Talking to Polycom's Marco Landi and Videocall's Rob Portwood about the office of the future

As part of our campaign on ‘Whether the perfect office environment exists’ I wanted to gain the thoughts of two leaders within the industry and see what they think.

I got the chance to interview Marco Landi from Polycom and Rob Portwood from Videocall about video conferencing, office workers and the future. Below are their thoughts on the questions I asked, where you can have a glimpse at how they both think video conferncing is shaping the future, and what might be coming next....


Please provide a short introduction about yourself

Marco: I lead the Europe and Middle East (EMEA) management team at Polycom and am focused on identifying areas for growth and finding untapped opportunities to gain market share, while maintaining and increasing the company profitability.

I like to think of myself as a pan-European citizen. I speak five languages and have studied and worked across the region. Prior to joining Polycom, I was an executive leader at Zebra Technologies and Motorola. I also spent three years as an economist with the United Nations. I hold a Master`s of Arts in political science from Rome University, a Master`s of Science in business and human resources from the University of Manchester and a bachelor in classics from Luciana Manara in Rome.

As an advocate and practitioner of working on the go, the vision of a work environment with people using video for meetings, regardless of location, ignites my imagination as to how the future can and will look.

Rob: I am Managing Director of Videocall which I founded way back in 1997. Prior to this I was responsible for two businesses at Alacatel; one of which was video conferencing for Northern Europe.

I started my career as a mechanical engineer working on capital projects such as Heathrow T4, Gatwick North, Earls Court, Alexander Palace and Olympia before moving into the telecommunications infrastructure field in 1988. I spent many years working on telecommunications and cable television infrastructure across Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, France, Malta and Israel.

I have been a missionary of video collaboration since being an early customer way back in 1993, and have seen many times the transformative effect it can have on business outcomes, and the positive effect it can have on people’s lives.


What do you think it is that makes video conferencing so important to business?

Marco: The way we communicate is changing. As humans we’re far more accustomed to being able to see people wherever they are in the world, and this has become the expectation both at home and in the office.

The benefit of this for the business is in reduced costs, improved productivity and ultimately finding better ways of delivering results. We all know that video collaboration negates the need to travel long distances for meetings, but it also works over super-short distances. Shifting the normal routine from congregating the team in a meeting room to having them join weekly meetings from their desktop video application is so much more efficient, even if they are based in the same office. There are also proven improvements in productivity derived from video collaboration over pure audio conferencing. There are a number of factors that contribute to this, but a large part of it comes from the increased information that you can derive from non-verbal clues, leading to better teamwork and faster decision-making.

Once you build the benefits of video collaboration into your business processes and workflows you begin to drive real value. For example, using video to recruit the best candidates from around the world or to deliver more frequent and cost effective training to your workforce makes sure you have the best people in place and equipped to work to the best of their ability.

Rob: Humans have always communicated face to face. It is a very natural thing to do, as our faces give away expressions and signs of feelings that other people can read to help understand the conversation better. Therefore it was a counterproductive move, dare I say a less human move, when as a race we started working in offices and communicating by telephone and more recently by email. 

Meetings, or more accurately ‘collaborations’, are the business answer to the face to face conundrum.

Video conferencing has brought back that ability to have face to face meetings where an email or phone may have previously been used. It allows people in different locations to collaborate easily, effectively and is more time relevant, whether in a meeting or huddle room, from a desktop or mobile device.


How and why do you think companies attitudes are changing in relation to flexible working?

Marco: Company attitudes to flexible working are being changed by three key drivers; employees, technology and business benefits.

Employees from Baby Boomers to Millennials have grown to expect employers to offer a truly flexible working environment, both in terms of location and working day. This means that to attract and retain the best possible talent, organisations need to offer this as standard. Nine out of ten Generation Y workers identify flexibility in the workplace as a top priority and 95% of millennials say work-life balance is important to them. These figures are just too high to ignore.

I think companies have realised that the technology needed to support flexible working is now easy to deploy and reliable enough to make remote working an everyday reality, rather than a rare occurrence. The prevalence of HD video conferencing, content collaboration, mobile telepresence and cloud-based services means that managing a unified communications environment with flexible working in mind is an achievable goal. Also, these kinds of solutions see great adoption rates; 78% of millennials say that access to the technology they like to use makes them more effective at work. But one in three employees say the lack of investment in appropriate mobile technology is the biggest barrier to flexible working.

Lastly, the business benefits in terms of bottom line are real drivers. Businesses say video collaboration contributes to flexible working strategy by improving productivity of remote workers as much as 39%. Imagine what that could do for your business. It’s calculated that you only need to increase employee productivity by 27%, to reach business goals. 39% would put you well ahead of the competition.

Rob: Everyone wants a ‘window seat’. It’s a powerful phrase that rings true right from when the first purpose built office was constructed back in London in 1729 by the East India Company. The idea was that desks next to a window, corner offices or larger offices with flashy looking furniture meant that you had a higher role within the organisation. People have always aspired to these positions in the office and to the symbol of success that they perceive they achieve from them.

In today’s rapidly changing world, flexibility has become important. In a recent study of Millennials it was discovered that they valued flexible working practices more importantly than bonuses. With many families having either both parents working, or the sole parent trying to hold down a full time role; having the ability to work from home, from locations that fit into their lives better, or simply to work hours that suit, has become very important to them. This is now a rapidly growing ‘window seat’ that many people want from their job role.

In the perfect modern office environment everyone gets a window seat. You work from where you want; using the technology you want; working the hours that compliment you and the company.   

Video conferencing is the solution to the window seat. It gives companies the option to employ flexible working practices; employees to work from any location (whether that is inside or outside the office); encourage the natural flow of conversation and team building; and foster well-motivated collaboration, which all together can only lead to better business outcomes.


How can video conferencing help both business and employees in this change?

Marco: Video conferencing means that employees can collaborate effectively from wherever they may be. That might be a home office, on the road, a huddle room or their desk. Flexible working is about more than just laptops in coffee shops, the office itself can be flexible too. By enabling every space with video, whether that’s a boardroom or a huddle room, it makes every space a meeting space. The more employees collaborate, the better the results they deliver. It also means that geographically dispersed teams can form strong bonds and work together effectively in this increasingly globalised workplace.

Rob: As Marco said and I mentioned earlier, video conferencing gives both the business and the employees the freedom and flexibility to truly work and collaborate on a successful basis from any location. It has long been proven to increase both efficiency and productivity.

Companies with the vision to see the benefits that enterprise wide video conferencing can offer, and that can drive adoption to make it prevalent within their work environment, will end up with happier, more productive, better retained working employees.


How do you see the employees of the future working?   

Marco: 83% of enterprise employees around the world already use video conferencing solutions at home today, and 56% of business leaders and managers expect video to be their most preferred collaboration tool in 2016. That means that the employees of the future will be communicating over video, there’s no doubt about it. I for one hope that video collaboration eliminates the convoluted email trail. Imagine how much more we would all achieve if we didn’t have to trawl through an inbox!

Within ten years distance will become largely irrelevant. We will work in a location agnostic way, fitting our work around our lives and responsibilities, not the other way round. I look forward to the diversity this will bring to the workforce as we make it easier for parents, carers or those with specific needs to work in a way that benefits both them and their employer.

Rob:  At the moment I would say that it is almost impossible to predict what will happen in the technology front as we are becoming much smarter and also starting to view a lot of things from a different perspective. Technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that many companies are finding it hard to predict five years ahead.

What we do know is that we have a changing workforce, advancing technology and consequently, new working practises increasing at an ever faster rate. We have not seen this pace in advancement before. With millennials entering the market; on the whole better educated, used to dealing with large amounts of information, with access to each other on demand, and knowing nothing other than smart phones, IM, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp…..the list goes on.

They will and are expecting this ‘lifestyle’ to be across their work environment as well.


What will happen to the offices of the future?

Marco: The office will continue to exist, but the face of it will change. Offices will be more flexible, with different spaces for different kinds of collaboration. Work will become something we do not a place we go. The office will take on a new vibrancy as a creative collaboration hub rather than somewhere we pass the hours from nine till five. There will still be a need for some office space, as some people prefer to work this way, but it will be more suited to employee needs. That might mean more ‘watercooler’ areas that foster the casual conversation that leads to a ‘eureka’ moment; these will become what we call huddle spaces, equipped with voice, video and content collaboration for impromptu sessions.

Rob: There will no doubt always be the need for offices, and therefore people working in offices. Some job roles simply are best done within an office environment and some people prefer or need to interact ‘across a pod’. The difference will be that the work/life balance for employees will continue to grow. Not only will flexible working become ‘the norm’, but offices will change to become much more flexible, free-flowing and collaborative. Companies such as Deloitte have already predicted their future of the office. Their headquarters in Amsterdam, called ‘The Edge’, is a building that is years ahead of others in terms of design, technology and eco credentials. They have made it a place that employees want to be, they feel comfortable, and they work better.

The way to imagine it is that technology, working lifestyles and architects are all in ‘coopetition’ with each other. Sometimes they all want the same thing, and other times they all want what they think is best for themselves or everyone else. It is the days when they all work in harmony that glimpses of the future can be seen.  


How can companies achieve the perfect office/work life balance (how can companies such as Polycom/Videocall help)?

Marco: When you enable employees to work from anywhere, anytime, you need to make it clear that doesn’t mean all the time. It’s important to work with HR to set out a clear policy which values output and results over hours worked. If you have a geographically dispersed team you need to set the expectation that no-one is to answer emails or join meetings in every time-zone.

An effective way of ensuring this is to train managers to conduct regular ‘face-time’ over video with all their reports, no matter where they work from. That way employees who work flexibly don’t feel that they are being overlooked because they are not in the office.

Video collaboration solutions from companies like Polycom and Videocall mean that any employee at any level can work effectively from anywhere. Therefore, to help everyone achieve the perfect work-life balance, have your most senior staff set a good example. I work remotely most days, my colleagues don’t have to see me in the office to know that I am doing a good job. I also make myself available during my ‘open office hours’ through an initiative called “Latte with Landi”. I understand that some employees would feel they needed to ‘book’ a video meeting with me, but I want to encourage a ubiquitous video culture where making a video call is second nature. Therefore I encourage them to dial in to my Virtual Meeting Room, where I will be available to provide recognition for their ideas and efforts. It’s really taken off as a concept!

Rob: I think it’s a case of evolution not revolution. It does take some time to understand the impact of work flows, employee’s productivity, and wellbeing. Traditional or dare I say ’legacy’ management techniques or approaches have to be challenged in this fast moving world we all live in. Managers have to be more focused on objectives and outcomes. Without question, when done correctly the effect can be profound. Without becoming too heavy around the question, looking at the way objectives are measured rather than being time focussed is key.

As technology advances, more and more devices will become video enabled (both mobile and room based), and capable of streaming high quality video, audio and content. This means that companies can have the flexibility that they wish to downsize office space, naturally disperse their workforce and still maintain a bonded work team.

Polycom and Videocall have played their role in these evolutions with many companies and are well equipped to share these experiences with similar businesses as part of understanding the customer’s business, goals and objectives.


How can choosing the right video conference partner bring better results for the company?

Marco: When choosing a video conferencing partner there are a few key considerations for any organisation. Firstly, you need to think about what kind of solution will work best for your needs; on premise, cloud or hybrid? There are benefits to all of these options but your partner can advise you which best suits your needs.

Secondly, it’s important to consider the communications solutions you already have in place. Everything should work together in a seamless Unified Communications environment, so solutions with native interoperability with your existing deployments will make this much easier to achieve. Many organisations already have Microsoft Outlook and Skype for Business in place, so Polycom endpoints and infrastructure complement this perfectly. A partner that understands your legacy environment can make the best recommendations to help you drive your workplace into the future.

Rob: As examples today, cloud, VaaS (Video as a Service) and Skype for Business are really the buzzwords and yes extremely powerful tools when adopted correctly. However, they may not be the right answer for every company. Therefore, you want to find a video conferencing partner that can understand your business, identify dependencies, constraints and facilitators, be they cultural, workflow, real estate or technology driven and deliver a solution that is fit for purpose.

At Videocall we pride ourselves in being 100% focussed on video collaboration, and therefore we know what we are talking about. Whether you need our professional services, deployment services, support services, cloud services or all of them; we make sure that the business outcomes are what you wanted and that the service you receive is fit for purpose.


Could you describe the perfect office environment? Does it exist?

Marco: The perfect office environment is whatever best suits the needs of your business and your employees. In my opinion that is always going to be a shifting set of goalposts, so having an office that is flexible and scalable is the perfect solution. Creating offices in the cloud is a way to achieve this, with Polycom Virtual Meeting Rooms you can enable your employees to collaborate without physically building any more space. These VMRs can be increased and decreased both in size and number as the need changes.

Rob: Does the perfect office exist, no, does a perfect office exist, yes. Its personal…The perfect office environment will always depend on the business and the business needs, with careful attention to the employee’s needs, expectations and reason for being there or anywhere for that matter. What we can safely say is, tools like prevalent VC enable us to better deliver a ’perfect office’ each time.


What are your predictions for video conferencing in the workplace over the next two, five and 10 years?

Marco: In the next two years, video conferencing will be the preferred method of communication in the enterprise. Within five we will see even more mobile video collaboration becoming standard and natural within the organisation, working from anywhere will be the norm. Within ten years distance will be largely irrelevant. Video conferencing will be integrated in workflows across sectors including healthcare, education and manufacturing as well as into the business functions. It will be prevalent across organisations of all sizes and the reduced costs of storage means that recording and managing this video content will be the norm.

Rob: I agree with Marco but would suggest that the timescale will be compressed a lot. For someone like me that’s been in this business for 20 years, the speed of change over the last three - five years has far exceeded the progress of the previous 15 years!


What technology advancement would you most like to see, that will improve video conferencing for everyone?

Marco: Microsoft has made real strides towards real-time translation within video conferencing but I’d like to see this become an everyday reality. Not only will it have great benefits within the international business sector but it could have real social impact and value. The addition of fluid and accurate real-time translation into video conferencing could help improve access to social services, aid relief workers in dealing with humanitarian crises and assist the legal system in delivering justice. The possibilities are endless!

Rob: The one thing that I am keen to see is high quality and easy to use video across all devices. These are personnel and subjective terms but never the less, quality of experience and ease of use are at the centre of all things in our lives. I would hate to see a dash for penetration at the cost of quality and experience.


Finally, do you have any thoughts on how technology in general might impact on the way people work in the future (outside of video conferencing)? 

Marco: Technology no longer dictates how we work, it enables us to work the way we want. That means that technology is enabling people-focused work patterns. By putting people at the centre of collaboration video conferencing is giving workers more autonomy and flexibility, and ultimately building a happier and more productive workforce.

Rob: “Today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s science fact” – Arthur C Clarke – The Fountains of Paradise, 1979 - A fantastic quote that sums up the answer to the question.   

 I think we really have yet to see the impact of technology within the work place. It’s a generational thing. The work force of the future is growing up using technology and technologies in very different ways to not only their grandparents but also their parents. I would say it’s ‘a known unknown’, but it will be exciting, democratic and empowering.