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5 New Unified Communications and Collaboration Features That Are Here to Stay

Written by: Holly Hronek

In today’s technology-based working environment, good communication and collaboration is absolutely crucial. Gartner has forecasted that global end-user spending on cloud-based web conferencing solutions will grow by over 20% in 2020. and there’s an expectation that new unified communications and collaboration features will be rolled out on an on-going basis. Companies like Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce have announced that their employees will be working from home for the long-term and will not be required to return to their offices until sometime in 2021.  

As the “new normal” of working from home continues, businesses are facing more challenges to employee productivity such as online user fatigue and communication productivity. Even after employees return to the office, global unified communications will still be a critical tool and the need for improved security will continue to become increasingly complex. These challenges have pushed leading unified communications and collaboration (UCC) platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to respond with new features and updates that will advance the effectiveness and efficiency of their platforms.   

Over the last year, the dramatic increase in UCC platform usage has distinguished the innovative leaders from the rest of the pack. Zoom and Microsoft Teams are prime examples of platforms that have continued to significantly improve their user experiences. In September and October of 2020 respectively, Microsoft and Zoom announced new unified communications and collaboration features and updates at their Microsoft Ignite and Zoomtopia conferences. 

We’ve outlined five new UC and collaboration trends and associated feature sets that are here to stay.   

unified communications updates

1. Custom and Immersive Virtual Meeting Layouts 

In our current state of working from home, user boredom and “Zoom fatigue” continues to increase. The once social environment of in-person meetings and office cubicles has been replaced by tiny one-dimensional faces and unengaged participants. Even for work environments that are largely in-person, meetings with external offices or companies can feel out of touch and impersonal. 

Because of this, high-quality, secure, and engaging video conferencing experiences are increasingly important for end-user productivity. Both Microsoft Teams and Zoom have developed new unified communications and collaboration features with the objective of creating an immersive, engaging, and collaborative meeting environment.  

Zoom’s new Immersive Scenes and Microsoft Teams’ Together Mode offer a set of background layouts that can be customized based on the goal of the meeting. Hosts will be able to create a virtual meeting space that places participants in themes like a classroom, coffee shop, auditorium, and more. Both platforms have also developed more complex features for viewing such as the ability for users to customize how their presentation content will be viewed by participants.  

Along with customized content viewing, breakout rooms are a great way for meetings to become more personal and interactive, as well as simulate the format of many in-person meetings. Zoom’s breakout rooms are getting an upgrade and will be accessible for webinars, encouraging networking and social engagement. Zoom is also including a debriefing room, similar to a breakout room, but exclusively for meeting hosts and panelists to discuss and collaborate postwebinar. 

2. Improved Data Security  with E2EE Encryption 

In today’s technological climate, online communications have become the mainstream and collaboration security and governance have come into the spotlight. Due to the shift to remote work, Wi-Fi endpoints have become infinite, and the security of confidential user and company information is frequently at risk. Just as technology has progressed, so have the skills and abilities of cyber hackers and security attacks. Whether employees are in-office or remote, it is crucial for companies to know that their file sharing and internal organization conversations can be kept secure. 

In the past, Zoom has been criticized for its failure to safely protect users and their privacy. Since then, Zoom has been developing a stronger security system; at Zoomtopia, they announced that they will be implementing end-to-end encryption (E2EE). 

E2EE allows for the end-user to be the only holder of cryptographic keys required to decrypt messages. This disables any third-party member from accessing and decrypting conversations, breaching users’ privacy. The meeting’s host generates encryption keys and distributes these keys to the other meeting participants through public-key cryptography, saving IT time and headaches. Meeting hosts are responsible for enabling E2EE settings, and participants will need to have the E2EE settings turned on in order to join. The downside to the use of E2EE is that certain features like recording and video calling will be disabled.  

 Microsoft Teams has also made updates to ensure better security. While Microsoft Teams already encrypts data and stores it in Microsoft datacenters, they are extending their own version of E2EE by enabling customers to use their own encryption for Teams. Microsoft Teams has also extended its Microsoft Graph API (Application Programming Interface) for Teams to include better access for data loss prevention and for Teams export.  

What’s the best platform for you — Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, or another? See how we stack them against each other.

3.  Upgraded SDKs for Third-Party Development 

As both Zoom and Microsoft features and usage become an increasingly large part of our daily routine, the ability to closely integrate parts of these products into other apps increases in importance. Both MSFT and Zoom have recognized this and continued to expand their investment in their respective SDKs (software development kits). 

Zoom’s expanded SDK offering includes meetings that can support up to 300 participants while maintaining high-quality performance. The new SDK options also include real-time enhancements such as in-session chat, screen-sharing, and streaming. Zoom is also including free features such as UI, session control, and 10,000 minutes per month of use. These features allow for flexibility and customization, increasing the overall effectiveness of UCC productivity. 

With the Microsoft Teams SDK, developers will have access to UI elements such as meeting tabs, an in-meeting side panel, and content notifications. Rosters, roles, and permissions will enable developers to build greater understandings of the context of their meetings. These features will provide end-users with an overall stronger understanding of meeting context and a more immersive meeting experience.  

collaboration features

4. Expanded App Integrations  for a Streamlined Workflow 

App integrations offer UCC platforms the ability to utilize their platforms as an application hub, so users never need to leave the platform in order to interact with other familiar apps. Zoom has announced the introduction of new Zoom Apps called Zapps. While Zoom Marketplace is focused on integrating Zoom with other applications, Zapps allows apps to be directly accessed within the Zoom application with just one click.  

Zoom has an extensive list of launch partners including Atlassian, Dropbox, Slack, Hubspot, Cameo, and more. These companies’ Zapps will allow for a more seamless work experience for end-users. IT administrators or end users can quickly streamline permissions, grant document accessibility, and collaborate on screen.  

Unlike Zoom, the Microsoft Teams environment already allowed for seamless integrations. However, not to be outdone, Microsoft Teams has also updated its own app integrations by adding some new functionality.

Although powered by already existing Microsoft 365 applications MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics, new updates to the integrations have been launched such as employee wellbeing and productivity insights. This app integration is Microsoft Teams endeavor to combat screen exhaustion and burn-out. Another app integration update includes Microsoft’s launch of a new home site for SharePoint, which can be pinned to Teams’ sidebar, giving users direct access to their organization’s intranet.  

Zoom and Microsoft Teams are not singlepurpose platforms. They both provide multiple uses such as file sharing, video recording, and live chat. With the further development of app integrations, end-users will continue to discover new unified communications and collaboration features outside of standard telephony calls and video conferencing.   

unified communications and collaboration features

5. Enhanced Platform Reporting and Dashboards 

As users host meetings over online video conferencing platforms, there are numerous factors that play into creating an effective and productive meeting environment. Zoom and Microsoft have both taken the impact of the current pandemic into consideration during the development of their new features. 

Zoom has enhanced its reporting to provide complex insights for both meetings with 100% remote participants and meetings with some or all participants in a space equipped with a room system. This dashboard can report measurements such as air quality, temperature, and the number of attendees that are in a room. 

Other dashboard and meeting room updates for Zoom include a virtual receptionist that users can engage with and a remote control system for admin control. These reporting and analytics updates mean that meeting organizers will have greater visibility of and control over the safety and security of their meetings. 

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As for Microsoft Teams, the new Spatial Analysis and Computer Vision features will be able to provide capacity alerts defined by IT administrators. This update means that Microsoft Teams will be able to detect the number of participants in a room and caution those participants of maximum room capacities and social distancing practices. Pandemic or not, these enhancements will still prove to be an asset as companies can use these features to track the utilization of meeting spaces, and as useful data for facility logistics and operations.  

Other new meeting reporting features in Microsoft Teams have put a heavy emphasis on improving productivity through the structure. Webinars have been a valuable tool for companies even before remote work normalized, allowing them to reach a wide range of audiences across the globe. Teams will soon introduce a detailed post-meeting reporting dashboard that will provide a better understanding of attendee engagement.  

While Zoom and Microsoft Teams provide direct reporting and insights dashboards, third-party software, such as PowerSuite, can provide an even deeper set of insights of your company’s UCC platforms. PowerSuite can not only superset most of the insights that one can get from the platform providers natively, but it can also visualize all the data in an aggregated mannertranslating data to be more comprehensible and relevant.  

Zoom Features

What Does the Future Look Like for UC?  

Although Microsoft Teams and Zoom are popularly known and used in unified communications, new companies are entering the market and others are advancing their platforms. Gartner Vice president Craig Roth said, digital workers turn to tools that are common in their personal lives to get work done . . . the use of such tools effectively blends workers’ personal experiences and their work experiences.” Our “new normal” will eventually just be considered the norm, and we will continue to see new UC and collaboration features as new challenges arise for companies and their end users 

These constant changes in UC and collaboration platforms can be a tangled mess to manage. However, there are platform usage and monitoring tools that can help make implementation of new UC features and monitoring workplace analytics simpler. Our PowerSuite software was developed to create a unified set of dashboards to surface actionable insights and help your company to monitor, analyze, and manage unified communications and collaboration platforms.  

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