inside the offices that is driving the trend as organisations rewire their thinking around staff management and outcomes.
“This is a real opportunity for them to rethink how to do things differently as the overall workforce is further democratised,” she said.
“If you look at video technology, three to five years ago it was premium technology that was only available to select employees. That’s no longer the case.
“Voice used to be our sweet spot but we soon saw there was real opportunity in video and that was a key consideration for us to partner with Microsoft on it environments — Office 365, Outlook and Skype for Business.’’
Catering to the needs of the empowered workforce is not easy given that no single vendor can offer every collaboration service, or at least the premium experience, at the best price point.
Polycom’s open and standards-based strategy allows it to build a web of services and give its clients the best option.
According to Ms McDowell, the type of services available to organisations is evolving quickly: big data, virtual reality and facial recognition are already starting to embed themselves in conference rooms.
“Things like having an accelerometer in the room that starts the service as soon as a person enters the room, facial recognition to figure who needs to be on the call and using analytics to deliver greater efficiency in how resources are used, these things are going to make things even better.”
Polycom’s retreat from the public market, after a $2 billion takeover by private equity firm Siris Capital last year, has given the company a flexibility of sorts on plotting a long-term growth plan, one that takes emergent technologies into account.
Ms McDowell, a former Siris executive, said the move had been a liberating one for Polycom.
“We think going private has helped us build a better strategy. Short-termism can be dangerous and we can now target our investment more effectively,” she said.
There is, of course, a flip side to the so-called democratised workplace, which ends up forcing workers to be on all the time and feeds greater anxiety that remote working may leave them chasing the pack on promotions.
Ms McDowell said the onus was on organisations to set the right expectations.
“There has to be an understanding that the arrangements set by the organisations are fair and equitable; they need to deliver the best outcome for the business but also for the workers,” she said.
She said the flexible workplace idea did not translate the same way for every organisation.
There was a level of nuance required in scripting the policy that looked to leverage the best technology solutions available in the market.
“It’s never going to be a one size fits all approach on how offices will evolve in the future,” she said.
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