By Joshua Burd
The rise of flexible, collaborative workspaces and employee mobility has been tough to ignore in New Jersey and other major office markets around the country.
Yorktel has seized the chance to help its clients embrace those changes, providing a major growth opportunity for its own business.
The Eatontown-based firm, a provider of video and audio communications services, has become a guiding hand for companies that are transitioning to so-called next-generation workplaces. That has meant advising clients on everything from choosing the right videoconferencing equipment to picking the optimal conference rooms, huddle rooms and other collaboration spaces.
“(We’re) really starting at that level of the conversation and then, from there, understanding what role technology has that enables those experiences,” said Vishal Brown, Yorktel’s senior vice president for consultancy. “And then we get into: ‘All right, let’s figure out what conference room makes more sense, what type of work point collaboration tools make more sense, what type of virtual collaboration tools make the most sense.’ ”
The 33-year-old firm has grown the business in recent years on the strength of an end-to-end consulting group, which serves clients from the conception of their new strategy through implementation, training and ongoing support services. Over the past five or six years, Brown said Yorktel’s digital workplace transformation services have been the primary driver of revenue growth from $110 million to $150 million.
That niche promises to be a continued growth area for the technology and managed services firm, which has about 450 employees globally. Yorktel serves Fortune 500 corporations, including household names in industries such as life sciences and media, along with government agencies and a fast-growing vertical in health care.
“The industry itself has changed a lot in 10 years and we’ve had to respond,” Brown said. “Those who have not responded, I think, are still doing legacy type of solutions and services. I think we’ve been good enough to be agile and change with the industry. And it may seem like fast change, but I don’t think you have a choice to be competitive.”
Brown, who spent more than a decade with McKinsey & Co., Morgan Stanley and other companies, has long focused on designing spaces and collaboration platforms that made sense for those businesses. That meant he was bringing experience on the customer side when he joined Yorktel in late 2011 to help develop a professional services practice.
“The idea at Yorktel was to take that experience and develop a consulting practice to guide customers on what collaboration solutions make the most sense for them, what spaces make the most sense for them,” Brown said, and answering questions such as: “How do you develop a collaboration strategy, how does that integrate into your overall IT strategy?”
Crafting that vision is inevitably followed by helping clients implement the strategies and prepare their employees for the change that is coming.
“I had to figure out what product offerings make the most sense to go to market,” Brown said, describing a role that included everything from creating packages and training a sales force to product marketing and white papers.
All that has given way to what has become a successful business line for Yorktel and key part of its evolution. Founded in 1985 by York Wang, the company initially focused on selling and integrating audiovisual equipment, but over time expanded into managed services and what’s now known as unified communications — the integration of different modes of communicating.
“We expanded our offerings and we realized that there is a very human element to technology that a lot of our peers and competitors were overlooking,” said Samantha Osowski, Yorktel’s senior vice president of marketing. “It’s vital information to know: How are a company’s people working? Where do they work? Are they working from home? Are they using their own devices? “Do they need large conference rooms or small huddle spaces? What’s the level of security they need? What’s their workflow in their day to day? Are they making major decisions at the water cooler?”
Osowski added that, after installation, the equipment often goes unused because employees either don’t know how to use it or don’t feel comfortable with products such as videoconferencing. That made it all the more important for Yorktel to establish an end-to-end consultancy group that takes a client through “post-implementation adoption and training programs,” so that they can realize a good return on their investment in video infrastructure.
Brown points to another key trend in corporate America that began as Yorktel was launching its consulting practice: the introduction of the cloud and the growing ability to work remotely.
“You were removing collaboration from within the four walls to outside the four walls because now you could work from anywhere with cloud capability,” he said. “So that meant that … ‘unified communication as a service’ was starting to move from UC (on premises) to UC in the cloud.
“So that enablement allowed the virtualization of working.”
As a result, discussions on how to best collaborate focused on balancing on-site needs with cloud needs, he said. That gave way to a hybrid model in the ensuing years when it came working with customers on their overall strategy.
But around 2013, leading companies became increasingly focused on the “next-generation” workplace for their younger workers. Yorktel and its clients then sought to address flexibility both inside and outside the office.
“The real estate redesign was happening in terms of office space design and they were rethinking the way collaboration spaces should look,” Brown said, “because you’ve gone through that maturity curve as well when your huddle spaces and huddle rooms came out.”
“So I think it’s a convergence of all these different things that were happening both in the IT world and real estate world that kind of coalesced around 2015 or 2016,” he said, which resulted in engagement with global companies with broad real estate footprints. That engagement came as those corporations were in the process of re-envisioning their spaces.
In New Jersey and globally, Yorktel has clients that span industries such as biopharma, media and financial services. The size of its customers runs the gamut, Brown said, but the company predominantly focuses on midmarket and large enterprise accounts.
Today, Yorktel finds itself working directly with the chief financial and investment officers at its client firms, along with architects and facilities experts that deal with the earliest stages of designing a new space. Those discussions focus on ensuring that an office is connected across its workstations, huddle rooms, conference rooms and other areas within the four walls of the space, but also making sure employees who are off-site have the equipment to stay connected.
What’s more, they must ensure that the technology is accessible to workers across multiple generations.
“A lot of them have five generations within their workforce,” Brown said. “So that’s where user adoption and change management comes in. That’s a big component of the consulting.”
Yorktel has also made its move into the health care sector, starting around 2014, providing an opportunity to transfer the lessons and strategies from its enterprise group to hospital networks. Its services make for a natural extension of telehealth and the use of technology to provide virtual care for patients, which grew after the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and the growth of the insured population.
But as Osowski noted, “the health care space was having a tremendous amount of trouble with the existing systems.” Historically, she said, manufacturers took videoconferencing products and tried to apply them to the health care space, but Yorktel saw a chance to partner with existing industry players and then ultimately develop its own products and services for hospitals and doctors.
The health care segment of Yorktel’s business has spiked recently and is expected to see double-digit growth this year.
“So the opportunity was just there,” Osowski said. “It was a big gap and we went and filled it.”
As a firm that is on the front lines of workplace trends, Yorktel has seen the swings in policies and preferences when it comes to working from home.
Vishal Brown, in fact, has seen it on both ends of the relationship.
“You’ve had organizations that didn’t want a remote worker, others who pushed for remote workers. So that’s on the employer side,” he said. “On the employee side, I’ve seen employees who want to be in the office, employees who want to work from home and employees who’ve been home and now want to come back into the office. So you have seen it on two sides at the employer and employee level.”
The trend is now somewhere in the middle, he said, which provides a valuable opportunity for Yorktel to consult on the right types of technology and workspaces.
“It’s all about flexibility,” he said. “So it’s not necessarily coming back or staying home — it’s just more flexible and creating spaces and policies for that worker that allows them to work from home or in the office.”