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The pandemic has accelerated digitization in our personal and professional lives and many aspects of our day are digital first.

COVID-19 is rewriting the future of work in real time, with its global crash course in remote work making communications technology tools more prevalent than ever. Knowledge workers across industry lines have proven they can be productive at home, rousing speculation that work from home (WFH) may be here to stay, at least in some iteration. According to a Gartner survey of 127 company leaders, 82% of respondents intend to allow for remote working some of the time as personnel return to the workplace.

Still, the physical workplace is not going away anytime soon. Today, many workplace and technology leaders are predicting the future of work will be hybrid, bringing together the best social and cultural benefits of in-person work, with the flexibility and personal benefits of working remotely.

A more flexible approach to when and how we work has been a long time coming, but it’s been accelerated by COVID considerations. Unprecedented adoption in video-conferencing, for example, made Zoom as well as other collaboration tools like Slack, defining technology since the lockdown. Now that organizations have overcome some of the initial barriers to virtually connecting their newly distributed workforces, many are seeking enhanced technology-driven processes that will help them better engage employees working both onsite and remotely.

Moving forward, many industry leaders expect to see demand continue to escalate for technology tools that create a seamless experience through at-home or remote work, and on-premise work.

As part of the KeyBanc Capital Markets' (KBCM) Future of Technology Series, the Future of Work panel brought together technology leaders bringing such solutions to the market as we speak. Moderated by Alex Kurtz of KBCM’s Equity Research team, the round table featured Craig Walker, CEO of Dialpad; Greg Harris, CEO and President of Quantum Workplace; and Andrew Filev, CEO of Wrike, as they shared insights on employee collaboration and engagement and digital transformation in the future of work.

Collaboration and Culture Are Top Concerns, Wherever Work Takes Place

Managing a hybrid workforce poses new challenges to business leaders who have built their corporate culture based on in-person experiences. According to the Gartner survey cited above, 30% of business leaders are most concerned with maintaining corporate culture, while 13% reported concern over creating parity between remote and in-office work experiences, and 13% are concerned about providing a seamless employee experience.

Clearly, it’s going to take more than ad-hoc digital whiteboards to solve these challenges (although the right scrum board can go a long way). There are also growing concerns over digital fatigue or video-call fatigue.

To help employees enjoy vibrant, productive connections with their colleagues, companies need cloud-based, scalable collaboration technology solutions that drive visibility and stimulate employee engagement and connection. And they need new ways of managing projects and measuring employee engagement, satisfaction and productivity against larger cultural and business goals.

Harris of Quantum Workplace, which collects engagement data across thousands of organizations, says visibility is critical to broader team success as well as individual satisfaction. “It’s a different challenge than what we’d have expected or feared in a work-from-home environment, which is ‘hey, is work getting done at all?’” He says in March and April, companies saw record levels of employee engagement, with trust in senior leadership hitting all-time highs. But there was also a sense of “invisibility,” with everyone “running ahead but in different directions.” Quantum software amplifies and prioritizes feedback in real-time, so, among other insights, managers can see where there may be gaps or opportunities in technology collaboration tools they’re using.

For example, Wrike’s work management platform empowers collaboration and culture by bringing visibility into what’s going on around any given project–even when some are working onsite, others at home, or wherever they may be. So, where years ago a manager might have used Excel or Microsoft Project to blend work, then email or Sharepoint to collaborate, Filev says his firm is bringing all the data into one “block party – a system of truth/record for all your work.”

He likens this shift in workflow to a conveyor belt in a physical factory, where you can see when things start to pile up. “If you are running teams digitally just using Skype and Zoom, then you don’t see when things pile up. You have zero visibility into the thousands of messages your colleagues receive, and zero desire to plow through those messages–so how do you understand when the work gets done?”

More Collaboration Technology Innovation and Adoption Is on the Horizon

For innovative and agile tech companies like those that participated in the Future of Work panel, the future is bright for continued market enthusiasm and investment. According to S&P Global analysis, “We expect that: Firms that are able to provide connectivity and communications technology will benefit from increasing spending on infrastructure to support working from home, a trend that we believe will persist past the immediate COVID-19 impact.”

For example, Craig Walker says Dialpad’s business skyrocketed in the early stages of the pandemic – to the tune of 300% growth of new signups in April. After all, as more organizations move their phone system, conferencing and contact center communications to the cloud, they’re better equipped for employees to work from anywhere. Overall he estimates that current market momentum has accelerated the company’s adoption cycle by eight years.

The effects of the pandemic accelerated business for these tech leaders early on, but each expected to see sustained demand. As Harris says, “This isn’t a short-term blip.”

Filev also expresses confidence in market demand. “I’m super bullish on the next three years,” he says. “Companies are starting to understand this is more of a marathon, and the processes and tools for this remote work environment over the next three years should see amazing growth in the category.”

He points to the increasing need for synchronous collaboration as a key driver. “Usable, online mobile-friendly tools where you can go in and in a couple of minutes easily review [a project] and move the work forward…shortens the cycle, which is valuable in any environment. We’ve seen our customers saving millions before this – but the difference was then it was saving money, whereas now it’s mission critical.”

Digital transformation will intrinsically add to this momentum, as emerging digital technology solutions become easier to integrate across organizational workflows. But the proliferation in tools available over the last few years can lead to its own management challenges, if employees are toggling between too many applications and programs to stay efficient, much less, optimize organizational business intelligence with advanced data and analytics.

Harris expects more companies will begin to offer integrated platforms in the next few years, because “the smarter we want our platforms to be, the fewer platforms we’ll be able to use. Digital transformation for the engagement space means blending multiple data streams together…we need multiple tools talking to each other.”

Conclusion: Pandemic Accelerated a Workplace Tech Revolution

Right now, lots of eyes are on the unified communication space as a whole. Digital transformation can speed up the ways businesses communicate internally and with each other, and how they manage projects, train employees and interact with customers.

In Walker’s words, COVID and the quickly unfolding future of work have meant that “every single business in the world became a potential customer – they all will need to adopt a solution. It’s not just unifying communication; I think of it as unifying collaboration now.”

The result: Each of these tech leaders’ firms is doubling down on product innovation, from investing in AI to creating more scalable and integrated solutions. As the pandemic accelerates changes in the way we work around the world, tech firms are stepping up to support smarter workflows in an all-new world of work.

Key’s technology investment experts are seeing early-stage impacts of COVID-19 in the communications technology space. We will continue to monitor how the shift toward a hybrid model of work affects market opportunities here and in other tech sectors. To discuss this information in more detail, connect with your investment banker or reach out to Alex Kurtz of KBCM’s Equity Research team.

About the Future of Technology Series

This inaugural seven-week virtual series centered on timely and unique content across the Technology landscape. Leaders from today’s most relevant technology names gathered to take a thematic approach toward exploring market shifts, particularly in light of an increase in digital acceleration, remote work, deglobalization and changing consumer consumption habits. Attendees included more than 900 investors, 164 private and public companies, with 115 fireside chats and panels, and more than 700 one-on-one meetings.

This article is for general information purposes only and does not consider the specific investment objectives, financial situation, and particular needs of any individual person or entity.

KeyBanc Capital Markets is a trade name under which corporate and investment banking products and services of KeyCorp® and its subsidiaries, KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC, and KeyBank National Association (“KeyBank N.A.”), are marketed. Securities products and services are offered by KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc. and its licensed securities representatives, who may also be employees of KeyBank N.A. Banking products and services are offered by KeyBank N.A.

Please read our complete KeyBanc Capital Markets disclosure statement.