Zoom eyes new video needs in a hybrid workplace world

Boosted by the rush to remote work brought on by last year’s pandemic, Zoom generated $2.6 billion revenue in 2020, a 317% increase year-on-year that made it one of the fastest growing apps of the pandemic. The number of meeting participants jumped by 2900%, and as of December, Zoom had 470,000 business customers and a valuation above $100 billion.

So as companies worldwide grapple with a pivot to hybrid workplaces — where some workers are in the office, others stay home — where does Zoom go now?

Magnus Falk Zoom

Zoom CIO Advisor Magnus Falk

“There’s no worry about remaining relevant,” Magnus Falk, CIO Advisor at Zoom, said when asked about the post-pandemic outlook. “The world has changed so dramatically, and the requirement to be able to interact virtually has changed so demonstrably. What our users and customers are telling us is that [Zoom] continues to make their lives acceptable and straightforward using this technology.”

Falk spoke about Zoom’s outlook and some of its plans after the recent acquisition of Kites GmbH, a start-up focused on real-time translation services. Just this week, the company said it would buy cloud-based call center service provider Five9 for $14.7 billion; rolled out Zoom Events for virtual events; and unveiled new third-party app integrations. (Zoom Apps cover a variety of business-oriented areas, including analytics, CRM, event management, productivity, and sales.)

Although Falk didn’t allude to the Five9 acquisition and this week’s announcements before they were  public, he did talk about how Zoom customers’ needs are changing. And he talked up the Zoom Phone platform, a key rationale behind the Five9 purchase, as one response to those user needs.

“A lot of the infrastructure [companies] had around telephones is changing quite dramatically because it used to be that everyone was on the phone all the time,” Falk said. “And now everyone’s used to being on a Zoom call — so do you need all the handsets?”

He pointed to an upswing in customer interest in the Zoom Phone platform, which effectively offers companies a form of unified communications, allowing them to toggle between video chats and regular phone calls. Zoom sold 500,000 of the systems in the last quarter; by comparison, it took the company seven quarters to sell 1 million.

Another area Zoom is working on involves helping companies navigate a return to the office while preserving existing hardware investments, Falk said. In particular, Zoom is looking to help users repurpose meeting rooms so they can remain a productive workspace — even in offices using a hybrid work model.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard to ensure there’s compatibility with the equipment that [comapnies] might already have on site,” Falk said. “By using our conference room connectors, for example, you don’t have that situation where companies have got a whole bunch of equipment from previous purchases that can’t be used when they re-equip themselves for hybrid.”

As for hybrid workplaces, Falk said they’re likely to feel unnatural at first for employees sitting in a meeting room with half their colleagues still at home. But features as Zoom’s Smart Gallery — it uses “sensible AI” to provide a more natural virtual meeting experience — can minimize problems.

“If you implement a hybrid strategy, but all your leaders go back to the office — that’s probably going to destroy the overall intent of the hybrid workplace,” Falk said. “By working with our customers to understand their challenges…, and then trying to position the technology innovations that Zoom can provide, we can make those challenges a little bit smaller.”

Asked about the recent Kites GmbH purchase, Falk said Zoom knew its customers were looking to communicate in multiple languages. That led to the acquisition. “Quite frankly, some of the best inventions don’t come from within the company,” he said. “Lots of ideas come in and what [the product team does] is work to decide what … actually moves the platform forward and solves [a] business problem.”

Given that Zoom has won praise for its ease of use, Falk said the company is trying to balance innovative new features that add value while keeping the platform intuitive and simple. 

Although the videoconferencing landscape has grown competitive, with platforms like Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Meeting, Google Meet, and others rivalling Zoom, Falk said it’s good that customers have choice. He argued, not surprisingly, that Zoom plans to continue to innovate and work closely with enterprises at scale, and now offers options users can’t easily find elsewhere.

“We’re helping customers to forge the future of work,” he said. “[We] are listening, adapting and having the kind of inventiveness that allows our customers to recognize that their employees and their customers want different things. And we’re there to make that happen.”