7 min read

Video Talk: An Interview with Thomas Van der Meulen

Zoom meetings: Bridging the gap between distance and connections

Other than the dreaded virus that ushered in the era, the most popular fixtures of the COVID years were undoubtedly Netflix and Zoom. Having somehow usurped Skype due to its stability and catchy name, Zoom was a stalwart in ensuring we stay somewhat connected to our nearest and dearest and somehow managed to help us maintain our professional relationships as well. 

We spoke with OnceHub product manager, Thomas van Der Meulen, about the concept of video meetings, how we got to where we are now and what could change in the near future. 

Thomas Q&A

Before COVID, video conferencing was seen as a last resort or the ugly stepsister of the traditional meeting setup. How has the change in video meeting adoption impacted scheduling products?

Thomas: Before the pandemic, the in-person meeting was an equal use case compared to video conferencing as a location. Afterwards, the default nowadays is to meet virtually via your preferred video conferencing tools. The COVID era really helped to make the switch in people’s minds that they can meet virtually in an easier and more convenient way and that you can do so with anyone in the world, wherever they may be. Think about sales teams, who had to conduct their affairs face-to-face, which required travel, careful planning and logistics. Now, they have the entire globe at their fingertips. Video meetings went from being an option, to being the option. 

What do you foresee to be the next big change in the realm of video conferencing and are there further disruptors to the concept of instant meeting on the horizon?

Thomas: The launch of the new virtual reality headset from Apple comes to mind. While the VisionPro might not be the next big thing, largely due to the insane price point, it will be something that starts us on the journey where virtual or augmented reality meetings become the norm. 
With a normal video meeting, you’re still very much aware that you are two people interacting via a flat screen. If something can simulate a closer sense of connection, where you can read body language, be a virtual version of yourself and engage in a new world, that will change the meeting setup dramatically. This might take a while to usher in though, as it is highly unlikely that more than one person in a meeting setup will have access to virtual reality gear at the same time, at least for now. 

Integration and automation are driving conversation around efficiency and workday optimization. What would you say are the most important things to automate right now for the average digital professional?

Thomas: I think the first thing you can automate as a digital professional is the filtering of your incoming communications. There is an extreme amount of things that try to consume your attention by way of email specifically that amounts to a lot of noise. Find an integration that allows you to filter, sort and summarize some of that noise can make a world of difference in terms of efficiency and organization.

Another way to boost your efficiency is by centralizing the software you make use of on a daily basis. The average digital professional uses an insane variety of different tools and applications in their daily lives, which results in having to go to a variety of places to find and access them. Bringing all of those tools to one place and integrating them means a less cluttered experience and opens up time for you to focus on more urgent matters. In the future, tools that accommodate this kind of centrality will have a better chance of survival as convenience and ease of use is a killer differentiator.

Some companies and their chatbots refuse to present certain software as an option for video meetings due to security concerns. Can you tell us a bit about where those concerns come from?

Thomas: Sometimes, when a video meeting software hasn’t reached the right level of maturity, mistakes can happen in terms of their security setup. You need to know who or what can access the data being communicated in meetings and make sure you’re using software that sends unique links. There have been instances where someone accidentally signs on to the wrong meeting or becomes privy to information not intended for them, but if you’re careful and make use of reliable applications this can be largely avoided. This is precisely why we're so vigilant about privacy and security here at OnceHub, and we urge others to follow suit.

Video conferencing tools are competing in a crowded market and are looking to differentiate in unique ways. What are some improvements you think could be made to create a superior product?

Thomas: I think video conferencing that can actually make you feel like you’re in the room with someone will win in the long term. FaceTime will probably have a major advantage now with the VisionPro’s launch, but this will subside as the market catches up and this technology becomes available across different hardware. 

To really compete in this crowded market, you need to be better at the core functions. You need to provide an experience that is seamless and feels natural. One of the ways you could do this is by simulating the notes taking action usually present in meetings by using an AI that can not only notarize key aspects of the discussion but also turn them into actionable items afterwards. Almost every meeting ends with a to-do list of some sorts, so automating that and easing some of the administrative stress around the concept of meetings can go a long way in making your product better to use. If important things get taken care of for you, that is a reason to keep using a product.

There is a rise in popularity of VTubing where social media content creators use digital avatars to engage with their audience. Do you think this will bleed through into the working world and what would be the implications of this?

Thomas: I can definitely imagine that some people would prefer this, but it does feel like a sad reality to me. By making use of avatars you are losing the human touch and presenting a variant of yourself that’s not really you at the end of the day. 
I might be a bit biased because I’m usually the one asking attendees to switch on their cameras in meetings and engage with the topics, but I understand that some people are just more introverted and would prefer not to. I’m also very aware of socio-economic factors that influence the way people think of themselves and I’m sure some would like to represent themselves in a way that is not limited to their resources. 

Many video meeting platforms now have scheduling capabilities. What does this mean for tools like OnceHub and how do you see this playing out?

Thomas: It's the same for any company in the tech game, as the market matures you need to adjust to remain relevant. At OnceHub, we needed to grow our product offering and move away from a purely schedule-based focus and provide users with additional value. By adding things like chatbots, lead qualification, scheduling and pages, we were able to create opportunities to stand out from the competition and do so in a way that our users love. We allow for data flow and a lot of magic happening in the background, which is so much more than scheduling at the end of the day. 

Lastly, what is something about video meetings that annoy you without fail?

Thomas: As I mentioned, I really struggle when people have their cameras off and put themselves on mute for the entire meeting. It makes me feel like I’m all alone with no one to bounce things off of and no way to gauge reaction or receive input. In virtual meetings, it is easy for people to hide and shy away, and sometimes you just need someone to laugh at your joke, no matter how lame it might be. It all boils down to etiquette at the end of the day, and being distant is not good for teamwork. 

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