COVID-19 has become a global orientation session for remote working and opened the eyes of many to the benefits of working from home. Likely to become a regular practice, will organizations embrace this new hybrid worker? And how can they make it work?

Mitel CMO David Silke sits down with Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst of ZK Research, to explore the technologies and practices that will support the emerging hybrid worker.



Here's a transcription of the video:

Zeus Kerravala joins us today from ZK Research. Zeus you were very kind to have an open conversation with myself around all the things that are happening in this mad crazy world that we're in right now so you know you're our first ever person to be interviewed for this podcast so you should take that as a famous moment in your life. Wow, of course. You've had a long relationship with Mitel that people watching may not necessarily know what you do or what ZK Research does. Maybe you might give us a couple of minutes just on what it is that you focus on.

Yeah, sure. So I'm a, I'm one of many independent industry analysts. I've been doing this about 10 years now, before that I was chief research officer at Yankee Group where I was there for about 11 years and before that actually I have a different background than most industry analysts, so I was actually in corporate IT.

I was at Avaro also, we tried, we were one of the first people to try and do a broad scale voiceover frame relay deployment so that was before VoIP. We tried holler over IP. And at the time nobody even knew what hoot and holler was right but that's a pretty big occupation in financial services. Now as an analyst, most analysts have a coverage area that they live in die with the rest of their life. And I look at the world a little differently I focus on technologies that are in transition and it's been my belief that when you look at the world of technology, market share changes when markets transition right so example uses the VMware way back in the day had decided if we build a server, nobody would have bought a physical server for VMware because we had a compact HP IBM, but they caught that transition to virtualization and so even within the unified communications space.

Five, six years ago I didn't really look at contact center because there wasn't a whole lot going on. And but now it's moving to the cloud. So it's gotten kind of interesting. The video space had gotten really boring because there was nothing going on in video, but now that has gone to online meetings and become part of the integrated software stacks, has got more interesting, right the whole shift to cloud and so that the communication space has ever imploded and the great thing is it's constantly innovating but my coverage area tends to change based on where the market transitions are, wasn't it was quite interesting that maybe three or four months ago people would have said that, you know, unified comms and collaboration was kind of, you know, wasn't that important anymore and all of a sudden it's a top of everyone.

Yeah, it was getting a little boring to cover again that you know the vendor landscape had started to settle itself out but now there's been more activist and some acquisition lots of innovation.

You know there's some big name companies in it as well as some smaller innovative companies and you know from within this COVID area from a home work from perspective, this this is an incredibly important tool right. I heard somebody use the expression digital proximity the other day, right, so we're socially distancing one another. And because of that we need to create digital proximity with one another, how do you do that right? You do that by using tools like this, so it allows us to be more—keep in touch with people, be more personal with people. And could you imagine if we didn't have video and we were trying to do these over audio-only calls, it would be a miserable life right now, wouldn’t it?

What are you in general just seeing as a response to the questions that are getting asked from, you know, the likes of Mitel or vendors or customers around COVID-19, just in general? What are you hearing and has the tone of the questions or the subject of the questions changed over the last weeks or month?

Yeah, I think initially it was how do we respond to COVID. How many people should we are working with home? And it wound up being everybody, for a lot of companies. I think the questions now are more focused on, when do you think this is going to end then we go back to work? And how do we do that, and that tends to vary a lot. You know I live in the US and we don't have a national policy on this at all right. The federal government gives a guidelines, but then each state has their own thing and even within that each county does their own thing, so maybe we have counties in certain states where restaurants are open and we've got other ones we can go to the beach. Right, so I think there's not going to be a unified everybody-go-back-to-work-at-once; it's going to come in phases. And I am, I do think what the world's gonna look like down in a year or two, we're going to be in this for a long time Dave, and work from home it's here to stay. I don't think everybody is going to work from home forever, but I think it'll look a lot like it was when you and I were in college or university, right where we did a lot homework at home. We did a lot of studying and books at home, and then we went to the campus to go meet with people. We picked the flexible, we pick the place to go work at and I think offices will look a lot like that. Flexible workspaces will become the norm, we'll have more video systems built up around, so people can have ad hoc meetings, but the kind of schedule regimented office place where everybody sits in a cube. I think we're years from having that back./p>

And it's a fascinating subject and conversation and I know when we spoke a couple weeks ago we talked a lot about the hybrid worker, the hybrid workplace or space. I'm interested in your view on that in a moment but in your, you talk about the digital proximity and this change to whatever this next normal is going to be, any ideas in terms of how you see that sequence out? I mean, people will go back. Just give me an idea of conversations that you have how you think it'll play out.

Well, that again varies by the company right. There are some. And I think the commonality that I'm hearing is people that don't have to be in the office won't be for a long time. So Mark Zuckerberg actually talked about this on Facebook, and he said every one of his employees can work from home, and they're not going to have anybody back until 2021 at the earliest. But he thinks that you know when you think about the infrastructure that we have the load we put on things on highways and on office spaces, there'll be one of the last companies to bring people back to the office they want, they don't want to. If they go back and people get sick, then it's gonna overwhelm the hospitals so you know you have to think about all those things together right and so that's an example of a company, Mitel probably as well. You don't have to have people in the office you'd like to be one of the last, I think when you do start returning I've heard people talk about having people come back one day a week or two days a week have people working office in the shifts. Right. Have people doing morning shift afternoon shift things like that. The difficulty with that though becomes, how do you make sure the workspaces are cleaned and sanitized, if you have a morning crew and an afternoon crew? That means somebody has to come in in the middle and sanitize it. I was just talking with one of the industry analyst colleagues and he was joking that you'd have a mint on your desk with a little card that says yeah your office space has been sanitized for use or something. So all those things are, in some ways, or are valid but I think you're not going to see everybody in the opposite once it's going to be some sort of staged approach and how that happens depends on the company. But I think you are likely to see the, the one to two day a week that did the difficulty with that because I've talked to some companies that are trying avoid layoffs they've furloughed employees, where everybody does four days a week, but not everyone at the same four days and so even scheduling meetings within that becomes complicated ― that I'm a Wednesday off person you're a Thursday off person so that we can't do a meeting on Wednesday or Thursday. Right, and so that this is, it's gonna take more management, and we're going to rely on our digital tools to help us automate workflows and things like that to build and navigate complexity.

And indeed maybe it';s too generic question but do you think if you know if I'm the IT decision maker in an enterprise today again obviously depends on the vertical or the sector that you're in, but what are they thinking? Are they trying to you know roadmap it out in their own head said look we got to make sure it's safe and the environment is acceptable, first of all? But there's got to be a million things going through their heads in terms of getting it ready for what the hybrid environment will be.

Yeah, I think, from an IT perspective there's a lot of focus on how technology has enabled us, right. I think it's a, it's a real challenge right. You have to think about security issues with physical security and electronic security. I think also the how and when people work, how you track people there's been more. How many times before COVID did you ever heard the term contact crazy? Yeah, right. And now you hear it all the time right; companies want to be able to do that themselves. So if an employee is found to have COVID then you can actually track where they went around the company who they met with and quarantine those people and things. So there's I think IT is going to swallow a whole bunch of new technology they never had used before. The other part, Dave, and this can't really be underestimated, is the critical infrastructure that a lot of us have isn't there. I talked to a schoolteacher about this the other day who lives in one of the poorer neighborhoods in Massachusetts. And, you know, a lot of those kids don't have good internet access. Right. And so you're trying to bring video-based services into hospitals. I saw this roundtable about a company that services prisons right there's not a lot of video and those things are, you know, being used, but they want to be able to use tele-justice. And so everything from network to security to the application stack, all the stuff has to work together in order for us to be able to have a flexible work style, and this is probably the biggest technology transition I've seen since Y2K in my career. There hasn't been anything like this and at least Y2K had a definitive date that we're working towards. Here we're really, a lot of known unknowns, or a lot of unknown unknowns. And there's no timescale, right, there's no definitive, you know. It will happen on day X because something has already happened and I think what we're certainly the reaction we've seen from most of our customers has been an initial look I get me working from home. Make sure that I can continue to be productive and my employees can continue to work. I want to be able to serve my customer. But more and more of the questions I'm interested in, if you're hearing something similar, are: hey the quality of service has to be there and the security has to be there. I do now need to consider how I integrate all of these things I never really thought about before into, not just the communications infrastructure, but just a, an infrastructure a hybrid infrastructure, in terms of how am I going to manage all of the devices all the people all the safety?

And then that's going to be a real challenge.

Even the, even the aspects of security right there's been so much focus on security because of COVID. Right, some of your vendor peers, I know, I always caution you guys not throw stones at each other because you don't know when it's gonna happen to you right, but this is something as an industry, the communication industry really, the buyers ignored security. It just the whole concept of what could happen if we were able to pull frauds and things like that were very remote. But, you know, the Zoom bombing effect that's been happening and, you know, it did sort of raise an awareness of that you need to focus on security. And I think in some ways it's been good because it's created an awareness across the entire industry and I'm hoping you and your counterparts. You and the vendors work together to actually create some standards and create better interoperability to make sure people are secure because we're going to say we're using these to infer very sensitive applications now talking to my bank or talking to lawyers talking to doctors, then we really can't afford a breach. There are so many different multiple handoffs now that you may not necessarily have had in the past so it just opens it up to, unfortunately, all sorts of negative possibilities. Yeah. And actually it's in some ways it's shifted the balance of power with an IT as well, it's fair to say. So my background is networking communications, right. I did spend a bit of time as CIO I think it's fair to say that networking communications have always been the ugly stepchild of the IT department; people love the apps. People love, even the server operation schemes and things like that, but network communications is something that's been largely ignored. That's the thing that's binding our society. If we don't have good internet access, good communication tools, we don't have a society where we can all stay in touch with one another and so the companies that are now, for the first time in a long time, actually at a strategic level rethinking what they're doing with networking. What they're doing communications and that's what's not something I've really ever seen before. Here we in Mitel we feel that we were playing a very important role in a gap that's emerged, and the gap is really, you know, we all yearn for the same thing which is reconnecting the physical reconnection with people or the experience of the things that we used to enjoy.

In the interim, or in the absence of that, we feel we have a very important role to continue that ability to connect. So this conference, or this call. As an example, how we would communicate with our friends and our workers is so, so, so important.

And then that gap, which, you know, you could describe as you know is it an interim gap or is it something that's going to just become part of everything that we do. We do really feel that it's emerged very quickly. It's something that we've been, you know, honored to fill.

But I'm also interested that you used the words, "digital proximity", and how will you feel that over the next period of months and years, we balanced how we connect people virtually, how we connect people through the hybrid workforce. But also we keep in mind the personality of the person or the behavior and how that's going to, how that's going to change, so again interested in your view on how you see the dynamics of how we interact with each other, communicate with each other at changing it in a world that we can't even predict.

Yeah, I think we're gonna see a lot of innovation. Rocky's communications tools blows through that, Dave, I think right now. You and I are very comfortable using tools like this right; we use it all the time.

But when you, when you think of the world at large, the majority of people have never worked from home. And they've never used online meeting tools right and so how to behave, how to act, you know, things like that, just aren't natural to a lot of people so even to the point of having like a raised hand button, right or something like that lets people get in the queue to ask questions and the way you behave in a three-person meeting is different than the way you behave in a company meeting, right. And so you think about the, I think where the innovation from companies like yourself needs to be is thinking about those different use cases. And so if I was in a physical meeting with five people, and I had something to say I might just interrupt and say it, if I'm in a company meeting. I'm probably not going to interrupt the person, giving the speech I may put my hand up or wait for Q&A. And we haven't gotten to in the workplaces is a good set of rules for the different types of virtual meetings that you're in, and how to act in those and how to ask questions and how to go drill down on things and so I think there are a lot of words coming. In fact I had a discussion with the HR rep from a pretty large company, and she was in that company meetings they used to do were very produced right. The execs would rehearse the content, right, and they do it once a month. Now they're doing them weekly production time. And so there are a lot more ad hoc and they're finding the employees tend like that more can, yeah, comes across right more authentic and it's believable. Keep that in place, so I think we're learning a whole lot more about our employees and workers and even each other than we didn't know before and in some ways I think it's given us COVID while it's not a good thing it's given us a chance to reset as a society, and understand what's important what's not important right, we're all in this together. And we're going to come out of this together.

Yeah, I'm a firm believer in the ingenuity of people. I am a believer, and I have a huge amount of hope in creativity, and I don't mean that just in terms of technical creativity but people's creativity in terms of how we learn to interact with each other in in a different in a different means I think one of the, one of the really interesting things has been learning how to, how to do this you know how do I have a conversation that's personable that's warm, that is emotive in a, in a digital setting, whereas you know maybe you and me would have sat together and had a beer someplace and you know would form that bond. So it's quite interesting to, you know, and I'd really like your perspective on that, as you know, in your own world. Like have you noticed your own behaviors changing in terms of how you've had to adapt to the technology or the conversations or the people or what have you see?

I've used these tools a long time. So, I don't know how much I've adapted I have seen more use of it right people now want to do virtual cocktail parties or even if you want to talk about the NFL draft that happened with a buddy you do that over meetings. I think one of the interesting aspects of Dave is that the meeting tool has become a lot more common than the phone call. And so I do think when we get back to the world as normal people are gonna travel, I think they will come back to the office. Think conferences coming back, think sporting events are coming back. But I do think meetings like this will replace phone calls and you know where before. In fact I don't remember the last time I just did a call.

Almost everything I do is a video-based meeting and so now.

That is the one thing I've noticed that people that used to never ever do video-based meetings are now doing video-based meetings. And so I tend to get better attention span and things like that, so that's one of the long-lasting effects from this is I think video replaces calls. I think John Chambers, when he was CEO of Cisco, he's always talking about video being the new voice and that never really manifested itself, but I think we're actually seeing that.

Yeah I wonder, I think you'll find different places and different uses for different things. I know at the end of the day, maybe we have to do an eight or nine hours of video calls quite well. Maybe I don't want a phone call, but I still enjoy that personal connection of a phone call to a friend to sit down and you know just have a chat. Obviously I want to do it in person, but also be conscious of the personality of the individual, because not everybody would want that, especially in a larger group environment that in-person face-to-face experience all the time. Because it can be exhausting right, so I think it would be interesting balance in terms of how we adapt.

Well I think people are more comfortable not being on all the time and so I did notice that you know that when the COVID first started everybody made sure that they have a jacket on or makeup on. It's things like that, you know, and now you know I'll hop on video and I'll do my call and then I'll hop off and it's no different than just being in the office if I got a meeting I need to run into. I don't go look for my suit jacket. I just go to the meeting right and things like that so I think people are getting more comfortable with it and, you're right, there's, you don't have to be on as much as but you do need to talk to the person I think being able to maintain eye contact. See body language actually adds a lot to it. So, yeah, just as a final question and you know it's a, it's a fascinating discussion.

Give me an idea, what do you what do you think technology wise, we're likely to see happen or change maybe 6, 12, 18 months down the line? Do you think that there will be some form of different immersive experience maybe that's longer that's years away? Do you see anything significantly changing?

I do, actually, I think. First of all, the meeting type platform we are on is great for this, right, we're having a nice conversation. But I think for a lot of verticals.

The process of having to upload content download content things like switch speakers is actually a little bit onerous and so for healthcare, education, legal things like that. I think you'll start seeing more video embedded into the apps that we already use so I've written about this for years and years and years. People don't want more stuff on the desktop, they want more features in the apps they use. And so if I got a healthcare app and I'm a doctor, let me talk to the person and be able to share the content, look at the content and same time instead of switching back and forth, right. So I think you will see video APIs with a lot more common list.

I also think that you will see augmented reality and virtual reality or mixed mode, become more widely used as well. I think one thing that will help that is 5G and Wi-Fi 6, we can't really untethered VR today from a wired headset because the bandwidth considerations are too great. Once I can drop a 5G SIM into a VR headset. Now if I want to be able to recruit an employee and have them learn what it's like to live a day at this company, maybe send them or they have they have VR goggles – let them actually immerse themselves and then experience, right. Where I see augmented reality helping make this right so I can see here it says, "David Silke". So if I'm in a meeting with 10 people, I can remember people's names where if you go to a live meeting and meet 10 people, you never remember their name. Now, it doesn't say. Maybe I forgot you're the CMO, right? I'd want to know your title; that could be on there, and then down the road, maybe this is for 18 months. There's no reason why if I mentioned in a No Jitter article that I wrote on virtual reality in your workplace, why that link can pop on the pop up on the screen and you click it or download or something like that, so there's more and more features coming. I think eventually the video-based meeting will allow us to do more than in-person meetings and the analogy of use for that is when you think about if you're in.

If you're watching soccer on TV or are watching football here in the US, I generally have a better experience because I get a lot more feedback as to what's going on, right? And the on NFL telecast they superimpose things on the field. And so, what if I can bring that experience to the office until I start superimposing content on and things like that? Now all of a sudden, the in-person isn't as good. Then the question is, how do I improve the in-person experience? Well, I've got to create a kind of a mixed environment. And I think that's, it's kind of exciting to see what's going on because I think that what's happening with COVID has been driving innovation in ways we've never seen because now we need to have it.

Yeah, I think you'll move to a world where you know, we tend to look at communications and collaboration from a vendor like, Mitel and say okay serve in particular verticals need versus looking at it in. How does that become integrated in some immersive experience like entertainment or sports, so you look at the fan and, you know, we have a rich history, in terms of baseball and football.

I do think that that experience will be completely redefined, and it has to become more immersive. I think your example very well said in terms of if I'm sitting here watching a football game or a soccer match.

I have all sorts of possibilities to immerse myself in the game, and to be involved, and to be engaged, that I really wouldn't be able to if I was in the physical watching it. Although maybe you could argue that you're going to have a mobile and you'd be able to do stuff like that. So I completely concur: I think that the immersive experience will become so much more prevalent than it is today.

I think the other interesting aspect to watch for is what I call UC IoT, and people watching this one of the go-to search that No Jitter, I wrote some on it a little while ago, based largely off Giving Machines a Voice For Dummies, a book that I wrote in conjunction with Mitel. The Dummies book, but that's the concept that we interact with things a lot more right so I have largely been about machines talking to machines and UC has been about people talking to people. Well, the amount of information that machines give off now is enormous and the amount of information people have is enormous as well, so machines and people can interact with each other. And you already see them a few verticals, but that'll come commonplace. I think the ability to take communication tools and integrated into apps and integrated with thing, right, becomes important and that's something, again, I think that, you know, really, is created from the COVID-19. So you think about somebody working in a facilities perspective, right. Actually I just logged call in the apartment complex I live in about my hot water and I'm working, why can't that machine be able to give the repair person diagnostic information without actually having to go in, right? So we want to minimize all those touch points and that's a great way to do it. So, UCI is to become a real thing.

Zeus, I cannot thank you enough for not just your time but your insight, and the provocativeness of the conversation. I think the one thing we would absolutely agree on is that not only has the world fundamentally changed, but it's only going to change in more ways than we can't even predict from this point on.

I think, three years, we won't. I think it'll be a good thing, Dave, I think we will live in a way right now we're all kind of wanting life to go back to where it was, but I think a few years from now we'll wonder how we ever lived that old way before. We will have such a good blending of technology into our lives that it'll actually I think make life better. We just need to manage that we balance ourselves as we as we watch that blending coming together, not forget the human piece of it too because that's important.

Well tools like this help us with the human piece.

Zeus, thank you very much. Appreciate the time.

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