Finding Solutions to Hybrid Work Conferencing Issues

Hybrid work challenges such as moving past analysis paralysis and dealing with the boardroom bowling alley effect are at the top of many discussions. Luckily, there are technologies and design methodologies that can help.
Finding Solutions to Hybrid Work Conferencing Issues
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The idea of what hybrid work is has changed so much – even in just the past year, and it’s only expected to continue evolving. At Infocomm 2022 in Las Vegas, the educational session Conference Room Refresh to Support Hybrid Work touched on this topic.

The panel was led by Steph Beckett, managing editor at rAVe, and included Andy Howard, managing director at Howard & Associates; Nia Celestin, vice president of Marketing at DTEN; Irwin Lazar, CISSP, president and principal analyst at Metrigy; and Tom Richards, Director of Product Management at Cisco.

Their educational discussion brushed up on the topic of hybrid work, starting off by clarifying the definition of “hybrid.”

“Early on, hybrid was simply about making a connection between somebody remote and somebody in the office,” said Celestin. “And I think it’s evolved to be much more than that. It’s evolved to: How do you not just make a connection but create an environment to enrich? That evolution of the definition has also impacted the technology that technology companies are building and coming out with. From a hardware perspective, to be able to create a level of interoperability in a room, we do things like direct guest join to allow, for example, if you're using a DTEN device and you're in a Zoom call, and then you want to go into a Microsoft Teams call, you can do that on a DTEN device.”

There are many expectations for what technology should do in a conference room and beyond. But on the bright side, there are a surplus of technologies and design methodologies that can enhance meetings for both the room participants and remote ones, such as:

  • Camera technologies to provide multiple zoom options
  • Room layout to place screens on the side of the room (instead of at the end of the room)
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities that can enhance the view of the room

Although there are many solutions out there, one of the hybrid workplace challenges includes something called “analysis paralysis.” Basically, this occurs when people don’t invest in technology now because there may be something better down the road. But just like buying a laptop or a phone is a personal investment to use for a few years and then upgrade every so often to the latest models, conferencing technology should also be looked at as an investment too.

“It's up to individuals to start to look at what's out there as well as companies to see the value of these devices and think about deploying 'em out for home employees,” said Lazar.

“A myth that I feel like is out there is that there's just not the technology to do this right now [but] there's actually great technological options out there,” stated Beckett.

“I think everybody sort of agrees hybrid is here to stay,” said Howard. “So, you could either invest in it and make it a strategic advantage for your company or you cannot invest in it. And then it becomes a strategic disadvantage.”

“Adoption is all about simplicity,” added Celestin. “People will adopt technology that they feel they can easily master that they don't have any trepidation about approaching. And we can certainly strive to make our solutions super simple – simple buttons, simple clicks, join right now.”

When thinking about the future of hybrid, the goal that is often talked about is creating meeting equity remotely as well as in the office. But do we need to think about those experiences differently?

“You absolutely have to think about the room design differently,” responded Lazar.

“There's a lot of new things to come, but the technology provides the platform,” chimed in Richards.

And speaking of the future, AI may soon be leveraged more to address some key hybrid meeting room issues such as getting rid of the boardroom “bowling alley effect.” This effect can occur when the camera only captures the typical rectangular meeting room table from approximately the same place as the screen at the front of the room. Artificial intelligence capabilities that will improve the view of the room and switch cameras based on who is speaking may soon be providing further assistance.

“It's not just about putting video in a room and calling it a hybrid workspace,” said Celestin. “It's the evolution of what being hybrid is going to become. And I think smart companies are paying attention to that and they're working on those technologies.”

“I think the only other technology we're kind of watching over the next few years is this idea of Metaverse or avatars replacing the people who aren't on video,” said Lazar.

To summarize, it’s essential to have technology that will evolve with the changing trends. But don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis as this technology should be seen as an investment. While there are many solutions to conferencing issues, it’s up to individuals to find what devices are best for their companies, keeping aspects such as ease-of-use in mind.

What are some of the conference room solutions you have discovered? Let’s keep this Infocomm discussion going! And mark your calendars as InfoComm will be returning to Orlando on June 10-16, 2023.

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Go to the profile of Leon Prather
5 months ago

One option that has been easy to deploy with great results - cameras with AI tracking. This has been a game changer for stakeholders that I have worked with. The ability to view a person as more present than far away really helps a conversation feel more natural, per users I have spoken with. 

Logitech's Rally options have allowed users to leverage AI and manual PTZ functionality for instances where the tracking feeling just doesn't seem right for the scenario, for example.

What is also interesting is the opportunity for AV pros to coach up on ways to maximize the benefits of these tools. For instance, I worked with a team that installed new cameras in their conference room, and one of the main stakeholders mentioned that he was concerned about camera placement from another application where the placement was too low - not too low for visibility, or so low that it obstructed things for the meeting participants. It was too low because it showed the space underneath the table, which was a modesty issue for female clients. 

This was the opposite of analysis paralysis - the client was quick to purchase, but the installer was too quick on the setup, which made this client leery of certain issues for subsequent projects.

But this article hits the nail on the head - hybrid can no longer be viewed as a secondary type of experience. It is here, will continue to be here, and needs to be a key focus area for AV pros looking to help! 

Go to the profile of Iulia Popescu
5 months ago

Wonderful insight @Leon Prather ! Cameras with AI tracking can certainly be beneficial in so many ways like improving the feel of the video. And while it can be great to utilize new technology, strategic planning is necessary so that setup works out well and doesn't provide any issues down the road. Sometimes learning through the process can bring up issues that weren't thought of before as well. I think many of us have agreed that hybrid is here to stay so discussing things that work and don't work is essential at this point. These are some great aspects to keep in mind and I'm glad you shared this.

Go to the profile of John Pilzner
5 months ago

AI and voice tracking are great for automatically adjusting the field of view of a PTZ camera. When the client can't afford multiple cameras, it is the best alternative.

It doesn't solve the problem of having all remote attendees individually framed, while the local attendees in a conference room share a camera (or two). Remote attendees miss all the visual cues of the local attendees not talking. One way to solve this is by using a multiviewer in the signal path in-between the cameras and the AV Bridge. This can be done with a dedicated multiviewer, or with a combo device. This isn't perfect, of course, but it is another option. 

What other creative solutions have people tried?

Go to the profile of Leon Prather
5 months ago

Such a great point! "Missing out on the visual cues of those not talking" - one of those details that really makes a difference in helping establish a feeling of equity in virtual meetings. What kind of multi-viewer are you referring to here?