Insights From Zachary Comeau, Host of MyTech Decisions Podcast
As we head (quickly!) into 2021, we’re taking time to reflect on what we saw as hybrid work environments evolved over the past year and what’s to come this year. To hear more, we’ve been meeting with tech industry experts to get their take on what’s resonating with readers and what they expect to see in 2021.
We recently spoke to Zachary Comeau – associate editor of My TechDecisions, Commercial Integrator, and host of the My TechDecisions Podcast – about how his reporting has been influenced by the pandemic, trends in the collaboration tools space, and how tech is enabling the new hybrid working model.
Check out our conversation below!
Q: Zach, this past year led to changes across the workforce. How has the pandemic influenced your reporting in 2020?
Nearly everything I’ve written for the past nine months has a COVID-19 angle. The pandemic has had such an impact on organizations that I think it’s my duty as a journalist – particularly at a trade publication – to help our audience and our partners navigate these times. Remote work was already trending up before the pandemic, but companies have had to accelerate their technology investments and move up their timelines several years.
I think tech providers and their customers are learning about the intricacies of remote and hybrid work as we go, so I and others who are tasked with covering this unprecedented change in the professional world have to be equally nimble as this situation unfolds. Back in March, the conversation was “How do we adapt to remote work enough that we can survive for a few weeks?” That changed when we realized the virus wasn’t going away anytime soon. The prevailing theme is that we’ll continue to support remote work in a hybrid work environment in some return to the office while others continue working at home, but workers can come and go as they please. This is largely dependent on how successful a recovery is from a health and economic standpoint, so folks in tech media will have to continue to be on top of these trends.
Q: What collaboration topics are resonating with you and your readers most?
In the spring, people were just starting to get familiar with the likes of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and other videoconferencing platforms. Now, I think people are looking for deeper integrations between these platforms and their other tools.
With vaccines in distribution, companies are now thinking about a return to the office, so these platforms need to find a way to help support a hybrid work strategy. Research has shown that a lot of people like working from home, and some industry leaders like Google are embracing this strategy for their own workers. This will necessitate some tools that will help make the workforce more mobile and fluid while not compromising the quality of in-office tech. And as this way of working proves to be part of the next normal, collaboration providers will need to prove that their solutions are secure if we are truly to adopt them for long-term use.
Q: What was the greatest “aha” reporting moment that you experienced in 2020?
In January and February [of 2020] when the U.S. was still largely COVID-free, I heard from some in the industry that collaboration tools like videoconferencing would soon become a must-have, and it did shortly after. Employees were sent home to work, in many cases with just their laptops and other accessories they could grab from the office. I think we all quickly learned that the built-in microphones and cameras on our laptops weren’t meant to support our primary method of communication. That’s why in March, webcams, headsets, external microphones and other such devices were impossible to find in consumer markets. Like many others, I found this out the hard way. Most companies weren’t prepared for this. Back in the spring, the idea was that we’d hunker down for a few weeks and work from our kitchen table on our laptops, but we were obviously wrong. Now, IT departments should be at least thinking about how to better equip remote workers with the hardware they need to be effective.
Q: What are your predictions for the collaboration technology market in 2021?
There are so many collaboration apps, platforms and services in the market right now, and I think it would behoove the industry to develop solutions that help these platforms coexist.
I also think that as more companies consider a hybrid work strategy and making part-time remote work a part of the culture, they’ll need to think about asynchronous collaboration. We’ve learned that working from home has its benefits, but there are also distractions and it can be difficult to get everyone moving in the same direction simultaneously. Collaboration industry leaders are realizing that and will build more asynchronous collaboration tools into their platforms.
As I mentioned before, organizations will have to start doing more to support their remote workers if they are to adopt a hybrid work model. The industry should follow suit and develop more collaboration solutions that can support workers regardless of where they are.
Q: What’s one interesting thing you’ve seen a brand do in the collaboration space as a result of COVID-19?
Not just one brand, but I think the tech industry overall has realized that working from home can be a challenge, so they’re injecting some fun into their products. Some love working from home for the convenience, short commute, and flexibility, but working just feet from where we spend time with our families can be difficult.
If you’ve ever been on a video call and your pets or family members came into the room and disrupted the call, you know that our work lives and personal lives are becoming more intertwined. Maybe you’ve wrapped up a late-afternoon call or project while preparing dinner for the family. I think the mixing of these two very different worlds has been noticed by the tech industry, and we’re seeing companies inject some fun into these platforms.
Early on, making your background a funny picture was the joke of the century. Working from home can be isolating for some, so I think this is a way to bring some of the levity we’d normally see in some offices to the virtual workplace. More recently, these platforms are blurring the lines between work and play by expanding access to their services around the holidays so we can all see our families while continuing to socially distance. I think we’ll need more of this to get through the next few months until we’re all allowed to come outside and hang out again.
Great chatting, Zachary! For more insights from our series of conversations, check out our recent discussion with Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, about trends in networking, collaboration tools and AI.