It might seem familiar, but it’s a brave new hybrid world out there
We all used to work in the office full time, so going back doesn’t sound like a problem at all. We’ve done it for years – decades, even – and we know it like the backs of our hands. It’s just a question of restarting the routine - simple enough. Is it, though?
Let’s review the state of office life right when we left it. Meeting rooms were designed and built to accommodate people who collaborated in person. There were occasions when a colleague or business partner was patched in from another office or on a work-from-home day – but most participants were present in the same room. Video conferencing was reserved for bigger meetings or first-time sessions with individuals in another province or country.
And why was that the case? Because the technology often became the focus of the meeting – rather than the content itself because it was just so unreliable. Conference rooms designed prior to 2020 often considered the technology only as an afterthought. Conference phones placed in the centre of the table, and a screen hooked up after the room was constructed. Wi-Fi throughput and access points, speakers, microphones, cameras and speakers - none were part of the central design. The thought was that it was good to have those things, but they weren’t essential.
Let me paint a picture. A meeting is booked for thirty minutes at 2 p.m. Participants in the room would gather on time, and chat among themselves while the organizer would fiddle with the technology. After 20 minutes, everyone was connected to the same presentation, on a single phone line and everyone could hear each other; just in time for someone to remind the group that they had to leave in 10 minutes because that was all the time they had. And that was in the businesses and meeting rooms that had video and audio equipment. Many had nothing in most, if not all their meeting spaces that would support remote collaboration.
Fast forward to today and the old way of doing things just isn’t going to cut it anymore. The office might look familiar, but that vision we see from afar is a mirage. What is being billed as “return to office” is actually a launch into hybrid work. It’s uncharted territory, and we’re all going need a new road map to navigate it.
There’s a lot to unpack here. There are many potential areas of frustration that never existed – or perhaps were easy to ignore – before the age of remote and hybrid work. There’s the question of the bandwidth. Is the network capable of supporting multiple video connections simultaneously within and into the office? Sound is another factor. Now that remote attendees will be part of every meeting, we’ll have to pay extra attention to what they can hear; without non-verbal cues for context (in our non-video meetings), being able to hear every voice is essential. And with video calls happening in every corner of the office, how will those trying to do quiet work, focus? The good news is that while we’ve all been working from home, others have been working on answers to these problems.
Ideally, in a collaborative meeting, or even in a one-to-many presentation, you want everyone to see and hear the same content and have an equal opportunity to communicate and contribute. Remote work has rewired employees’ brains – they now have a certain expectation of what virtual meetings are supposed to look like. With such a fluid situation as where and how people work these days, you want to ensure that your staff can transition smoothly whichever direction hybrid work goes.
Luckily, there are solutions now that didn’t exist two years ago, that can make the entire process foolproof. The first step is to choose a collaboration platform – that might be Teams, Webex, or Zoom – this will give you the foundation to connect everyone. Chances are, you’ve chosen one and it’s working well. If not, we recommend you start here and really nail down a solid choice that gives you the tools you need.
Now you’re ready to extend it to the boardroom – and every other meeting room in the building. To do this, the next step is to add the supporting hardware and software that will allow you to run those meetings without a hitch. Peripherals that augment audio (for speakers and listeners), enable or improve video, and wireless access points that improve bandwidth will all go a long way to making the user experience seamless.
As you weigh your options, try to ensure that your hardware choices integrate well with your existing collaboration and communication tools. Ideally, you want hardware that augments the experience, instead of fighting with your platform – possibly losing or diminishing some important functionality. The best solutions are platform-agnostic, allowing them to pair seamlessly with any platform, while some work best only when paired with a particular platform.
In terms of native integration, examples of exciting technology from Microsoft such as Teams Rooms hardware are entering the market and finding their way into many meeting spaces across the continent. The WFH revolution has been a great catalyst for rapid innovation in meeting room technology, and thus advanced, intelligent audio and video have been introduced into the mix.
Inclusive video layouts use smart cameras in hybrid meetings to follow whoever is speaking and frame them during the call (pictured as though they’re on the call from their own desk) so that those on the far end of the meeting can have an equal experience with in-person participants instead of feeling isolated. This is a big leap from primitive tracking cameras that were previously used in boardrooms and never seemed to work. Additionally, intelligent speakers can apply voice recognition technology from Microsoft and correctly tag speakers in Teams transcripts for later review.
I’m sure there are going to be more factors that will pop up as individuals continue to venture back to the office and attempt to work as they have been with those who choose to stay remote. We’ll find solutions to those issues as we go along, but for now, we need to take these first steps to ensure that the global move back to the office does not leave anyone stranded.
Get in touch with us if you’d like to explore how to modernize your staff collaboration in and out of the office.