Expert: What businesses can expect in a post-Covid workplace
Kristina: The pandemic seems to have highlighted the importance of email in business communications – both in-house and with consumers. How is email offering businesses an assist in the productivity department? –
Eric Shashoua, CEO & Founcer, Zive, maker of Kiwi for Gmail: A mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication has become far more relevant in the remote environment. Chat and video conferencing alone isn’t always convenient — people talk about how you lose that “water cooler” moment from the office and those partially fill that gap. But imagine running your entire business through “water cooler”, momentary communication. You can’t work that way.
What’s fascinating to watch is that, while some communication has shifted to those channels, email is taking up a different role on the asynchronous side. People email about things that don’t need to be responded to right away. They email about things that require more thought or need more complex communication. They also email where they need some sort of ad hoc record to refer back to or reference later, like a link to meeting notes or communication with legal counsel.
It’s important to note that, unchanged from before the pandemic, email remains the main vehicle for communicating in writing with people external to your organization, as chat isn’t a viable option for most of that interaction.
In the remote world, email is about the only thing people can use in that regard, and think about what it would be like if you removed that channel of communication. It’d be impossible to function. You might try putting everything in documents in Drive or Dropbox, but that’s far less immediate, accessible, or searchable than email. Ultimately, email is still a communication vehicle and also, in practice, people use it as a reference tool to search through to find documents or important communication.
Kristina: What trends are you watching in email currently?
Eric: Interestingly, in addition to above, email is being woven into more synchronous communication tools like chat and video conferencing. You can see this in things like Google integrating Meet all over the Gmail interface, which hasn’t been released yet but has been revealed publicly. They’re also integrating chat into Gmail. You also see more tools out there that allow teams to share an email, comment on it, or collaborate on a response right in various email applications.
There is a lot of effort to make email easier to use, and remote work has shifted all communication to digital channels, the burden on things like email and chat has increased substantially. We’ve been finding, in Kiwi for example, that users are adopting many more of the power features in the application like the Focus Filtered Inbox than they were before, and we’ve heard the same of other Gmail features like important flags or Outlook’s focus view. People are becoming much more intense users of these applications, and companies are responding by trying to make them more powerful feature-wise and yet trying to make them more streamlined and simple at the same time. It’s a tough balance.
Kristina: With more states opening up, do you expect workers to return to offices or will we continue to see larger numbers of people working remotely?
Eric: Given our close interaction with Google and with many of their largest clients through Kiwi, we have good visibility into this. It’s expected almost across the board that people will not be returning to the office in the same way as before. The most common thing we’re hearing is that, on average, many employees will be allowed to work 2 days in the office, 3 days out of office. There are whole categories of employees, like sales teams or support reps, who are being allowed to work entirely remotely.
It’s critical to understand the main reason that’s constantly being given for this — employers don’t think they’re going to be able to compete in hiring talent if they don’t offer remote work to employees. That goes beyond just saving overhead on office space or keeping up something that some employees really liked.
Kristina: What can businesses do to ensure they’re set up for long-term remote work environments?
Eric: I think a continued investment in chat as well as taking advantage of and watching for new functionality in competing video conferencing platforms is important. Smaller, more nimble companies may be able to shift from one provider to another more easily. Email providers and applications like ours are also working to add functionality to make email easier to use. Again, a huge weight has landed on digital tools to take up the entire burden of all communication between employees in a company.
While Slack and Microsoft Teams have been the kings of workplace chat for SMBs and enterprise respectively, Google’s Meet Chat is rapidly adding features to close the gap with those tools, and companies could save a lot of money by moving from Slack to Meet Chat if they’re already paying for Google Workspace which includes Meet Chat. Zoom is also trying to get into the chat game, and Salesforce acquired Slack — if you pay for those products already, you can save budget there as well. Those products aren’t adequate replacements yet, but that won’t be the case in a year. It’s an exciting time for chat.
Meanwhile in video conferencing, everyone is trying to add differentiated functionality like better and better masking in virtual backgrounds on calls (that blur around your head looks cheap) or more video layout options in Meet.
Less obvious things like efficiency of running these applications on your computer is also key. Google Meet is perhaps the heaviest video conferencing app to run on the desktop, especially on MacOS. Users routinely find that if they’re sharing their screen on a video call, it slows things down to the point that it can be hard to present, and Google’s new Meet interface seems to have made this worse. Zoom, meanwhile, remains the most efficient by far.