Over the course of 2020, Zoom went from an esoteric teleconferencing company to a household name. Employees forced to work from home found it to be a lifeline, and the money quickly followed. Today, Zoom has over 300 million daily users. Its revenue grew 369% in just the first three months of this year alone, and while that growth is slowing, it’s still staggering by any measure.
But now Zoom has another challenge. As tens of millions of workers begin to return to the office, how does it adapt to stay essential? Today, we find out: Zoom has announced over a dozen new features and products that vastly expand its purview. Now, Zoom is no longer optimizing for remote work. It’s optimizing for hybrid work. That’s the latest trend in offices that are reopening amidst the pandemic, but with many employees only coming into work a few days a week, while working from home the rest.
The new features include creature comforts for Zoom users, tools that help you develop and record ideas from meetings, and even digital infrastructure products for offices (literally, Zoom wants you using a Zoom phone for your desk!).
While a Zoom representative was unavailable to be interviewed for this article, it’s clear that the company is thinking bigger than ever before. Its latest announcements turn Zoom from a Google Hangouts alternative into a platform that’s taking on Slack and Microsoft Teams…with a splash of office management planning tossed in. Zoom aims to be everything from where you host your next small meeting to where you host your next major conference.
Equalizing remote and local meetings
Some of the most notable updates to Zoom are around its integration with the physical office itself. While Zoom has had a virtual whiteboard for some time, it’s been a barebones experience. The revamped interface is loaded with more controls (and plenty of nice round corners in the UI). Furthermore, the company is embracing physical whiteboards across various touchscreens by third party corporations (from large TV displays to iPads) that you can draw on in a meeting room and digitize for everyone else who is remote. This whiteboard is persistent and is accessible after a meeting is over. So it works both in real time, and asynchronously.
Alongside this improvement, Zoom is trying to further leverage UI to equalize the experience of those in the office and those outside it. The company is improving its feature called Smart Gallery, launched in 2020, which cuts and crops the many people around a conference table into their own Zoom boxes. So when you dial into an office meeting from your couch, you never need to be intimidated again. (Especially because Zoom has announced that it will support Oculus VR, for workers who’d like to connect and whiteboard in virtual reality around a virtual desk.)
Finally, the company is going to launch official support for Zoom Events Conference this fall, to assemble larger virtual groups as we’ve seen during the pandemic. Many companies, Fast Company included, have hosted events relying on Zoom’s video chat backbone. Presumably, updates will make the experience easier to set up for both companies and attendees.
Bringing Zoom to the desk
Hot Desking is a big trend as CEOs downsize their physical spaces. Basically, you might come into work with no assigned desk, and instead, you schedule a spot or grab whatever is free. Now, Zoom wants to organize this process for your company, with a feature that lets you schedule and reserve a desk. When you want to log into any computer you’ve reserved, all you have to do is scan the QR code on your mobile app to unlock it.
Related is a product called Zoom Phone. It’s actually something that exists now. You can make phone calls through Zoom via an app on your smartphone, and you can buy a physical Zoom Phone for your desk, too. But the new Zoom Phone is getting an expansion. It will get much of the same interface as the Hot Desk, allowing you to login with a QR code when you sit down. You can also video chat or white board on these phones through their front-facing touchscreens and camera. Zoom wants Zoom everywhere—even your voicemails, via Zoom Phone, which can now be Zoom video messages.
Zoom Chat that competes with Slack
Today, Zoom Chat is basically just a place to type “I can’t hear you” to the person whose audio isn’t working. But in the company’s recent teaser, Zoom Chat is getting redesigned into a workspace that’s strikingly similar to Slack—complete with Slack’s messaging UI that’s full of green bubbles, hashtags, and group conversations.
In the company’s press release, it teased “planned enhancements” in which Zoom Meetings and Zoom Chat are combined more seamlessly to share files and documents. In practice, it looks a lot like Zoom is building a Slack 2.0 or a serious Microsoft Teams competitor. Zoom will allow you to take those whiteboards—or even more crucially, upcoming AI-transcribed conversations of your meetings—out of Zoom Meetings into Chat, to be available for ongoing collaboration and reference.
Zoom is an order of magnitude larger than Slack, and just a bit larger than teams. Zoom has 300 million+ daily users, compared to Teams’ 250 million and Slack’s 12 million. But Zoom has grown large by doing less than these competitors, by focusing on easy video conferencing, rather than complete work communications. And this latter task is where the company’s untapped enterprise revenue lies.
There’s no doubt that Zoom is eyeing Slack and Microsoft’s turf, but frankly, its new workflow appears to make sense from a design perspective. The ideas we come up with within meetings are often hard to export back to our day-to-day work. So Zoom is bridging this gap between realtime video meetings and our slow-roll text chats.
Zoom has yet to share the release dates for all of these updates, but suffice it to say, Zoom has been working on a lot since we all hopped onto it for last year’s virtual Thanksgiving.