This is the final installment of a podcast series with Futurum Research called Navigate. The six-part series aims to help IT leaders navigate the changing times with insightful conversations about remote work, video conferencing, digital workplace trends, and more. You can view the other episodes below:
- Part One: Breaking Down Video Conferencing Privacy And Security
- Part Two: How Video Fits Into Your Long-Term Digital Workplace Strategy
- Part Three: How to Get More ROI from Existing Video Conferencing Solutions
- Part Four: Why Video Interop is Key for Business Continuity
- Part Five: Building a Scalable Video Conferencing Infrastructure
On this episode of Navigate, host Daniel Newman talks with Åsmund Fodstad about why video is a key piece of any remote work strategy in the wake of COVID-19 and how to keep your employees engaged when working from home.
Video is Now Pervasive
We've been saying for years that video conferencing would take off within the next year or two but it never really happened — until COVID-19. Now everyone is on video. It’s one of the best ways to conduct business while everyone is working from home. Daniel and Åsmund both agreed that while they’ve been using video conferencing technology for years, most companies are finally just now getting on board with it and that likely this adoption will be somewhat permanent in our new normal.
Now that people have realized how successful they can be with video conferencing, it’s likely that companies will question whether or not travel is needed. Will people need to go to other offices for a meeting or can it be done on video instead?
Åsmund shared a story about executives from a company with offices all over Europe. They recently held ten board meetings in five days over video and saved approximately $180,000 in travel expenses. A lot of people who were skeptical around video have realized how much it’s helped companies together during this crisis and how much money it could save them in the future. Video is going to be a regular part of the new normal.
Using Video to Keep Up Morale
Humans naturally crave connection. So when people were forced to work from home, you lost the ability for water cooler chats and small connection moments that happen naturally in an office. Pexip has gone above and beyond to facilitate these moments as best as possible over video. Asmund shared that the management team has been focused on caring for employees and making sure they still feel connected.
Here are a few fun things that Pexip does that can be easily replicated by any company:
1. The Social Channel. A video channel that stays open 24/7 so employees can dial in at any time and have coffee with anyone else who is in the room no matter where they are in the world.
2. PexFridays. An all-hands management meeting where they talk about what’s going on, what is happening, what customers are seeing and other business topics.
3. Friday Radio Show. Employees can call in on Friday mornings for a quick pick me up with jokes and other fun conversations to start the day.
4. Happy Hour Fridays. Employees can join and enjoy a drink with other colleagues around the globe.
5. Individual team meetings. The R&D team hosts a quiz show on Friday nights.
The point of these meetings or quick calls is to make sure that everyone feels part of the team and is comfortable in this new normal.
Adjusting to New Technology
People are adapting. Companies are changing. New technologies are coming and we are looking at how we work differently. If we can learn, if we can grow, and if we can become better because of it, that’s certainly an upside.
Please see below for a full transcript of the interview:
Daniel Newman: Welcome to Navigate, a six-part podcast series brought to you by Pexip. My name is Daniel Newman. I'm the Founding Partner and Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and your host for today's show. In this discussion I will be talking to Åsmund Fodstad, and we're going to be talking about the new normal in the wake of COVID-19 and getting your teams and workforces ready to handle remote work. Åsmund, welcome to the show. Before we hop into the discussions, if you don't mind, please introduce yourself and just tell us a little bit about the work you do at Pexip.
Åsmund Fodstad: Yeah, thanks for inviting me and having me on this podcast. So my name is Åsmund Fodstad. I'm Head of Global Sales for Pexip and also have a team in Asia Pacific I'm running. I've been with the company since the early days, 2013, and prior to that I've been in a couple of other industries. But I like to say I grew up with video conferencing, I have 10 years in the Tandberg system, which a lot of these listeners are familiar with.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely. The company's grown up. It grew up, it was acquired, if people don't remember, back in the day by Cisco. And then a number of those that helped to find parts of Tandberg, Codian, another important infrastructure and video tools, splintered back off and created a number of different companies, Pexip being one of them, Videxio being another one, and now Pexip and Videxio are one big happy family, which has to have been pretty exciting for you.
Åsmund Fodstad: Absolutely. It's been a fantastic ride, and it's also been quite an adventure, to be honest, to be a part of it almost from day one. Even though I'm not one of the founders, I was there pretty early days, and we started the commercial side of the business with trying to make price lists and marketing material and stuff under basically NDAs. Because before we went to market, everything was supposed to be secret and no one was supposed to know what we were doing. But then as we went to market we did that in a big splash. And we have our fair share of ups and downs, but it's been a fantastic story. And as the company now grows and we are ready to also go IPO as of next week, and this is in, I like to call it phase two of the company, that was startup phase, getting ready, getting the products out, getting the team together, getting a global setup, and getting the first customers and what have you. And then now we're ready to go even, accelerate even faster and prove what we're good for.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, congratulations. That's very exciting. I'm excited to track the IPO. I know it's a little bit of one of those odd periods. You can't say too much about it, but it's always exciting to see companies go public. A very interesting time. Most businesses, I would say you're crazy, but if you're in collaboration, this might be the best time in history to IPO.
But today I want to talk to you a little bit about supporting the employees, supporting the workforce in the new normal. This is something that I think you can speak from a lot of experience, because you've been doing this forever pretty much, being able to do video and remote work for the longest time. But I guess in terms of how the business is helping employees, this novelty of the Coronavirus is starting to wear off. It's still very important. It's still a sensitive topic, but the companies are having to get back to work. So how do we make the new normal normal? And how are you guys doing that at Pexip?
Åsmund Fodstad: Yeah, it's a very good one. And in danger of sounding very old, but I'm getting old so that's okay. So being basically in the industry almost for 25 years, on the one hand I like to say it's very unfortunate that we almost needed COVID-19 to make everyone aware how good videoconferencing is as a collaboration tool when it actually works. It's a saying within the industry that we almost every year say, "Next year videoconferencing is going to take off. Next year videoconferencing is going to take off." And we've been saying that again for 20 years. And here came this special situation in the world in 2020, and suddenly you have everything.
As a reference, my closest neighbor, he's into construction, they're all on video, blah, blah, blah. But he told me the other day that, "Now we even get the plumber on video conferencing." That would never have happened before. And it's becoming the new norm. We, of course, as a company have all the tools to do that. We have a lot of employees who actually worked from home prior to the Corona situation no matter what. So that's always been part of the way that we do business. The company has been a global company and a global setup. We have people in 16 different countries, so having people working remotely, working from their homes, has been part of the setup. But of course, as soon as both authorities and governments and others said that this is the way to do it, we also then made sure that everyone in the company basically can work out of home.
And it's been interesting, that's one thing, is it was a bit of a fun experience. It's has been very, very special. And to your point, it's becoming the new norm. Even though I personally really like to socialize, I like those talks around the coffee machines and what have you. And a few of those things you are not necessarily getting through video, even though we do a lot to also facilitate that.
Daniel Newman: Oh yeah, absolutely. It's been really interesting to watch behavior change. The initial response to what was going on, companies trying to figure out, can we just take what we do live and just do it online the same way? That doesn't work. It's been interesting to watch people warm up to turning on the camera. You mentioned that every year for the last 20 years was going to be, the next year would be the video year. Like you said, there's still been some, for whatever reason, resistance. I think a lot of it is just humans' desire for social interaction. I think in this scenario video has brought more social interaction. I think prior, though, people still like to fly off to events, go out to dinner. And I think what we're going to find is balance. I think as we start to return, I think we're going to find a balance.
I think we're going to be asking ourselves questions a little bit like, do we really need to travel? Do we really need to do that event? Do we really need to go have that hand to hand, face to face meeting? But at the same time, I do hope, honestly, I do hope that we do return to some live. So I think it's both. I think we're going to see a lot of pickup. One of the things that's also been interesting, and as a global company that works with other global companies too, I imagine you're seeing some differences in the uptake across regions and zones not necessarily being the same everywhere.
Åsmund Fodstad: Yeah, no, you're right. Interesting, of course, this started, this whole thing started in China. That's one thing. But my last business travel, by the way, I went to Singapore, I went to Sydney, that took me 36 hours. But that's exactly when this started out in that region. Those countries were pretty fast to put in restrictions and so on. But at that stages it wasn't that dangerous yet. But I just managed to get out, did my thing. But then as I came home and I had this feeling, I'd been on the road for two weeks and what have you, I started also getting the same thing as you. I was supposed to have been in London, I was supposed to be at a business trip in Washington, DC.
And even though this was before restrictions, I started thinking that way myself. Do I really need to go? Is this a time now that, from an environmental standpoint, can I do it on video instead? Can I manage more things at the same time? So I don't think it's going to be either/or. I never thought that, even though I've been using video conferencing in four different industries, but always in a global perspective. I could never have done my job without video conferencing. But then again, I grew up with it. At the same time I'm the first one to socialize with my colleagues, with the customers and partners, and so forth. But I think people, again, it's going to balance this privately. Maybe not travel that much even privately going forward. Maybe don't do both Bahamas and Costa Rica and skiing in the winter, maybe you do just some locals, right? And then again, maybe that business meeting in New York, maybe I could do that on video and on my collaboration tools rather than flying every time to New York as well. So that's a good one.
On the culture side, we haven't seen that much Asia versus Europe versus North America. It's almost the same. However, to your point, I see more differences on exactly what you said, almost within age. Again, I have a good friend of mine, he's in the management team of a shipping company, very conservative, likes the business travel, the dinners, the fancy what have you. And they have like 10 subsidiaries that they normally travel to. Five guys, would normally take them three weeks. Now they had to do it on video, but even some of the older guys here, they were like, "This was fantastic. This worked, we had 10 board meetings in five business days. And by the way, one of the guys did like a back of a napkin, we saved $180,000 just on travel expenses."
And then unfortunately, again, the Coronavirus was the thing that made that happen. But I think that they're going to think very different on this going forward. So I've seen more differences between the almost age and so forth, rather than what they're doing in Asia versus other places. And a lot of the ones that we are cooperating with as well now actually do turn on the video, because it makes a difference, right?
Daniel Newman: Yeah, no, it absolutely does. And I think there's a lot of evolution to new normal. I think it's funny because it's become a more of a marketing slogan. After every major crisis you end up with a "new normal." If someone said something to me along the lines of, "It's going to be the next normal," that might make more sense. I also think over time we will see things transition. But what I do think will stick is, I think for the first time a lot of people who had skepticism around video, around using collab tools, has realized how well it's helped hold companies together through this crisis. So I think there's going to be a tremendous uptick. As simple as it sounds, just turn your camera on. How long have we been on tools that have had video enabled capabilities and people won't turn the video on? And you're a little bit more born on video, but a lot of people have been using platforms, whether it's Pexip or others, where they just don't use the camera. And it's like, why?
And I think now people realize it's okay if you aren't dressed up and your hair isn't done and your makeup's not perfect. Let's just keep the conversation going. And just realize how much more we can gain and engage through human interaction.
Which obviously and interestingly brings me to my next question for you, is you have a team and you're talking to people who have teams. And morale is a big thing right now. Going into this phase of a new normal, people are uncomfortable. This isn't like an economic downturn that's purely based upon some sort of economic issue. This is a global shutdown of much of the economic activity due to a completely uncontrollable circumstance that really nobody on this earth has ever experienced before. It's almost like talking to your kids. It's almost like talking to your kids. They're asking you for answers, you're like, "I don't know." When's it going to be normal? I don't know. What happens next? I don't know. So what are you telling your teams to give them confidence and make them feel comfortable about how work is changing?
Åsmund Fodstad: That's a good one, and again, I feel very fortunate, of course, that we are within collaboration, which is just booming these days. So this in general is good, even though maybe your friend and others are being laid off or are out of work. So it's a bit of, I want to be a bit delicate here as well. At the same time, on the morale side one of the values in Pexip is "professional and fun." So for us it's important to combine the two. I think with video now as well, people are becoming more effective. They're more structured. It's more meetings where we are to the point. Just looking at myself, it starts from my time zone currently. But 7:00 AM is Sydney, I try to speak to the people we have in Australia and New Zealand. It could run until after this meeting with California or Seattle, we have big corporations, Microsofts and Googles and others, right?
So it stretches the day, which on one hand, from a work balance perspective, I actually like it. I can be more flexible. I'm the first one to admit that a couple of times I go jogging at lunch or go just for a walk to reset and do stuff which I could never do back in my office. At the same time, we have done at least a lot within Pexip. We have what we call a social channel, which stays open 24/7. You can just dial in there and have a coffee and see who's there and talk to people elsewhere in the world. We have what we call PexFridays, which basically, let's call it an all-hands management update. What's going on, what are we seeing, which customers did we get last week, et cetera, et cetera.
We have Overhear, it is a radio show in the morning on Fridays. They have dirty jokes, we call in, listen to this joke and have coffee and laugh at the same time. We have happy hours on Fridays, we have had, I saw some of the R&D teams, they had a quiz show on Friday nights. We have something we like to call PexBeer. So we have a couple of things are very, very ad hoc. In other words, couple of things that we plan and nurture almost to make sure they happen. But again, to make people not necessarily have the right morale, but again, feel included, feel they're part of the team, feel that this is normal, whether it's the new normal or not. So that they're not sitting in their basement at home by themself and just doing their job.
But it's a super fine balance. We're spending a lot of time on the management team to talk about the ethics and stuff like that to make sure, but it's more about caring for the people, taking care of the people, make sure they are included and make sure they are okay. Because it can be pretty intense if you really, really think about it. Sitting 10 hours on a video conference, not the same one, but you have maybe five different ones or five, six, seven different video calls during a day. It's pretty intense. It's that fine work balance of work and private life balance. That's one thing. But then also between being professional and having fun at the same time.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. Most people are working more, working harder, and actually probably longer hours. It's just what's happened. I used to be 47 weeks on the road, because being an industry analyst, there'd be tech events, analyst days, large industry events almost weekly. Plus you were trying to juggle all the other work, and our team and our firm backing me up. But now that I'm here, it's almost there's more demand on time, more meetings, more requests, more quick meetings. Where it's not uncommon to have a 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM day booked solid. And then again, you're not actually getting the work done. That's just the meetings. Then you actually have to find the time to do the work, which can be overwhelming for people.
And you're so close to your office with it being at home, it's easy to get dragged back in. You go out, you eat dinner, you go, "Oh, I've got to get that done." Normally you might have said, "I'll do it tomorrow." But now you're like, "Oh, my office is right around the corner. I'll just go do it right now." And so let me ask you this, because another area of adaptability, we're knowledge workers, sales, marketing, management. But there are other parts of the business too, which I imagine, like tech support, R&D, NO, the work from home model probably has a bigger change and shift for those folks. What have you seen there?
Åsmund Fodstad: Yeah. So just to say that as well, the only people that have in office today, there's a couple of guys. We run Pexip as a service. So that's not only business critical for us, but it's critical as a telecall service on behalf of whoever uses it. So that needs to be up and running 24/7, and a couple of those guys actually need to be physically at one of the offices that we have. So that's one thing. Everyone else has been sent home, are working from home. And it actually works. However, an R&D person is also very different, or an engineer, for them it's very different by nature than a salesperson. I do think now on the commercial side it's that the customers are not going to the office either. So they accept to meet you on video. They want to conduct business. They want to get things done and so forth as well.
And then I've seen on the engineering side and also actually on the back office side, better than, let's call it, both management and sales. It's very much meeting by meeting by meeting, just sit with an open channel. They see four or five guys, the channel is open, they see them work and do their stuff. They're just like, "Hey Chris, I need this. Hey, Karl, I need this. Hey, do you know the answer to this?" So I see that they are a bigger user of those open channels. And the really cool thing is that even though most of them sit there also, we have people here in Washington, DC, we have people in Sydney and so forth, all on BizOps, as an example. And they get to see each other now every day. And they didn't do that before. It was just when there were meetings. So good things are coming out of it as well, absolutely.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, no doubt about that. I think companies are adapting well. I think they're learning how to do things differently. I did a podcast with one of the world's largest innovation firms, R&D in wireless comms. And some of those folks are essential workers in patent development for telco, for instance. But in a lot of companies these folks are really used to being able to walk into a room, throw up a whiteboard, scribble ideas for circuits or patent innovation type development, stuff that's probably at least three or four pay grades over my head. And so figuring out how to do it remote or do it in a shared environment, or even do it with social distancing, it's been really interesting to listen and learn.
But innovation has to continue. Innovation, in fact, tech has been so instrumental. We've talked a lot here about how video is keeping companies connected, but tech things like AI, things like supercomputing, things like cloud, how those technologies are actually helping healthcare, how they're helping data science, vaccine development, therapeutic identification. I know that's a little bit out of the collab league, but tech as a whole has been a real cog in the wheel of getting the world going again.
Åsmund Fodstad: And this makes me, well, I'm an optimist by nature, but anyway, that's probably why I'm on the commercial side of the business. But anyway, again, people adapt, the world adapts, we're here to do exactly that, almost. This might be, even though I actually don't believe that much in the conspiracy as others, but it's a little bit the mother earth telling us as well that the way we were doing things might not be the perfect way of doing it. But people are changing, new technologies are coming, we're looking upon this as a bit different. Hopefully it helps save the environment a little bit and so forth. Even though we all are dependent that people work and have businesses and whatever, but again, people adapt, people change, new things are coming to market. And by the end of the day they'll say that COVID isn't a good thing, but this change might be a good thing to humanity and to the world.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, small shifts. What did we learn? How do we come out better? I think those kinds of lessons can be learned in any crisis or tragedy. You never wish it. It's never something to be happy or proud of. Even in a case of a business like yours and a few of the others that have blown up because of this in a good way, you never want those to be the circumstances. But if we can learn, if we can grow, if we can become better because of it, that's certainly an upside.
So we're coming to the end of the conversation here, and I do have one little more fun question I'd like to ask you about, though. You've been doing this a long time, but even your team probably is used to a little more being out traveling, being at events, not being, like you said, at the computer or the laptop quite as much as they've been. I imagine you have found ways, maybe funny moments, maybe some different team building and camaraderie. Anything really funny stand out or any really interesting cultural sort of ways people are keeping themselves energized to keep things going?
Åsmund Fodstad: It's a good one, thanks for asking that one, actually. As late as just, was it yesterday morning? It doesn't matter. Anyway, on one of the team calls we had, a great marketing lady we have is sitting in Sydney. She was connected in, the full team was there, we were like 20 or something on the call. Since it was early day her time, not all early days, but early in the morning her time, her husband was walking in the back just in his underwear and what have you. And the team just started laughing about it at first. There were nothing more than that, but still, but it also gives you a good insight what's your home look like. Who are you? What's your family? And I've seen kids pop up with teddy bears and so on.
But probably the thing you had, I don't know if this is something specific about Pexip, but a lot of people have contributed, that's the way at least I like to read it, but they showed up in uniforms, in funny wigs, with sunglasses. Also, so one thing is to have happy hours, which takes down the professionalism and seriousness a bit. People are relaxed, you know, they're sitting over there, feet on the table, and basically enjoying a scotch and what have you. So video is also enabling that kind of socializing part which I think a lot of people are missing right now. And then there's tons of story that doesn't fit this recording but are like that.
Daniel Newman: I still laugh about, there was a broadcast moment, I don't remember what channel, but last week where the guy had this shirt and a tie on and he didn't have pants on. He was the guy, and he got up and he noticed in the shot and he was so humiliated. But these are the moments, like you said, I really do like that people have gotten to know people a little bit better. Of course I've got my green screen and I've hidden myself from the world, but that's because I do a lot of recording, TV, podcasting. But for the average at-home worker, just getting in their homes, getting in their offices, studies, kitchens, it's been nice. You just feel like you get to know people. It's almost like Skyping with a friend, which is a really nice moment.
So Åsmund, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to join us here in Navigate. It's been a lot of fun. You're the final installment of the six episodes. I really enjoyed this discussion. I think there's going to be a lot of advancement and growth in collaboration. I think the future's bright for this industry. I won't pull back on saying I do look forward to seeing you and others at events in the future. But maybe a few less of them, maybe half travel and twice the use of video. I think everyone would find a really good balance, which would establish a really nice and more manageable new normal.
Åsmund Fodstad: No, I totally agree to that. I'm old enough to remember both 9/11 and SARS. And that made major changes to video conferencing back in those days. And yes, it might calm down a bit, but it made changes that lasted. And again, I think this, whether it's the new norm or not, I actually think you had a good perspective. Again, it will change hopefully to the better, the world is changing. People are adapting, and this is going to be a good thing as well at the end.
Daniel Newman: Absolutely. So everyone out there, check out the show notes, there's some links, you can learn more about what Pexip's doing. For myself, Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst with Futurum Research, really enjoyed doing this series with everyone. Collaboration is going to change the world. We've seen it. It's been so impactful. It will continue to be impactful, but for everyone out there, stay safe, follow as well as you can, but we look forward to seeing out there again, but for now I've got to go. We'll see you later. Bye-bye.
Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.