Otter.ai argues remote meetings can be more productive than in-person

3 months ago

Otter.ai has been updated for iOS, introducing new tools that help it become a collaboration productivity hub. I talked to company CEO Sam Liang, who told me a little about his vision for the future of work.

home feed and meeting gems panel Otter.ai

Otter.ai has been updated for iOS, introducing new tools that move it forward from being a transcription solution toward becoming a work productivity hub. Sam Liang, Otter.ai co-founder and CEO, told me a little about the company's plans.

Otter wants to make distanced working meaningful

We know the pandemic accelerated adoption of remote and hybrid working practices. While this was a visible direction before COVID-19, the need to maintain distance meant even the most refusenik bosses had to support Work from Home (WFH), at least for a while.

It is, of course, true to say that some of these hard-won freedoms have been eroded in some workplaces of late, but remote and hybrid work has seen wider acceptance than ever before. Even Apple, albeit reluctantly, seems to have accepted that staff don’t need to be in the office every day of the week.

A recent Topia study claims 94% of employees think they should be able to work from anywhere, so long as they get their work done. With 34% of workers prepared to resign this year if they don’t get the flexibility they need, it’s only a matter of time before employers truly embrace these new workflows. It turns out that most businesses are run by humans, and they need to be heard.

Perhaps inevitably, remote work prompted a huge shift toward virtual and hybrid meetings. Otter claims over 500 million people attend such meetings daily. The company has seen a 400% increase in the number of meeting minutes it' transcribed year-on-year — from 3 billion minutes to 12 billion in the last 12 months.

Even while changing the way we work represents a cultural shift that makes some business leaders uncomfortable, it also enables real advantages to smart companies willing to engage with the trend.

Where we are going

Liang explains:

“Before the pandemic, the traditional norms of how meetings were conducted and how businesses were run did not always leverage the skills of everyone and didn’t encourage collaboration,” he said.

“We lived in an extroverted world where meetings were dominated by people who could hear and process information, not worry about distractions, and liked to speak up. This type of communication not only was exclusive and lacking accessibility for many professionals, it prevented a lot of valuable productivity and collaboration.”

Remote work changed this dynamic. It created a slightly more equal environment in which introverts gained a better chance to be heard. And tools like Otter are yielding additional benefits, such as in accessibility. Hard-of-hearing employees can join a meeting and use Otter’s real time transcription to follow the conversation in real time. 

“In this new hybrid work world, more companies are enabling new modalities, meetings, use cases — inherently pushing new tools into the world that empower businesses to leverage all of their talent more and encourage collaboration,” the Otter CEO told me.

The impact? Many improvements in work/life balance that give employees the flexibility they need to do their job both in and out the office, asynchronously, when and where they need to be — with the addition of boosted productivity to ice that cake.

That’s the context, so what’s new in Otter.ai?

Otter.ai's new tools

The new Otter.ai introduces a series of useful tools to help augment communication using technology – and delivers tools that may optimize those meetings for you.

The Home Feed & Calendar feature, for instance, acts as a central repository of information about your meetings, making it easy to access conversations, highlights of conversations, and any tagged action items.

If you connect your calendar, you’ll also see any upcoming scheduled meetings and can invite Otter Assistant to join in, capture, and share meeting notes. You can also ask the assistant to attend and capture a meeting on your behalf if you can’t make it.

Meeting Gems is another useful tool. These can be generated directly from your meeting by highlighting snippets within the notes. You can use them during the meeting to quickly flag action items or decisions, and then assign, comment, or query those items.

[Also read: In the new workplace, all we want is a chance to Flow and grow]

Why this matters

I think most people can remember when in-person meetings became something like vast workplace icebergs looming into your schedule. You'd know that no matter how busy you happened to be, for the entire period of that meeting you'd get nothing done. You’d sit in a meeting room with your teams to listen to the most dominant voices (and the rare and often-ignored quiet ones) and if you were lucky, someone might remember to take notes.

Poorly managed meetings become a colossal waste of time. This kind of meeting etiquette has been forced to change with the advent of the pandemic. Not only did workers quickly find that taking notes was incredibly important for there to be any chance to make meetings effective, but collaboration software providers soon saw the need to integrate with other solutions to make meeting time productive. Zoom Marketplace (where Otter is also available) is an illustration of how that company recognized this.

Liang said Otter’s primary mission is to make communication productive. Given the root of the solution is AI, he explained: “One way of doing that is turning voice conversations into automated actionable insights,” he said.

To get some sense of the approach Liang’s company is taking, he pointed to Automatic Outlines, another new tool currently in beta with business users. It’s a simple but incredibly useful solution to automatically create a meeting summary, “so you and your colleagues can easily access a summary of what was discussed.”

The final score?

No one ever really needs to leave a meeting without notes again – and you don’t even need to be at a meeting to gain insight into what happened.

In my opinion, the steady confluence of all these technologies means remote meetings will soon become more effective than in-person interactions, because the technology has evolved to augment in-meeting communication with tools to support the realization of the intent.

How much it costs

Not all the new features are available to every user. Otter offers four pricing tiers, the Basic free service, Pro ($8.33 per month), Business ($20 per month) and an Enterprise tier, which is negotiated with large clients. Of the new features, Basic users can access Meeting Gems.

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Jonny is a freelance writer who has been writing (mainly about Apple and technology) since 1999.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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