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The emerging face of remote interactive collaboration in the post COVID-19 era

June 2 2020
by Raul Castanon-Martinez


Introduction


The COVID-19 outbreak and the sudden need to support a distributed workforce with employees working from home during the quarantine has placed the spotlight on enterprise collaboration and communications. Our Digital Pulse, Coronavirus Flash survey (March 2020) shows that in the early days of the outbreak, the top priorities for IT decision-makers in response to the pandemic were employee communications and collaboration (43%) and mobile devices and services (37%).

Although still evolving, the crisis will likely have long-term impacts for how organizations plan and execute work, with flexible work arrangements becoming permanent for a substantial number of employees. In this report, we profile seven vendors – Around, Klaxoon, Leverice, Loom, Remotion, Workplace from Facebook and Yac – that have innovative approaches for addressing the requirements of a distributed workforce with real-time and asynchronous interactive team collaboration.

The 451 Take

Three months into the COVID-19 shutdown, there is increased pressure to reopen the economy. Even as businesses reopen, we expect that remote work will continue to be relevant for a substantial number of organizations and employees. Furthermore, as we transition into the post COVID-19 workplace, social distancing will be a key factor, influencing enterprise collaboration and expanding beyond real-time voice and video with leading-edge technologies that enable real-time and asynchronous virtual interactions.

COVID-19 is accelerating the shift to interactive team collaboration


451 Research recently published a report looking at the long-lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on workforce productivity, including trends such as the explosive growth of video communications, the growing adoption of collaborative workspaces, and the mainstreaming of augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR).

These trends signal a shift to interactive team collaboration, an emerging approach that brings together data, documents, workflows and applications into a virtual workspace, enabling employees to interact and work together asynchronously and in real time, regardless of their location.

Video is the most visible example of how this shift is accelerating, with vendors reporting an unprecedented surge in demand during the COVID-19 quarantine. In April, video collaboration SaaS Zoom surpassed 300 million daily Zoom meeting participants, a significant jump from the 10 million it reported in December 2019.

Similarly, Cisco reported that in February, it experienced 22 times the amount of network traffic per second it normally gets for its WebEx service from users in China. Other vendors – including Google Cloud, Fuze, RingCentral, Slack and Workplace from Facebook – have also reported a significant spike in demand in this period.

Emerging players


The shift to interactive team collaboration was already under way prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, with several vendors announcing product updates centered on video collaboration and workflow integrations in the past year. These include new video products from 8x8, Mitel, RingCentral and Vonage, and updates to the user experience in products such as RingCentral Office and Slack (as shown in Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1: Product updates pre COVID-19 signal a shift to interactive team collaboration. 451 Research

Real-time video collaboration is a core capability for interactive team collaboration, but it's just one piece of the puzzle. Innovations such as collaborative workspaces and AR/VR emerged in the past five years with vendors such as Klaxoon and Workplace from Facebook. When it comes to asynchronous voice and video communications, there are several startups that exemplify different approaches (as shown in Figure 2).

Figure 2: Emerging workplace collaboration vendors Figure 2: Emerging workplace collaboration vendors

Company

Year founded

Category

Funding

Around

2019

Voice and video

$5.2m

Leverice

2018

Messaging

$600,000

Loom

2016

Voice and video

$73m

Remotion

2019

Voice and video

n/a

Yac

2019

Voice

$1.5m

451 Research

Klaxoon provides team collaboration tools and applications that aim to make meetings more efficient and productive, bringing together best practices in education, agile methods, design thinking and visual management. Its approach is based on an online platform that is accessible from any connected device, providing tools and applications to manage and enhance meeting activities, including timekeeping, brainstorming and interactive features such as surveys, polls, quizzes, gamified challenges and visualization tools.

To further drive employee engagement and create an immersive space, it leverages capabilities in MeetingBoard, an interactive digital whiteboard, and the Klaxoon Box, which enables a self-contained environment with a closed Wi-Fi network to help participants focus on the task at hand. The platform also provides integration to Dropbox for file sharing and to Microsoft Teams, with real-time suggestions during brainstorming sessions for actions such as organizing a meeting or creating a task.

Launched in 2015 and based in Rennes, France, Klaxoon has grown rapidly and is currently deployed by millions of users in over 120 countries. Named clients include well-known global companies such as Accenture, Disneyland, L'Oréal, Marriott, Nestlé, Sealed Air, Schneider Electric and Verizon.

Facebook recently announced several product updates encompassing the Facebook App, Portal and Oculus for Business that highlight how Workplace, its enterprise communication and collaboration platform launched in 2016, is expanding with new capabilities for video and remote presence. These include Workplace Rooms, a video collaboration offering that provides an easy way to host both planned and spontaneous video meetings from desktop, mobile or the Workplace app on Portal, which is a line of smart displays that feature a built-in camera that automatically tracks user movement.

Facebook also announced general availability of Oculus for Business, which builds on its 2014 acquisition of Oculus, now a division within Facebook that specializes in VR hardware and software products. Oculus for Business supports large-scale VR deployments in corporate environments built on Workplace, including immersive training and remote collaboration use cases.

Workplace boasts impressive growth less than four years after launch. The company recently reported it grew to over five million paid customers in Q1, an increase of two million from October 2019. It also recently announced new customers that include large global corporations such as Adeo, British Sugar, Compass, Petco, Sephora and Virgin Australia.

Around is a group video call platform that automatically crops video streams of workers into floating head circles that are grouped as an overlay, leaving most of the user's screen visible. It uses AI-based camera framing to detect participants' heads and cut out their backgrounds. It also automatically mutes background noise to avoid distractions. It is available as a desktop app for Windows, Mac, Linux and on the web.

Leverice is a team messaging tool built around asynchronous communications. It aims to address the issue of 'always on' information overload, which has grown increasingly challenging with the use of real-time collaboration. The app allows users to organize content into nested subchannels, enabling them to easily navigate messaging flow without the need to check every thread. This shifts team messaging to a topic-centered approach (i.e., What am I talking about?) rather than a person-centered approach (i.e., Who do I need to ping about this?).

Other key features include a whiteboard that allows users to collaborate or brainstorm within the app, a Jira integration for managing tasks, and an integration to videoconferencing SaaS Zoom that allows users to launch meetings directly within any layer of the channel tree.

The screen recording tool allows users to share short videos of their screen or an app, alongside an accompanying video of the speaker that can be accessed at any time. It aims to provide an easy way to relay information or provide project feedback without having to send an email or instant message, or schedule an actual meeting. Use cases include training, internal communications and customer support. The startup recently closed a $28.75m second series B, led by Sequoia Capital and Coatue.

Remotion is a desktop app that displays a 'short list' with team members' selfies showing their availability. It allows users to easily jump into a quick 'lightweight' video chat with their coworkers.

Yac is a voice messaging platform that enables remote teams to engage and collaborate with each other without the hassle of meetings. It enables asynchronous communication, allowing users to share messages with other team members within the app or by sending them to Slack. It also provides transcriptions of their voice messages within the Yac app.

Conclusions: 'Getting work done' is the new mantra


A common theme among the vendors profiled in this report is a strong focus on productivity, expanding workplace collaboration beyond real-time group discussions and enabling team members to collaborate asynchronously on shared tasks. This has been a gap in the collaboration and communications space, with vendors typically focused on real-time voice and video communications.

This could also be an important differentiation: according to 451 Research's WPC Work Execution Goals & Challenges 2020 (May 2020), one in three (31%) respondents struggle with finding time to collaborate with others. Real-time collaboration will continue to be relevant, but it will be enhanced with capabilities such as pervasive low-level interactions and continuous video feeds connecting team members throughout the day, and allowing the option to switch between real-time and asynchronous collaboration.