Your New Office: Zoom Rooms, Pods, and Booths?

Companies are zealously installing built-in videoconferencing equipment as they push for more employees to return. Is this what people want?

After months and even over a year of being away, employees returning to the office may be surprised to find a telephone booth in the middle of the office. But it isn’t for Clark Kent to turn into Superman. It’s for Zoom meetings.

To the glee of videoconferencing providers, hardwired sensors, cameras, and lighting are cropping up in office layouts around the world. Zoom is quite aggressively aiming to insert itself into corporate offices with phone booths, small meeting pods, and tricked out conference rooms, following revenue growth of 54% in the second quarter and 191% in the first, periods during which many employees returned to the office. Meanwhile, office tech companies like Hush, Framerly, Poppin Pod, and Urban Office are outfitting offices with built-in videoconferencing gear.

All this signals that videoconferences are the new norm. “Technology is progressive. Once you introduce it, you can’t really take it away,” says Peter McDermott, senior client partner at Korn Ferry’s Corporate Affairs Center of Expertise. This has left firms scrambling to upgrade. Though spacing restrictions and hybrid schedules are fueling some in-office Zooming, McDermott says that workers are now so accustomed to the app that during group phone conferences, “everyone is looking for the video button because they can’t see you.”

Still, the movement does not come without some reservations. Workers have already complained about endless hours on videoconferences, and many were looking forward to face-to-face meetings. Some employees may be disappointed when they realize that videoconferencing is a centerpiece of their office experience, says Mark Royal, a senior director at Korn Ferry. McDermott says that companies need strong policies to navigate and manage the influx of videoconferencing. “Their faces are sore from engaging over video for eight hours a day,” he says. To counteract this, he advises built-in breaks, such as a few meeting-free hours once or twice a week, or No Videoconference Fridays.

More training with the technology is advisable as well, as many workers still struggle with the calls, or worse. Indeed, 83% of companies have disciplined employees for videoconferencing mistakes, and a quarter of executives say their company has fired a staffer for audio or video call errors. McDermott suggests that users understand how Zoom filters interact with lighting, learn that clothes that match the background create floating heads, and be prepared for common meeting snags like spotty internet or computer freezes (a nearby cell phone and the phone dial-in number does the trick).

Zoom boasts a market share hovering around 50% and a mindshare that belies that figure. (“To Zoom” is oft used as a verb.) Although competitors are catching up, the company aims to corner its customers with a fleet of products including an event platform (Zoom Events), a video customer service experience (Zoom Video Engagement Center), a collaborative whiteboard (Zoom Whiteboard), and individual Zoom feeds for multiple people in a conference room (Zoom Rooms Smart Gallery). This last product solves a specific in-office snag: when multiple people within earshot join the same videoconference on different devices, an irritating echo appears until everyone except the speaker mutes their microphones.

As Royal sees it, technology-assisted communication, whether or not the person you’re talking to is in the building, has become the wave of the future. The influx of office video tech “reflects the way work is likely to be structured for some time.” He suggests that employers build enough booths and pods to allow easy availability whenever colleagues want them, especially in open floor plans. “Provide spaces where people can find the privacy and ability to focus that they enjoyed while at home,” he says.

Richard Marshall, global managing director of Korn Ferry’s Corporate Affairs Center of Expertise, says that booths and pods with built-in equipment will likely improve the overall videoconferencing experience. “You’re going to have better acoustics and lighting, and for executives or board members that aren’t as accustomed to using Zoom, it’s more fail-safe,” he says. All this comes at the tiny price of no more peeking around colleagues’ offices during meetings. “I always found that interesting. What kind of books are on their shelf? What kind of art? Oh, that railing is very 2009.”