VC Daily’s ongoing Future of Video Conferencing interview series reveals how the industry’s leading thinkers see the technology shaping the way we work, socialize, and experience the world around us in the decades to come.
In this installment, we speak with Markus P. Keller, founder and CEO of Microsoft Premier Support Partner, UC Point. Keller sees a future workforce dominated by telecommuting employees, with 75% of us working remotely.
VC Daily: Microsoft last year launched user-friendly Skype Room Systems. How will these mobile hubs aimed at non-IT experts impact the future of corporate video conferencing?
Keller: Video conferencing will soon become a routine part of the average business day, if it hasn’t already. Skype Room Systems extends Skype’s easy-to-use format to the meeting room. To appreciate it, you have to remember what video conferencing was like in the past. Just a few years ago I attended the first big video conference in Dubai. There was a video link to Abu Dhabi, and it was mandatory that two technicians from either side be in the rooms 30 minutes before the meeting began just to prepare everything, because the managers were not able to operate the technology. If you compare that with the do-it-yourself approach of Skype Room Systems, you can see how the focus of the whole meeting shifts to the content of the call, to the message. It simplifies the deployment of those rooms, and establishes mobile workforces and content collaboration.
VC Daily: As video conferencing becomes a routine part of how a business communicates, as you said, it makes telecommuting more practical. How do businesses benefit from remote workers?
Keller: There are a range of benefits. Firstly, it increases the productivity of employees. Then there are other benefits like lowering a company’s carbon footprint, reducing office rent, reducing travel expenses and lost time, and it improves work-life balance because you don’t have to commute back and forth.
One very strong advantage is the ease of collaboration around the globe. People in the U.S. can collaborate with Asia and with Europe with just one click, which extends business opportunities because it’s so easy to connect with others.
VC Daily: With those advantages in mind, what percentage of the U.S. workforce do you think will be full-time telecommuters in 10 years? In 20?
Keller: In the past decade, the amount of remote workers has increased dramatically. Of course the younger generation, the digital natives, like it. They are used to leveraging their iPads, tablets, and phones, and they are looking for ways to connect with others. They’re looking for an employer that can provide a digital workplace.
Our own company is about 98% remote. The rest of the business world isn’t there yet, but my guess is that in 10 years we will have about 50% of office employees working remotely. That will be even higher in the following decade. I could see 75% of people telecommuting in 20 years.
VC Daily: If telecommuting becomes that popular, what will the home office of the future look like?
Keller: The employee will become the office, and the office will go where the employee goes. The technology is already with us, and I think that is the future of the workforce. We’ll use every tool that leverages communication and collaboration, like Skype for Business, Slack, and others, to really help the home office.
VC Daily: What aspect of current video conferencing technology or practice needs to improve to accommodate increased telecommuting?
Keller: One very important aspect, in my opinion, is the ability to easily start and join a video conferencing meeting, regardless of whether it’s from desktop or an immersive telepresence device. Most of these systems in use today require at least 5 or 10 minutes of battling cables and figuring out passwords; the ease of use is just not there.
In a perfect world, we would use a single common platform and one OS, but in reality we have several platforms from several vendors like Microsoft, Amazon, and others, so the challenge is to interconnect these platforms. What we expect from the technology is the ability to collaborate and connect regardless of the platform and focus on the content rather than worrying about interconnectivity issues.
VC Daily: In keeping with the theme of remote staff and global connections, what impact are cloud-based video conferencing services having on on-premises setups?
Keller: With cloud vs on-premise, every situation is different, and the pros and cons are based on the individual need of an enterprise. One common issue we’ve found is users working with cloud servers don’t appreciate that all video conferences need enough bandwidth to make a meeting effective, especially as the trend is moving toward using a higher resolution display, 4k video, etc. The challenge then becomes making sure a company has the right infrastructure.
Despite that, I think we will see more and more companies going to the cloud because the business doesn’t have to worry about their own IT infrastructure. A big move away from on-premises video conferencing won’t happen in the next year or two, though, it’ll take a lot longer than that. Before that, we will see a fast growth in hybrid systems, meaning cloud and on-premise infrastructure.
VC Daily: What security changes will we see in cloud computing? Will biometric security, such as facial recognition, become more common?
Keller: This is a very interesting question. Biometric security will of course become more and more common as the technology evolves and becomes easier to use, but again this will take some time.
The biggest trend we’ve identified is rights management. This allows users to define what is allowed to be seen and shared from the cloud, and provides an expiry date for these sensitive materials. What we’ll see is identity management and the use of dynamic passwords and dynamic codes. In the future, when you enter a video conference, or even when you set up a conference, it will be protected by individual codes that cover that particular meeting, so after a certain time you won’t be able to access it anymore. For instance, 30 minutes after the start of a video conference, people will no longer be able to use those unique codes, or misuse the conference.
For more from our Future of Video Conferencing series, see our interviews with QSC product manager Mike Brandes, Gadfly CEO Scott Kraft, venture capitalist Josh Breinlinger, Blue Microphones CEO John Maier, and video marketing guru Matthew Gielen.