While elements of COVID-19 pandemic life, such as wearing face masks and social distancing, start to decrease as vaccination rates climb, video meetings and other technology offerings may stick around, and businesses are making investments with the trend in mind.
Security system manufacturer Digital Monitoring Products Inc. recently made a long-term investment in its virtual offerings by opening a videoconferencing center at its Springfield headquarters.
Made up of three studios, each fully equipped with professional quality lighting, cameras, screens and boom microphones, the videoconferencing center will allow DMP sales representatives to conduct sales and training presentations virtually in better quality. Altogether, the space was an investment of over $100,000, said Mark Hillenburg, vice president of marketing.
“We wanted to present ourselves a little bit better than your typical, ‘I’m in my bedroom on Zoom with my laptop camera and the mic on my laptop,’” Hillenburg said. “We were trying to step it up a bit.”
Hillenburg said DMP previously used a smaller video studio for creating some training or marketing materials, but creation of the new studio is a direct response to how COVID-19 has impacted business operations over the last year and likely will continue.
As the pandemic hit, and businesses needed a way to keep operating with employees at home and travel limited, online videoconferencing technologies like Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams skyrocketed in popularity.
In March 2020, the first month of working from home for most companies, Zoom reported 200 million daily meeting participants – up from 10 million in December 2019. In April, the number jumped again to 300 million.
Zoom Video Communications Inc. reported approximately 467,100 customers with more than 10 employees at the end of the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2021 – up 470% from the same time period the year before.
Videoconferencing, while increasingly common, is not the only technology adaptation businesses have made. In real estate, offerings for virtual and video tours increased as the pandemic hit.
At Green Realty Group, office manager Shanda Boling and Realtor Kasie Brown said the pandemic pushed real estate agents to increase the frequency of technology like virtual tours and 3D imaging.
Brown said Green Realty Group used virtual tours on about 30% of listings prior to the pandemic but are now using the programs for a majority of listings. Where a virtual tour isn’t available, they’ve conducted tours via video call or simply sent their clients video walk-throughs of properties.
Brown said while most clients prefer having the virtual options, it has caused some issues when working with clients who don’t have access to the right technology or don’t know how to use it.
However, Boling believes the change will stick. Customers have become accustomed to it over the last year, she said, and most house hunters will want to look at several properties before beginning to narrow their choices. Those preliminary steps can be done virtually.
“It really did solidify all those changes that I think we were actively making before COVID, but a lot of agents it wasn’t even on their radar,” Boling said. “Now, they’re kind of forced into the future with us.”
The increase in 3D tours comes with a financial investment for Green Realty Group, which contracts out for the service with JK Real Estate Photography LLC. On average, a 3D scan is about $100 per house, with prices adjusted based on the house size.
Both Hillenburg and Boling said the pandemic didn’t require brand new technology out of the blue but gave their businesses a push toward where they already were heading.
“It solidified a lot of the technologies we were already moving toward anyways, like electronic signatures and doing 3D dollhouse views of the homes,” Boling said. “A lot of those – what was cutting edge technology we were working toward – is a lot more commonplace.”
Hillenburg, Boling and Brown all agree that virtual options are not likely to drop off any time soon – and customers and employees don’t want them to.
For the sales staff at DMP of about 35 representatives across the country, having a virtual option to conduct business cuts down on travel time. Hillenburg said businesses are realizing that time can be better used.
“Our teams have really gotten up to speed on how to do a virtual meeting – what the etiquette is like, how to make the technology work in a way that is almost seamless,” Hillenburg said. “You get back 90% of your time you might be traveling and make that more profitable or efficient. I think we will see a significant shift in the amount of business travel that happens because it’s just not necessary.”
A report by the Global Business Travel Association released in February predicts business travel will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025.
Hillenburg said virtual meetings also are likely to stick around because more people are used to using them than ever before and they’ve become a more acceptable alternative to in-person meetings.
“The prevalence and acceptance of virtual meetings, the adoption, is very high now. Pre-COVID, you might do a Zoom meeting, but nobody would turn their camera on, people were always having problems with the technology, especially older people,” he said. “Now everyone knows how it works, and you’re having a productive face-to-face meeting; it just happens to be virtual.”
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