The constant stream of articles and news stories about the “Post-Pandemic” workplace, design, re-design, reimagining, small tents, seems to chant that everything will be different when we “return.” Let’s focus on AV and collaboration.
In the past year, the use of collaboration tools and unified communications exploded from pilot programs to the broad adoption of unified communications solutions as business-critical platforms. In early 2020, many of our clients were planning or conducting concurrent evaluations of unified communications solutions including Zoom, Skype for Business, WebEx, and similar programs. When people left the office in March 2020, the luxury of evaluations evaporated, driving people to full-scale adoption of new communications tools and techniques. It mattered less what the selected platform was, but more that companies had implemented it.
Unified communications applications are a constellation of services that include calling, conferencing, video, messaging/chatting, file sharing, collaboration, availability/status, common documents, and related capabilities, wrapped up into integrated applications.
How quickly our confidence in the tools has grown. Doesn’t it sound crazy these days when we hear, “I am going to share now, can everyone see my screen?” We expect the “screen-sharing” button to work. We can mute the person who has leaf-blowers in the background, and people see and share markups.
Here is a partial list of the collaboration capabilities that we now expect as the basic levels of service:
- Same equipment every day, every meeting;
- Personal video screens that show participants and content;
- Every seat, my seat, has a great view;
- The ability to reliably share with just a click of the mouse;
- Personal control of volume, mute, and messaging;
- One-click additions of people to active meetings;
- Ability to participate on any device from any location; and
- Everyone is a presenter, annotator, participant, and initiator.
We do not have these capabilities in our workplace conference and meeting rooms. In the office, we have rooms that:
- Are equipped with different systems, interfaces, and controls, often the remotes are missing;
- Are often left in disarray;
- Provide inconsistent wireless or wired connectivity to our networks and presentation systems;
- Can be difficult for visitors/guests to connect to;
- Reinforce the presenter and attendee configuration, more of a lecture than participatory setting.
The “democratization” of reliable online calling, video, and document sharing has pushed collaboration AV into a reliable “click and go” tool.
The demand for reliable and predictable collaboration drove the simplification of AV systems, leading to “devices” as opposed to “systems.” Now, a single affordable collaboration bar includes microphones, camera, and speakers in one package. It can be clipped to the top of a TV, plugged into the TV and network, and it works, every time. If it breaks, replace it. Office-based AV needs to become a commoditized utility and not a complexity. AV for AV’s sake is not helpful to business.
How can we continue what we have come to love in our Work-From-Home environments when we are back in the office?
Shouldn’t we continue this collaboration in place of some formal “meetings” even when participants are in the office? Of course. Why make everyone leave their desks and come to a room to experience worse views, difficulty in participation/sharing, and unfamiliar equipment.
There are clear benefits from face-to-face interactions and personal proximity for spontaneity and creativity. These interactions will remain an important part of our business process, but the ritualistic “go-to-the-meeting” mentality must give way to a more productive, “let’s collaborate” activity. Working together needs to have more of the overall smooth process of collaboration and less of a formal event.
How can we make conference rooms and group spaces work better? Start by making all rooms work the same. Start a meeting or presentation with a single click regardless of the size and complexity of the space and systems. Provide uniform user interfaces, devices, and operations across the portfolio of spaces. Make it easy for everyone to hear and see. Make it simple for people to bring and use their laptops, just like when working from home.
Rethink the reflexive behavior of scheduling a meeting and ask if this can be better done with just a click. Keep on collaborating.