Zoom sees future of events as hybrid

Around 63% of UAE companies have already adopted or are in the process of implementing a hybrid-working model, and 85% of employees expect more flexibility to work remotely moving forward

A 3D printed Zoom logo is placed on the keyboard in this illustration taken April 12, 2020.

A 3D printed Zoom logo is placed on the keyboard in this illustration taken April 12, 2020.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

The future of events will revolve around a hybrid model that allows attendees more flexibility in how they wish to attend and interact with each other during the event, experts at Zoom have said.

Speaking to Khaleej Times at the recently concluded Gitex Global 2021 event in Dubai, Abe Smith, head of International at Zoom, looked back on how the company had navigated its way through the Covid-19 landscape, and also shared his thoughts on the future of work and events.

He noted that a lot of the trends that had accelerated during the height of the pandemic, such as remote working and distance learning, were already happening well before the lockdowns.

“When you think of the growth of the remote worker, and the gig economy, people were already getting more flexible on how they were working in general,” he said. “Whether that meant a meeting at a Starbucks, and then moving location to another place, it was all about flexibility and remote working. Even the idea of distance learning was not new; we had seen universities increasingly become more digitally engaged.”

Smith further explained that Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, grew up as a video first culture, and that their expectations as they moved into the workforce meant that they expected to have the flexibility of remote working.

“The pandemic hyper accelerated all of these trends,” Smith noted. “What we saw was that, at one moment in time, the entire world had to rethink how they educated, how they governed, how they worked, and how they socially connected with one and another. This was a scenario, where we felt we had the opportunity to step in and provide a tool that could help.”

Highlighting how business had soared during the early days of the pandemic, Smith shared: “We were a highly trafficked product to begin with, and entering 2020, there were around 10 million daily meeting participants on the platform. By April of 2020, that figure had grown to 300 million daily meeting participants. The stress on the platform increased by around 30x. The use cases were also very varied; we had large use cases such as banks, to educators conducting classes, to small businesses talking to their distributors.”

Currently, he says that Zoom has over 155 customers that are spending $1 million or more, and that there are almost 2,300 clients that were spending more than $100,000 per year. Zoom went from about 374,000 paying customers of 10 employees or more, to more than 505,000 paying customers of 10 employees or more a year later. When Zoom exited 2020, the consumption was over three trillion meeting minutes per year.

“What we felt was that people realised that they have choice, and that the choice was to establish how they were their best self; this could be two days in the office and three days at home,” Smith said. “I think that what people might have to realise on work is that work is about productively completing your tasks and you can do that at home at 7pm at night, or you do that at 11am in a café, or in an office at 3pm. The way that corporations are appreciating their employees, or will do, is more around the accomplishment of the job and less about the where and when they are doing their job.”

He noted that these changes would permeate the workplace to create an increasingly hybrid model. He also noted that it would not be limited to work, but to other segments such as schools and universities.

In the UAE, Zoom gained at least 100,000 free and paid users within the first week of the lifting of the ban on VoIP. This number reached one million users within a month of the ban being lifted, a staggering 900 per cent growth. By the end of April 2020, the free user sign-up growth in the UAE increased 105 times from January.

“According to all the surveys that we have done, here in the UAE, 70 per cent of the business population said that they expect or are comfortable working in a hybrid model,” Smith said. “We feel that flexibility will evolve in a variety of different ways; a person might start their day at home, they might then have a meeting at a café, then the might go into the office to meet a requirement and then they might return home to finish their work day.”

“What organisations need to understand that this is exactly what millennials and Gen Z are looking for, because it is what they are used to when they were first entering the workforce,” he added. “Technology affords them the chance to do it, and frankly, a new way of thinking probably does too.”

Hybrid events are going to “be critical” moving forward, he predicted. Towards this end, Zoom recently launched ‘Zoom Events Conference’, which empowers hosts to organise multi-track and multi-day events in a sophisticated format, with rich functionality, including event lobby, chat, networking, sponsors, surveys, recordings, analytics, and more.

“The Zoom Events platform is designed for large-scale complex events that can host a 100 people, or 100,000 people,” Smith said. “Many events are still 100 per cent virtual because of the situation with the pandemic, and almost all events will have a hybrid component moving forward. We envision that people should be able to participate at an event whether they are physically able to come or not. Not everybody has the opportunity or the means to be physically present. We want to be able to integrate the experience as part of our hybrid event offering. We want to be 100 per cent multimedia driven where attendees can feel like they are actually part of a community event rather than just sitting in front of a screen and listening in.”

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