Work from Home: Tech, Trends & Benefits

EPISODE 57 | Guest: Jonathan Blackwood, editorial director of Commercial Integrator and editor-in-chief of My TechDecisions

How we work is changing, partly because of circumstance and partly due to technology. The pandemic has forced us to conduct the largest workplace experiment in history, but work from home was already a strong movement in the labor market, and has shown positive results for both organizations and their employees. Now that we’ve been forced to adapt, things will never be the same again.

Jonathan Blackwood shares some insights into what will change, what won’t, and even more importantly, why. He also talks about how productivity, health and safety and education are all being affected.

Remote working and learning technology are certainly at the forefront of these changes, but it’s also affecting everything from how managers approach goal setting to talent attraction and retention, to scheduling and collaboration, to space configuration and management.

  • Learn about business agility and why it’s key for today’s workplace
  • Discover how work-life balance benefits both employer and employees
  • Hear how flexibility and hybrid schedules are increasing productivity
  • Explore how to leverage in-office and out-of-office technologies
  • Consider how digital signage fits into the new, emerging workplace
  • Understand why surveys are essential to successfully adopt WFH practices

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Keep up to date with the industry, technologies and more at My TechDecisions and Commercial Integrator.


Derek DeWitt: Obviously in communications, there’ve been a lot of challenges and changes lately. Work-from-home has certainly become a thing. Technological innovations are coming out all the time, and it often feels like we’re on the cusp of some kind of a massive sea change in the way that we do things – in the way that we communicate to audiences, with one another; the way that we work, the way that we study, the way that we order food, all of this stuff.

To talk about that today, I have Mr. Jonathan Blackwood. He is the editorial director of Commercial Integrator and the editor-in-chief of My TechDecisions. Thank you for coming on the podcast, Mr. Blackwood.

Jonathan Blackwood: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Derek DeWitt: And we’re excited to have you. We’d like to thank Mr. Blackwood for joining us today. And we’d like to thank all of you for listening.

So, Jonathan, the first thing that comes to mind is the most obvious one, I think, when we’re thinking about what are the 2020s and beyond going to look like in the technological and communications world, is the whole work-from-home trend, which obviously because of lockdowns and things like this sort of got forced on a lot of organizations. But I think it’s going to have long term effects even after things, quote unquote, go back to normal. Like the new normal is going to be different than the old normal. Is that fair to say?

Jonathan Blackwood: Yeah, I think that’s very fair to say.

Derek DeWitt: So, how do you think that’s going to unfold?

Jonathan Blackwood: So, I think there’s a few ways that people need to look at it. I think that, especially in the realm that we work (communications technology, corporate environments), that we tend to forget that there’s a large portion of the workforce that simply cannot work from home. So, I think that a rhetoric gets pushed out there that, you know, part-time remote work is the new normal without remembering that there are a significant number of people that need to be on location in order to do their jobs.

So, I just want to sort of throw that caveat out there before we go into the conversation, right? Because you’ll get pushback from a lot of people that say, you know, well, I’m a machinist versus, you know, the typical quote unquote cube farm or open office space that remote work really works a lot better for. Now, talent is going to drive that. So, when talent appreciates that kind of flexibility, organizations need to cater to that talent and that’ll keep trickling down. Because organizations will need to compete with other organizations and flexibility is going to be a big part of that, I think.

Derek DeWitt: Organizations that are more agile in a changing landscape will be more successful.

Jonathan Blackwood: Yeah, without a doubt. And I think that’s been shown over the years that there’s a reason that companies tout when they’re voted one of the best places to work and things like that because the growing rhetoric among millennials, if you look at the statistics, is that monetary compensation is becoming less and less valuable (although it, of course, it is valuable) to the workforce and things like work-life balance are becoming more and more valuable as time goes on.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, I think I saw some study, might’ve been late 2019, that said millennials will leave a job for a lower paying job or even a lower position than they had at their previous job, if the work-life balance is better, or if the benefits are seen as more valuable.

Jonathan Blackwood: Yeah. Without a doubt. I think that, you know, going all the way back to “Cat’s in the Cradle”, I think that the millennial generation has sort of heeded some of the warnings that they’ve learned from past generations about, you know, giving your life totally over to your work and not creating that balance. And I think it’s really heeded.

I think on top of that, the growth in technology has brought cost of living, for some what might have been considered luxury items in the past, has come way down. So, a given millennial can have a very comfortable high-tech life without making, you know, exorbitant amounts of money or without needing that.

Derek DeWitt: Right, exactly. Things get smaller, things get cheaper. We’re, I mean, you know, I joke all the time that, we’re all walking around with computers in our pockets that are more powerful than those that put the Apollo astronauts on the moon, cameras that are better than film cameras were in the 1970s and audio recording technology that is as good as anything when I was a young man that was available professionally.

Jonathan Blackwood: Yeah. A hundred percent and add on to that things like Amazon and Airbnb, where you can rent a vacation home for a week and you don’t need to buy it separately. And you know, some of those lavish lifestyle choices are for rent now, where I think in the past it was, you know, you needed to make a certain income to be able to afford it.

You know, bringing it back to corporate environments and bringing it back to the workplace, the technology similarly has opened up new possibilities for people. So, organizations can have a further reach to find talent and employees can have more flexibility, as we’re seeing now, to, if they’re working in the city, to move further out into the suburbs where things may be more affordable and only have to commute one or two days a week. So that commute time isn’t as much of a hassle as it might’ve been in the past.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s true. If you add another 30 minutes to your commute and you’re doing that every day, that’s a lot of time at the end of a year. But if you’re only going in once or twice a week, it’s not that big a hassle.

Jonathan Blackwood: Exactly. And flex hours on top of that; maybe you don’t have to go in until 11 o’clock, so you miss the morning traffic rush, and maybe you can leave early or you end up staying late. I think organizations have become a lot more accepting of some things. And I think that old school rhetoric is going out the window where even corporate leaders are now understanding that they can work from home a few days a week and still get as much done, and still have just as much control over their employees and engagement with their employees, as they had beforehand, because technology has just enabled people to be closer, even when they’re distant.

And on top of that, not just millennials, you know, the joke is always, you know, how you have some of the maybe older people in your workforce aren’t as great with technology. But I think at this point, I think the majority of people in the workforce has pretty good familiarity with technology.

And I think the past year, what I’ve really been seeing is that the employee that once had to call the IT pro in to the conference room just to figure out which cords to plug in, that same employee (after the past year) can now connect to a VPN remotely and start a Zoom meeting and record it, and set up their own individual web camera and audio device. And they’re much more technologically literate from how they’ve had to work.

And, you know, that rise in Zoom conferences and things like that, that people were even doing with family in the early days of COVID when, you know, things were much less understood, and a lot of things were locked down.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, exactly. It’s the opposite of the old saw that familiarity breeds contempt. Maybe eventually, but it certainly, in the beginning stages, breeds competence.

Jonathan Blackwood: Yeah. Yeah. Without a doubt. And I think that that’s really what a lot of organizations were most worried about leading into COVID-19 was simply that their workforce wasn’t going to be able to understand the nuances of using the technology to work.

But I think that the studies coming in have shown that, specifically for individual work, working from home has had no impact on productivity or a positive impact on productivity. But there’s been very few studies that I’ve seen that have found negative impacts for individual work. And I think that will lead into the collaborative work happening in the workplace and individual work happening at home.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. I think that’s absolutely so. I wonder if this is going to change sort of the physical infrastructure of work environments, university environments, and so on. Like, some things obviously are always going to have people physically present, manufacturing facilities, warehouses, things like this. They’re not really going to change. But you know, I keep reading a lot of articles and opinion pieces saying that, you know, it might be possible for corporation A to scale down the size of their office space because they literally don’t need it. You’re not going to have 150 people in there on any one day ever again, so why pay the rent? Why pay the electricity?

Jonathan Blackwood: If I was a business owner, I would certainly be thinking about downsizing because obviously that cuts down on operating costs. But the first thing I would be thinking about is reaching out to my workforce and surveying them on their preferences. Because obviously there are a certain amount of employees that are going to prefer working in the office or at least prefer working in the office part-time.

So, I would seek to try to understand the best that I can, of my employees, what they want to do within the office, why they want to work home, when they want to work home, what their preferences are for staggered schedules and things like that. And really understand what’s going to work for my workforce before I start changing the way that or moving offices or anything like that.

Now I do think that what they’ll end up finding is that the majority of employees that want some sort of hybrid schedule, where they’re working from home part-time and working in the office part-time, the in-office would be for collaborative work, at home would be for individual work, and you’d want to cater your office towards that.

So maybe that means taking some of those cubicles and working that space into new meeting spaces, and outfitting those new meeting spaces with the kind of technology that enables some people being outside of the office, some people being inside of the office, and still able to collaborate and present to one another as effectively as if they were all together.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. So, when we’re talking about business agility, we’re not just talking about it in abstract ways or in strategic planning ways, we’re talking about potentially even having a physical space that can be reconfigured to a certain extent, depending on how many people are going to be physically present on any given day.

Jonathan Blackwood: Yeah, 100%. We’ve just gone through the largest experiment in the workforce in, I believe, the history of the United States and the world, really. Once upon a time, people were working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, and people had to fight and protest and form unions to cut down on that. This time around….

Derek DeWitt: Right. Get a weekend.

Jonathan Blackwood: Yeah, exactly. This time around, I think that remote work, or at least part-time remote work, is the natural progression of where corporate work has been heading anyway. And obviously, you know, there were plenty of companies and there were plenty of people who were working remotely, even full-time, prior to COVID. What COVID did was put us all in it together and give us a ton of data at one point to show us that, you know, productivity isn’t dropping. Only for certain responsibilities, like collaboration and teamwork, is there even any negative impact from working from home?

Derek DeWitt: Right. Well, it seems like not. I saw an article just the other day that said people actually tend to work more when they’re working at home because it’s not so cleanly delineated, home life/work life, and so, you know, where they feel guilty, like whatever, the dog needed to go for a walk, so I’ll just tack that onto the end of my workday. And pretty soon people are working until 7, 7:30. There’s no way I’m staying in the office till 7:30!

Jonathan Blackwood: Isn’t that the work-life balance where you can build your life and work together so that if you force people to work eight hours straight, there are naturally going to be lulls where they’re not able to focus for eight full hours. But if you expand that to exactly what you’re saying, almost like a 12-hour workday, where they can take an hour and a half to make themselves lunch and take the dog for a walk, because they’re going to make up that work in the evening time when maybe they catch their second wind. Why wouldn’t you want that as an employer?

It’s more difficult to measure, but I think that, especially in this day and age with all the information that we have and all the data we can collect and the technology, I think that as an employer, it’s much easier to understand on an individual level if someone is getting their work done. And that should be all that matters to a given employer: that they’re getting their work done and that the people that are going above and beyond and taking on more responsibility that they’re picked out for potential promotion opportunities and things like that. But also, you’re going to have a certain section of the workforce that gets their work done and builds it into their life, and they’re happy that way. And employers should be happy with that type of employee as well.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. I often think of it as sort of a distributed siesta. You know, like in Spain, people have a tendency, they go to work fairly early and then they take from noon till 3 off. And you know, this is called the siesta, but actually people don’t sleep, usually during it. They go to a movie, they have a really long lunch, they take care of errands that they needed to take care of, they go to the museum. And then they go back to work around 3 and they work till 8. And that’s the Spanish style of living and working.

And it’s almost like we’re taking that idea of, say, taking a 3-, 3 1/2-hour break in the middle of the day and just kind of spreading it out. It’s up to you to decide how you distribute your time. And I also wonder if this isn’t going to get rid of, for white collar workers, if it’s not going to get rid of the whole concept of hourly wages. Maybe everybody should just be on salary. This is the work that we need you to do, here’s the pay for that. You figure out how to do it.

Jonathan Blackwood: Yeah. I think that’s a great point as well. I think that that would make a lot of hourly employees happy. You know, maybe not a potential loss in overtime, but a lot of hourly employees don’t have an overtime option anyway.

And I think that, to your point, if I’m someone that has my greatest productivity between 7 and 9 o’clock at night, and you’re making me work from 8 to 5, I’m not going to take that 7 to 9 to do work, because I’ve already felt that that’s going to be for my personal time, and my most productive hours of the day are going to go towards hobby, you know what I mean, rather than go towards work. So as an employer, you know, you want to enable people to be working towards their goals in the workplace at their most productive times. And that’s not the same for everybody.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, me, I am not a morning person, and I’ve had jobs where I have to physically be there at 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning. And I’m just like, I’m not at my best self here. I’m going to drink all your coffee, your terrible coffee, and I’m still going to… until I have lunch. I’m really not going to be like…call it quarter-speed. And then after lunch, okay. Because like, I’m one of those people that, right around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I start going, okay, now let’s get some stuff done.

Jonathan Blackwood: Exactly. And that gives you, you know, in the traditional workflow, that gives you maybe an hour where you’re at your best during the workday. You know what I mean? So, it’s a missed opportunity.

And I think that COVID, if you can look at any kind of bright side, I think that the work-from-home sort of revolution is going to be something that we look back on and say, you know, we should have been thinking about this a lot earlier. But I also think that it’s something that, had it not been for COVID, it would have been just like, you know, coming from seven-day work weeks down to five, and coming down to eight-hour days, 40-hour weeks, it would have been something that the average employee had to fight for. And in this case, it was just sort of happenstance, a matter of circumstance.

Derek DeWitt: So it was one of those kinds of perfect storms of this was already the trend, and then this situation develops that requires that trend to be implemented widespread. Against many of the bosses’ better thoughts on the topic. You know, a lot of bosses were very reticent to do this for a number of reasons. And I’ve always thought, eh, it’s very old-fashioned thinking. I mean, honestly, you know, we’re not making tires here, we’re writing website content. You know, do I really have to write website content between 9 and 5? I mean, that just is ridiculous, you know. So, it all kind of is creating this almost collaboration between the C-suite and management, and the employee on the ground.

Jonathan Blackwood: Yeah. A hundred percent. And on top of that, it’s like that old-school way of thinking is sort of built off of the idea that the average worker is going to try to waste as much time and do as little work as possible. You know what I mean? The average employee does want to get their work done and they want to get it done the best that they can, and not everyone’s going to go above and beyond, but again, you know, you’re not paying them to go above and beyond. Those above and beyond people are the ones that you want to key in on and promote to leadership positions so that they can continue to do more for your company.

But I think the reality isn’t laziness, I think the reality is that there’s a certain percentage of the workforce that’s always going to be complacent with where they are. So, they’re going to get their work done. They may not go above and beyond, but you’re never going to get 100% go-getters because there’s just not 100% go-getters in the population. Because they’re not a go-getter, doesn’t make them a lazy, you know, slack-off.

And I think that’s where we’re finding in the middle that, especially with remote work, you’re getting a lot more out these people that really appreciate that work-life balance and don’t need to worry about, okay, as soon as I get out of work, I need to go to the gym and then I need to go to the grocery store and I got to cook dinner and then I got to put the kids to bed. And by the time I have a second to myself, it’s going to be 8:30, 9 o’clock and I’m going to be exhausted because I’ve been nonstop since 9 in the morning versus getting some of those things done earlier in the day.

Derek DeWitt: Obviously, that’s the business world; white-collar companies. What about education? Especially I’m thinking universities. I think K-12 is always going to have, because K-12 very often also sort of doubles (let’s be honest) as a type of a daycare in addition to being an educative facility for young people. But like university, I wonder if that’s going to also change or if you’ll find that students prefer being face-to-face and in the social, sort of, milieu of being with their friends and just sort of that college experience, or is all of this going to completely transform that experience?

Jonathan Blackwood: My opinion on the college front is that the students and the college itself is incentivized to get onto campus. The student to have that independent life that they have lacked up until they were 18 years old, and as you said, to be around friends and to be on their own and to be independent. The college, because a lot of times tuition is one cost, but then room and board and living expense is a much larger cost. And a lot of how they make money is to make sure that students are on campus. What I think will be different is the hybrid classroom. So, I think that the last year and moving forward has really enabled colleges to bring some sort of online program into their schools. So, they’ll continue to have, I believe, the same amount of students coming to the classroom, but they can expand their student base to cover online students as well. So, they can bring in more tuition money without losing out on anything on the other end.

And that’s really going to be, I think it’s going to be less of an onus on professors and educators creating online courses, and more of an onus on taking the courses they are doing in person with students and creating a hybrid approach where that is being recorded. And that helps create an online component to that same organization. So, in the same classroom, in the same semester, you have, you know, 75% of the students in the class are in the room, but you have another 25% that are online and learning everything the same way, and participating in very similar ways, but they may not have the money or have the means to come on to campus and to live on campus. They may have situations at home where they’re taking care of people, so we need an online experience to help them get ahead just like everybody else, but they don’t have the means to do it in the traditional way. So, I think it’s going to be much more of a hybrid approach. But I don’t think there’s many colleges that are saying, okay, let’s knock down some dorms for more educational facilities.

You know, the key to everything that we’re talking about is that flexibility. I think that’s ultimately what people want. I think they want to learn, and they want to work, you know what I mean? But I think that boxing them in to specific times or specific ways of doing it is not ideal. And I think that different people learn in different ways and different people work in different ways.

My mother’s a teacher, my sister’s a teacher. I have aunts and cousins that all teach. And I think the last 10 to 15 years, really the onus on different children learning in different ways has come to the forefront. And I think that technology will be an extension of that.

One thing I do wonder for K-12, because to your point, it does serve a secondary role of being a place where kids can be safe while their parents are working. I wonder if things like maybe school vacations, or really like things like snow days, will now turn into learn-from-home days. So that, how it works now, at least in the United States, is a snow day occurs and that day is then tacked onto the end of the year. So, if you have five or six snow days, you originally were going to get out June 12th, now you’re going to get out on June 27th. Maybe that won’t happen any longer. Which is a shame for all the students of the future if that’s the case because I loved my snow days. There was nothing like them.

Derek DeWitt: But what about other communication things like, obviously, because I’m talking on behalf of Visix, who makes digital signage software, I’m thinking about something like digital signage. Digital signage kinda sorta needs people to physically be there to see the messages on the screens. Or does it?

Jonathan Blackwood: I think digital signage is really going to be a large piece of the new workforce because if you think about it now, digital signage, there’s so much more information that’s going to be happening. Let’s say you’re an organization that’s switched to a staggered schedule. So, I’m Jonathan Blackwood and in week one, I come in Monday and Tuesday; in week two, I come in Tuesday and Thursday; in week three. I come in Wednesday and Friday. It’s happening like that for everyone.

Now, though, the digital signage that may have just been showing what’s on the menu for lunch in the cafeteria, or just a corporate logo or something like that, now it can be used to say, here’s a list of the people that are in the office today. So even guests that are coming in can know, okay, John Smith is in today. I wanted to go and visit him. You know, employees that are coming in can take a look and say, okay, here’s my schedule for the week because I’m still learning it and things like that.

On top of that, in the short term with COVID, and, depending on…that’s one thing I’m not 100% sure of is, you know, the hypochondria of the masses that might occur moving forward. Is six feet going to stay? Even once people are vaccinated and COVID is back of mind, you know, are those sort of health and safety precautions that we’ve been taking going to stick around? If they are digital signage will be what is at forefront of communicating those health and safety practices because they may be different from building to building.

And a couple of things we’ve also discussed (or I’ve discussed) with some of our audience (and I’m also the editorial director of Commercial Integrator), the integration audience is… places like bathrooms and elevators, that if there’s an occupancy limit, you need to step in there to find out what the occupancy is. Unless there’s digital signage letting you know two people are in the bathroom, it’s at full capacity. The screen’s red right now, someone comes out, okay, you can go back in. Or on the elevator it lets you know beforehand, six people are on the elevator, please leave 12 feet of space for them to exit before you step onto the elevator. Things like that are going to be run by digital signage systems.

Who knows what happens in the future? And I think that plans for health and safety for viruses and things like that are going to need to be worked in the same way that fire plans for, if there’s a fire in the building, or if, right now in schools, for emergency lockdowns and things like that. And again, that’s all, you know, it’s audio systems are built into that as well, but digital signage systems are a big part of that.

In an emergency situation it might tell you which stairwell to go to. In a virus type of situation, it might tell you maintain this amount of distance between your co-workers, make sure to wear a mask. It might point you out to where sanitation stations are or point you out to where there are masks on the wall that you can pull out or things like that. So digital signage will be able to inform people on a much larger scale than, you know, your manager sending out an email.

Derek DeWitt: Plus, of course, it could, the thing is you enter it in, and you know, if you’re doing a web-based CMS, you can literally on your phone, go access the dashboard and stick up a message immediately. So, it’s actually more dynamic and more of the moment. Boom, this is happening; let’s go. I mean this is what alert notifications are all about.

Jonathan Blackwood: Yeah, absolutely. And I think digital signage is absolutely perfect for that because it can disseminate information where people actually are. You can miss an email in your inbox because you know, you’re really busy that week. But it’s tough to, if you’re waiting for the elevator and there’s a TV screen there, it’s tough to not be looking at the TV screen and looking what’s on it (or a display screen); it’s tough to not check that out while you’re waiting for a couple minutes. Or if you’re walking through the hallways and there’s a big, bright sign that says important information about health and safety, you know, odds are, you’re going to stop for a second and read that versus, you know, in your inbox, you might only see “Important infor…”.

Derek DeWitt: Like, there are some apps right now that allow for contact tracing. Hey, someone who uses this app (it’s not 100% because not everybody has the app), but someone who uses this app has reported to the app that they have COVID. And you, we see from your GPS data, were in the same place as they were two days ago, so you might want to go tested. That’s like a little warning. I wonder if we’re going to see stuff like this in physical facilities. You know, John on the fifth floor just tested positive for COVID, and let us know everybody needs to go get a test.

Jonathan Blackwood: Absolutely. I mean the NFL, when they first came back, were using wristbands that everyone, so it wasn’t even an app, it was a wristband.

Derek DeWitt: Really?

Jonathan Blackwood: Yeah, you came in, you signed in, you signed your name, put the wristband on and the wristbands tracked who you were near and everything for that exact same reason. And think about that, you know, going back to earlier in our conversation, those employees that are on, like, manufacturing floors, it’s so crucial that there’s not some kind of outbreak in those areas that I could absolutely see even moving forward, even if something like flu season is particularly bad that year. Having them wear something like that and someone who catches the flu saying, okay, these people were in the same environment as that person who caught the flu, have them go get tested or have them stay out of work for a day or two, and make sure that they’re okay. It might not just be COVID.

I think that general health and safety has improved so much. You’ve seen that cases of everything have gone down over the last year. And obviously there’s been much less, you know, people in the same area. As disgusting as it is, I think it’s even as much as a significant portion of the population that doesn’t wash their hands a few times a day, or is sick and comes into work anyway, and just doesn’t tell anybody and goes around and infects, you know, half the office with something.

I think that back in the day, it was almost encouraged to come in even if you were sick. And then for the next two weeks, half of your employees are sick and your productivity drops. Where I think in the future, it’s going to be much more stay at home an extra few days to make sure that you’re completely good to go, and you’re not going to infect anybody else.

Derek DeWitt: And you don’t need to use any sick days and whatnot because we have this hybrid blended online work environment. And so, you can actually continue to do many of the tasks that your job requires you to do from home.

Jonathan Blackwood: Exactly. And I think a lot of those times it was people trying to conserve their sick days. Like if you have just the common cold, you, you want to hang on to those sick days in case something worse happens throughout the year. And now it’s going to say, okay, you can still work, but we don’t want you coming in here and potentially getting other people sick. So, to your point, work from home this week. And it’s as easy as that. It’s the snap of a finger, it’s the flip of a switch, and you’re good to go. You’re getting the same amount of productivity and you’re not putting other people in the workplace at risk.

Derek DeWitt: So all this, this magical world, which is by the way, this is not some day in the future; this is happening now and it’s going to become commonplace. I think by 2025, this’ll just be very familiar to almost all of us. And for people who are coming into the workforce, in whatever capacity, in whatever sector, this is just going to be how things are done. What are some of the technologies that are going to enable this to happen?

Jonathan Blackwood: So, there’s in-the-office technology and there’s out-of-the-office technology that are going to enable all of this. Within the office, majority is meeting room technology. So, collaboration systems, touchscreen displays within the meeting room, video conferencing systems within the meeting room that really allow for realtime manipulation of different content and sharing of different content. You’ll need to be able to make sure that people within the room can easily communicate with people that are working from home, and that they can manipulate the same content. Audio is going to be huge.

And I know on the AV integration side, I think that, in the past, video conferencing systems, when you started talking about the audio side of things, they’ve said, you know, just give us something, give us whatever. When everyone is video conferencing and you start to experience some terrible audio on one person’s end, you realize how much that can disrupt the meeting. So, I think audio, and high-quality audio, is going to become a big part of that meeting room.

On the other end, at home, we asked how many of the organizations felt compelled to provide employees with work from home technology. 73% said that they felt required. But we also asked what are you providing for them? And the majority of it was what you would expect, laptop cables, some said a secondary display. One of the things that was lowest on the list were modems and routers.

So I think that, moving forward, companies may decide okay, for certain employees or even for all employees that work majority from home, we are going to create a package that we send them that’s a laptop, a second display, an individual webcam, an individual microphone and a modem and a router that are more high end than what you would get from the ISP. And it may even be like a renting type situation where, you know, if that employee ever leaves, of course, they need to send everything back to the company. But employees sooner or later aren’t going to feel compelled to put in that capital. They’re going to feel that their employers should be the ones to do so. So that’s going to be a conversation that needs to happen between the workforce and between employers.

But I think that it’s a similar thing where certain employers are going to start doing it. Talent is going to gravitate towards those employers because they’re doing it. And then competition is going to have to start bringing that practice in as well. Much like how remote work sort of was growing up until COVID, I think outfitting employees in their home, and the home being an extension of the workplace, and the organization feeling compelled to outfit that extension with the right technology, will continue to grow in that manner.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And I can kind of imagine again, that old-fashioned mindset of like, well, we don’t want to supply them with all this stuff because you know, they’re also going to (we’ll tell them not to but) they’re going to use it in their personal lives as well. Well, is that really such a big deal? I mean, just consider it an extra perk.

Jonathan Blackwood: You know, back when we could travel, when I’m traveling, I take my work laptop with me. And at the end of the day, you know, before bed, I’ll watch Netflix on my work laptop. I’m using a little bit more battery and things like that. If I had an employer that said, do not do that… And obviously there are fintech and accounting firms, things like that, there’s going to be sensitive information and you shouldn’t be using that equipment because of the cybersecurity risks, but for something where it’s just like an average day-to-day thing, and there’s no, or not much, proprietary information that people are trying to steal, I think that’s just the cost of doing business. And I mean, even within the office, people are going to go on ESPN and Yahoo and check their fantasy teams while they’re on break and things like that. So they’re using it, whether they’re in the office or not, they’re using it for personal reasons.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. It’s the digital equivalent of free coffee and donuts.

Jonathan Blackwood: Exactly. And it’s a perk, and it’s something that organization should feel fine about giving to their employees,

Derek DeWitt: What about software solutions? Like, especially I’m thinking of Teams and some of these other collaboration software platforms that allow people to use the web to communicate from, you know, wherever; this guy’s in Tokyo, this gal’s in Madrid, this person’s in Mexico city, this person’s in, you know, Saskatoon, and they can all collaborate in essentially real time, even though they’re all in different time zones. We’re going to see more of that kind of stuff? We’re going to see more integration with that kind of stuff?

Do you think we’re going to see start seeing a lot of these things that are disparate apps right now sort of combining or finding ways to integrate with these platforms? Like I know digital signage, for example, is starting to, some companies are starting to implement or transition to being able to be used with Teams and Google Classroom and things like this by using HTML5 viewers and other software solutions to kind of help integrate everything into one seamless whole.

Jonathan Blackwood: Yeah, I think you nailed it there. I think integration is going to be the name of the game. I think right now you’ll see a lot of organizations that, whether it’s within the same country in different locations or globally at different locations, one office may be a Teams environment, another office may be a Google environment, so on and so forth. I think you’re going to see a lot more from the top-down standardization of that communication software to make sure that every employee, no matter where they are is utilizing the same software and the same applications.

And I think that’s going to naturally gravitate towards the Microsofts and the Apples of the world. I think that a lot of the smaller players are going to integrate with those environments so that, you know, they’ll utilize those standardized environments to get their platforms off the ground as well. So, I think there’ll still be, plenty of opportunity for innovation. But I do think on the highest level, many organizations will fall into one of a handful of buckets, the same way that Amazon has sort of taken over online ordering, you know, and there’s third parties that sell through Amazon? I think it’s going to end up being very similar.

Because at this point Office 365 can just do so much more, and has so many more resources to continue to grow, and has so much more data from their customers to fix pain points and things like that, that, you know, how do you create a competitor to that unless you’re already a multibillion-dollar company technology company, you know what I mean? That has the resources to really go at it.

So that’ll be something that will be interesting to take a look on. But as far as the people most likely listening to this podcast are concerned. I think it’s going to be a lot more standardization to one of a handful of those collaboration and communications platforms across the entire company.

Derek DeWitt: It seems to me that one of the disconnects that’s always been there, or certainly since I’ve been an adult and working, is that the higher-ups, they don’t use this technology, they don’t use this stuff. I think there’re still some companies where you’re lucky if the CEO has mastered email, let alone social media. And yet, you know, he or she, feels competent enough to tell you how you should be using social media. And you’re like, but dude, you don’t even use it yourself. So, how important do you think it is that these people also get on board and start utilizing this technology themselves?

Jonathan Blackwood: I think that that’s partly happened in the past year. I think, as I mentioned earlier, I think a lot more of the C-suite is going to feel comfortable working from home part time, and that’s going to force them to understand how to utilize this software. But I think the most important thing, again going back to something I said earlier, is surveying the company at large, right? And finding out what, even down to the lowest level and department by department, how people like to work and what their preferences are, and then trying to find the solution. You’re never going to find something that works for absolutely everybody. But if you really kind of dig in and collect that data, you’re going to find solutions that the majority of the workforce can utilize. And that’s going to give you the least path of resistance.

What I would advise is that the C-suite maybe doesn’t listen to their contact at the software provider saying, this is all the things we can do, and this is how your employees are going to use it, and this is how much their productivity is going to jump up without first checking with the employees. You know, the employees might say, we’ve looked into that software before it doesn’t do this and this. And because it doesn’t do this and this, it’s going to create a ton more work for us. If you don’t know that going in, you know, some salesperson could potentially sell you anything. And it’s going to sound great until you’ve already implemented it. And at that point it could be a multimillion-dollar sunken cost.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s true. Or, you know, like, when all this stuff started in early 2020, people kind of came up with their own ad hoc solutions, and now they’re comfortable with those. And then here you come in saying, okay, we’re going to standardize. And this product X is the thing we’re all going to use. And you find a whole department’s going, well, that just took away some of our capabilities and screwed up our workflows, and you’re actually not helping us, you’re hurting us.

Jonathan Blackwood: Exactly. And meanwhile, product Y can integrate that exact app that they’ve been using, and does everything else that you want it’s just from a different provider. So it’s like, if you just asked around, if you just did surveys, if you included your workforce as much as you can in that conversation, you would have saved yourself a ton of time and hassle.

Derek DeWitt: So, it seems that paradoxically, the very thing that kept us all apart is now enabling us all to come together in a more collaborative environment, in a more integrated environment. It’s a very tech-heavy environment for sure. But a lot of the changes that are happening right now, and we’re going to see in the next few years will be welcomed by many, many people at all layers of the organization and in all sectors, from healthcare to business, to higher education to manufacturing to warehouses to industries that haven’t even been invented yet.

A super interesting and stimulating conversation today. I’d like to thank my guest, Jonathan Blackwood, editorial director of Commercial Integrator and editor-in-chief of My TechDecisions. Thank you very much for the talk today, sir.

Jonathan Blackwood: Thank you very much for having me. I really enjoyed it.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. It’s so interesting. It just makes me wish I was younger because (or they need to get cracking on that life extension technology) because I really want to see what the rest of this 21st century is going to be like

Jonathan Blackwood: 100%. But I think a lot of change over the next 10, 20 years is going to occur. And I think that, you know, that that sci-fi future that everyone’s been writing about and that we’ve been looking forward to, I think the next 20, 30 years are really going to be where we get a lot closer to it then than we are right now.

Derek DeWitt: And everybody wants that flying car from “Blade Runner”.

Jonathan Blackwood: It’s the truth.

Derek DeWitt: All right. Thank you for talking to me today, sir. And thank you everybody out there for listening to this episode of Digital Signage Done Right.