Nor should they be. As our new normal continues to develop, the communication, collaboration and meeting needs of most businesses have changed.
No longer do we arbitrarily fight our way through a commute to a slightly too small meeting room shut off away from the rest of the world, but we now find ourselves in a hybrid environment of meeting with colleagues in person, virtually, or a mixture of both.
Many organisations still encourage office days for the advantages they can bring, such as improving employee wellbeing, influencing culture, optimising innovation and collaboration, and for many, time in the office is about building relationships and successful teams, forming social bonds and sometimes, just escaping the four walls of the house!
To gain buy-in from employees and maximise efficiency, businesses need to deliver a real tangible return on investment of time and expense getting there. Far too often, though, we hear of people travelling to the office for the day only to be sat with part of their team at separate desks in online meetings, reducing the potential benefit an office day can provide, and causing frustration from a wasted commute. This is because whilst some people may be in the office, others involved in meetings are not and so still need to be connected to those in the office.
Born out of new needs, some fantastic technologies now exist to properly connect people and foster innovative collaboration. These technologies bring opportunities for people to join meetings as individuals, or as spaces, connecting to other individuals and spaces. People in the room can still benefit from the 3D body language and nuances an in-person meeting brings, without sacrificing the ability for others to join remotely. This helps to drive flexibility and ultimately, efficiency, using features such as whiteboard, content camera, recording, and translation, reducing repetition of work, sharing of notes, outcomes and actions.
When it comes to meeting spaces, there are two main elements to successful adoption and collaboration: ease of access, and quality of experience.
Ease of access is achieved by having in place the correct systems and hardware to access the platforms required. This will ensure functionality such as one-touch join, video, and screen sharing capability is at the fingertips of the participants, without a user manual. In the case of Microsoft Teams, there are a plethora of meeting room devices available on the market to satisfy this requirement. Since the interoperability agreement between Microsoft, Zoom, and Cisco (Webex), all of these meeting types can now utilise the one-touch join functionality.
The tricky bit can be addressing the quality of experience, so let’s demystify it. The key to success is not trying to apply a one size fits all solution but catering for the space and environment. Many devices have the same interface and applications, so the end-user experience is consistent. Let's take a look at some options, grouped by the type of space they best suit.
Huddle Rooms / Small Meeting Rooms
The best device to use in a huddle room is a collaboration bar with a touch screen. These devices combine compute, microphones, camera, and speaker, minimising cable clutter and the need for separate peripherals. The Yealink A20 collab bar with CTP18 Touch Panel is a great example. With this, you gain the all-important wide field of view from the 133º camera, as well as dual-screen capability, auto framing and speaker tracking, and easy join and control.
If you’re on a tight budget or have a shallow space, it’s worth considering the Jabra Panacast as a camera that boasts 180º of 4k video, by using 3 sensors and stitching the image together. Combined with a conference speaker such as the Jabra Speak 510, and perhaps connected via a USB-C hub including HDMI back to a screen, you have a perfectly capable solution for a small space. The downside to this is attendees are required to bring the computer power and plugin. You may encounter issues with port compatibility resulting in someone ‘fiddling’ and leaving it a mess; remember that ease of access is a huge factor in getting a return on your investment, and this is where an all in one unit provides the extra value.
Medium to large meeting rooms
As the room gets bigger, you’ll need to consider the quality of audio; both input and output, as well as ensuring you have a high-quality camera capable of zoom. The Yealink MVC640 caters for these needs, with a 4k PTZ, 12x optical zoom camera, and a tabletop speaker with a mic array supporting acoustic echo cancellation, in aid of voice transcription. These kits now use cat5e between the touch screen controls to make deployment easier than managing USB cables.
An all-in-one alternative is the ThinkSmart Hub from Lenovo. Everything apart from the camera and display is in one unit which is designed to sit on the table, or at the front of the room. The small to medium room version is perfectly capable for up to 8 people. The disadvantage here is that it has a bigger presence on the table which can obstruct the view of other attendees. The camera view is likely to be restricted by USB length unless converted to ethernet or fibre, as will the HDMI to the screen. Placing the unit at the front of the room is a possibility, though bear in mind you don’t have the controls at your fingertips in this scenario. In its large meeting room guise, a soundbar is used for speaker and mic array, with an additional 2 extension mic pods for placement tabletop further down the room.
Extra-large meeting rooms / Conference spaces
Fantastically, the AV space has expanded to large conference areas such as lecture theatres and conference halls. It’s now possible to combine Teams Meeting Room solutions with extended audio capabilities from pro audio experts such as Shure. The MXA910 is a ceiling mic array that can be hard ceiling mounted or blend in with a suspended ceiling. Paired with the Intellimix P300 processor, this provides a very flexible solution that can be tailored to suit any large space, scalable up to 10 microphone arrays in, and 8 loudspeaker outputs over RJ45.