It's fair to say that Zoom (NASDAQ: ZM) has been a lifeline during the pandemic, allowing workers to do their jobs remotely and stay out of buildings where the coronavirus has the potential to spread. And now Zoom is introducing a new feature that not only promotes social distancing but also workplace efficiency. It's a concept called Kiosk Mode, and it could change the face of office buildings well beyond the pandemic.
Will in-person receptionists become a thing of the past?
The new Kiosk Mode feature is part of Zoom Rooms, one of Zoom's enterprise products. Unlike the standard video conferencing service, which Zoom has made available for free throughout the pandemic, Zoom Rooms is designed for meeting places such as reception areas and conference rooms. And the service isn't free -- it starts at $499 per room, per year.
But what the program allows for is complete interaction with a receptionist -- even if that receptionist is nowhere in the building. A visitor can come to a lobby, use a touchscreen monitor with a camera and speaker to connect with a receptionist and have a conversation. From there, a virtual receptionist can give that visitor access to different areas of the building by virtually unlocking doors.
With Kiosk Mode, virtual receptionists can control multiple floors, or multiple buildings. And in a day and age when social distancing is so important, it can reduce office-building interactions when guests show up.
Will the concept of virtual receptionists take off?
Right now, the idea of the virtual receptionist makes a lot of sense. But will there be a need for it beyond the pandemic?
There may or may not be. While it's true that a virtual receptionist can still interact with visitors and even grant building access from afar, there are certain things a remote receptionist can't do. That person can't sign for packages, can't perform other duties like restocking supplies, which sometimes fall on receptionists, and can't provide the same personal interaction some businesses might want or require.
On the other hand, some companies might embrace the idea of the virtual receptionist due to the cost savings involved. For an annual fee of $499, a company may be able to buy a Kiosk Mode plan for several rooms and downsize a staff member -- and a $50,000-a-year salary -- as a result. Furthermore, many companies are making plans to reduce office space in the aftermath of the pandemic. A year of conducting business via Zoom has taught a lot of employers that they don't need workers to report to a building every day to be productive. A virtual receptionist could easily lend to that downsizing effort.
Of course, if the concept of the virtual receptionist really takes off, it could change the way office buildings are configured in the first place. Not having to carve out lobby space for a receptionist could lead to more efficient designs that save tenants money, leading to an uptick in lease activity for commercial landlords.
It's too soon to know how successful Kiosk Mode will be for Zoom and how many customers will bite. But if the model proves successful, it could result in a world of cost savings and change the way office buildings are designed going forward.