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Zoom follows workers back to the office with a video booth

Zoom last month reported revenue of just over $1 billion for the quarter ended July 31, up 54% from a year earlier. That represented a slowdown from the previous quarter, when revenue nearly tripled from a year earlier (Photo: Reuters)Premium
Zoom last month reported revenue of just over $1 billion for the quarter ended July 31, up 54% from a year earlier. That represented a slowdown from the previous quarter, when revenue nearly tripled from a year earlier (Photo: Reuters)
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First it helped people work from home. Now Zoom is offering its services to those struggling to video-call from the office

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Zoom Video Communications Inc. has teamed up with a maker of office phone booths to create a videoconferencing pod for offices, as part of its strategy to remain useful as workers begin to trickle back to the workplace.

The modular booth dubbed “Room for Zoom," a collaboration with Room Inc., was introduced last week. The setup includes soundproof walls, a height-adjustable desk, built-in lighting, silent fans to ventilate the space and an HP Inc. computer that comes installed with a high-definition webcam and Zoom Rooms, a system that lets users quickly connect their accounts to a meeting room’s conferencing hardware.

“We want to do whatever is best for our customers," said Ty Buell, a solutions architect at Zoom, which is based in San Jose, Calif. “So if they’re happy being fully remote, then we want to support that, and if they want to come into the office, we need to have offerings for that as well."

Zoom last month reported revenue of just over $1 billion for the quarter ended July 31, up 54% from a year earlier. That represented a slowdown from the previous quarter, when revenue nearly tripled from a year earlier. The company expects revenue growth of 31% this quarter.

“Even though the pandemic seems to be far from over, we are happy that people are feeling more comfortably out traveling, and that’s really where we’re seeing the slowdown," Chief Financial Officer Kelly Steckelberg said on an earnings call.

Zoom’s core conferencing product has been one of the most prominent beneficiaries of remote work. The company offers a free version with limits on the number of participants and the length of the call and makes money by selling tiered subscription plans beyond these limits.

As employees head back to offices, Zoom has taken steps to diversify. At a promotional event this week, the company introduced a tool that lets workers book and check into desks and workspaces in the office, and announced a partnership with Facebook Inc.’s Oculus that will let users meet in virtual reality.

Zoom’s collaboration with New York-based Room, formerly registered as Phonebooths Inc., began after clients started asking Room for products designed for video calls, said co-founder Morten Meisner-Jensen.

Other companies that sell booths designed for videoconferencing in a shared workspace include PoppinPod, Pillar, Urban Office, Hush and Framery. Room, meanwhile, is promoting its own booth as “purpose-built for Zoom."

Workers may once have been comfortable taking phone calls in front of colleagues sitting at open-plan desks, but the visual components of video calling—and privacy issues regarding who or what might be seen in the background—are sending more people into meeting rooms, Mr. Meisner-Jensen said.

Typical phone booths and meeting rooms weren’t designed for video calling, Mr. Meisner-Jensen said: The lighting is often too dark or too bright in standard booths, and audio can become tinny or echoey in larger spaces.

Room builds the booths in customers’ offices for prices starting at $16,995, complete with the computer, lighting and other hardware, but not including assembly or delivery.

“Because we design these prefabricated products, we get to design them down to the last detail," Mr. Meisner-Jensen said. “That means we get to think about that user experience to a deeper extent than you would if you were having to patchwork it together yourself."

Companies, even those employing a part-time or hybrid approach to their return-to-office strategy, are re-evaluating their office floor plans after months away from them, said Bruce Daisley, a workplace culture consultant and author. Video meetings may not have been as popular before the pandemic as they are now, but the open-plan office had already proved frustrating for many workers seeking privacy or quiet for other reasons, he said.

“Every time you had a meeting room booked, you’d always open the door and there was someone already in there, looking stressed, hiding, because offices just didn’t have any degree of privacy to them," he said. “We find it exhausting to be in these big, forced social spaces."

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