MARKET | Jun 5, 2020

Smart Working yes, with the right tools and target-oriented work

What are the characteristics of videoconferencing tools for truly smart, smart working?

One of the things that have undergone a sudden acceleration due to the pandemic is undoubtedly the adoption of smart working by companies, for all professional figures compatible with this way of working.

Smart working does not mean, however, continuing to do the same things as before, with the same methods as previously, in a different place. Instead, it is a complete change of perspective in the employment relationship, which has an impact on the methods, times, internal processes of the organizations and on the tools that these make available to employees and collaborators.

What are the useful tools for smart working?

What is initially provided is almost always a videoconference platform, an essential tool to replace physical meetings with a virtual surrogate which must somehow lead to the same productivity results, albeit with all the limitations related to the complex chain consisting of hardware, software, connectivity and attention, whose links must always be adequate and well-functioning.

Another aspect not to be overlooked is so-called “Zoom fatigue”, a neologism invented by the international version of the “National Geographic” magazine and which basically highlights how the use (and particularly the abuse) of videoconferencing and virtual interaction systems can be extremely tiring for our brain, causing real fatigue due to the different type of communication and to the need to keep the level of attention constant and high, in a different and more intense manner than could be done during a normal conversation or a face-to-face meeting.

In order to make video conferencing platforms really effective in an organization, it is therefore necessary to identify the right ones according to the characteristics of the work groups which will use them and to obtain this result it is necessary to classify them through features which might not be taken for granted and that go beyond the simple request for stability and quality of its audio and video component.

Portability of the platform

A very useful classification consists in asking ourselves whether the platform in question can be transferred to several different platforms or whether it is bound to a specific type of device; it is clear that in some cases being able to use it on a PC, Mac, tablet and smartphone can be an advantage, but paradoxically in some cases the opposite may be required, i.e. the fact that the platform is able to work only on PC and Mac and that there are no specific apps for mobile devices. This makes sense in particular conditions when it is necessary to bind the user to using a specific device for security or confidentiality reasons.

Type of client

Another interesting classification concerns the availability or otherwise of a specific client to be used on the device, generally a PC or a Mac. In some cases we tend to prefer the presence of a dedicated client, this has hardware access benefits and allows a better level of communication protection, but on the other hand it forces users to search, download and install the right version of the client for their system, which at times may not be immediate. More advanced platforms have both modes of use, with or without clients, although platforms that exclusively offer one web-client are coming onto the market and therefore avoid that the user should have to obtain a specific software to install on his/her device.

Communication security

If we imagine having to shift online a confidential meeting where strictly confidential information, industrial secrets, company management or anything that we would not like to leave our “virtual room” might be discussed, it is clear that in these situations it is possible to accept a quality of communication which is not perfect, but we certainly cannot run the risk that the communication should somehow be intercepted and that its contents might be stolen or disclosed. However, it must be said that, regardless of the level of security offered by the platform, no one will ever be able to prevent one of the users from otherwise recording the conversation and then using it in a manner which is not consistent with the objectives of the organization.

Audio/video recording the conference

Many platforms offer the possibility of recording video conferences, in some cases the registration can only be done by the session administrator, in other cases it can also be done by some users. Although this is an often-requested feature, in some cases it is envisaged that the requirement should be exactly the opposite, i.e. the material impossibility of recording the communication. What has been said above is valid in this case too, there is no way to prevent one of the users from recording the conversation with alternative methods and outside the device which hosts the conference.

Native integration with work tools

As previously mentioned, the video conferencing platform is only one of the elements of a more complex smart working ecosystem which aims to make the user productive in different ways, times and places than traditional office work. It is therefore evident that a close integration with traditional work tools can become a fundamental element for obtaining good productivity. Think, for example, of native integration with the email system, calendar and office automation suite, or of even more advanced tools which allow you to exchange files on the fly, to work together on documents, on shared blackboards, on special creativity or design thinking tools, to participate in corporate social networks or advanced collaboration tools. In these cases, it is a matter of considering the complete suite as an actual working ecosystem, something which has undoubted advantages compared with the use of numerous platforms without a real integration between the various parts.

The virtual background

One of the features most requested by workers is the possibility of inserting a virtual background when framed by the camera to participate in a conference. This, which at first glance might seem superficial, is actually a very useful tool to ensure people’s privacy and to not expose their home environments to the sight of others. Not everyone has a magnificent mahogany bookcase full of classics and technical texts to show off as a background, in these cases therefore the availability of a virtual background can be an excellent solution.

What future for smart working?

The video conferencing platform market is in great turmoil thanks to the enormous growth in demand and to the need for companies to equip themselves with tools increasingly suited to their way of operating. A demand that is not destined to subside as soon as the emergency is over, because smart working, the real one, is a luxury which nobody will want to lose anymore. Of course, it is not all sunshine and roses and there are many things which can still be improved, but this is inevitable in a new way of operating that many still have to fully understand, but what is certain is that there will be no going back. Certainly in the short term, smart working will remain the preferred way of working for the more virtuous companies, and we must hope that this trend will remain so also for the future, given the countless advantages it brings.

Workers have understood that working from home can, with some exceptions, be an extraordinary opportunity to reclaim time previously destined to their home-work commute and that working on a target-oriented basis and not just chasing “time” can have extremely positive effects on people’s quality of life.

The more virtuous companies have understood that many of the trips which were previously considered indispensable can in fact be done without, obtaining the same results thanks to virtual meetings and that this has very significant impacts on the costs of the trips, but also on the costs of the workstations in company offices. As a positive side effect, there is also the non-negligible environmental effect, fewer people traveling also means less pollution and this is undoubtedly a non-negligible factor, but it also means less traffic for those who must necessarily move.

So, let there be smart working then! With the right tools and with an objective-based work management. In short, truly “smart” working.

Massimo Canducci