Collaboration In The Conference App Era

How to ensure A/V technologies and meeting spaces are adequately supporting the hybrid workforce.

By Phil Langley
From the June 2023 Issue

 

Although it’s hard to imagine, it was only three or four years ago when meetings were primarily conducted with all participants in-person, gathered around a conference room table in the same room. Participants “dialing-in” happened occasionally but was far from the norm.

Fast forward to 2023.

In many instances today, meetings consist of both in-person and remote participants, significantly shifting the A/V and facility requirements for successful collaboration and effective communication. Now more than ever, employees need to rely on technology and creative meeting spaces to ensure their voices and ideas are heard and delivered in a way as effective—and equitable—from afar as they would be in person. This is no small feat for today’s facilities professionals. And, with mounting pressure to ensure a positive and productive employee experience, time is of the essence.

meeting equity
(Photo: Adobe Stock / Gorodenkoff)

 

While many facilities may have the “right” technology in place—from UCC applications to conference room audio and video solutions—meeting equity goes far beyond its technical considerations. The way employees view their opportunity for engagement during meetings can have a major impact on company culture, interpersonal relations, employee engagement, and overall job satisfaction. These impactful considerations are not being discussed nearly enough and have become an important responsibility for facility professionals today.

Why Meeting Equity Matters

Today’s hybrid meeting experience is often most difficult for those participating remotely due to a mix of factors: from poor meeting etiquette (for example, muting others or multi-tasking) to unclear expectations (like the use of cameras or where the meeting should be taken from), to low-quality conference room equipment and sound issues.

Remote participants often cite that they find it hard to follow the discussion for several reasons: the mic was picking up and prioritizing the closest sound (which may have been side chatter as opposed to an influential meeting speaker); folks were seated at a long conference table with a single camera making it hard to see the person speaking; and inequities when trying to participate in the conversation and finding they weren’t heard as clearly or considered in the same way as live attendees.

meeting equity
(Photo: Adobe Stock / Ratchapon)

 

So, what’s the problem with all of this?

Well, for one, who is speaking matters. If an employee can’t clearly follow who is speaking, they may have difficulty determining how to prioritize action items and who is expecting what post-meeting.

If everyone with a seat at the real (or virtual) table cannot be seen, heard, and follow the discussion, they will likely disconnect and could even become frustrated or unmotivated.

Secondly, these meetings can be unproductive. If everyone with a seat at the real (or virtual) table cannot be seen, heard, and follow the discussion, they will likely disconnect and could even become frustrated or unmotivated. This can directly impact employee engagement and productivity.

Third, if your contributions cannot be easily recognized, this could impact job satisfaction and career advancement.

The reality is we are all still learning, and the ability to deliver a completely seamless and equitable meeting experience can be a challenge. But as a facility professional, there are key steps you can take today to help rectify typical roadblocks and demonstrate to employees that their contributions are heard and valued, no matter where they work.

Enabling Equity: Top Tips To Implement Today

Here are three key steps to help gain greater meeting equity for all employees and help ensure your facility delivers the technology and meeting space requirements needed to best support hybrid work.

  1. Consider the office furniture: A traditional, long conference table isn’t going to create as collaborative an environment for a hybrid workforce as an arc table that faces the screen and remote participants. Moving forward, it will be necessary for facility professionals to consider which rooms are selected as conference rooms and how these rooms can accommodate tables on casters, for example, that can be reconfigured for varying meeting setups to ensure all employees can participate equally.

    meeting equity
    (Photo: Adobe Stock)
  2. Prioritize high-quality audio and video to create unity: 4K video helps everyone feel like they are sitting together around the same table (for example, by implementing tools that move the camera to the person speaking) and IP audio (versus analog audio through a phone line connection) provides superior audio quality. These are two easy steps that should be taken to safeguard against typical frustrations related to audio and video quality issues.
  3. Create conversational equity: When considering which collaboration tool to standardize on, investigate how these platforms can help support meeting equity. For example, some platforms offer a “gallery” view mode where every participant appears in their own box, and all box sizes are the same on screen. When everyone is captured in their own box, they can be clearly seen, and when speaking, their box will light up, diminishing any confusion around who is speaking. And with everyone featured in the same size “box,” employees gain a sense of equality and the same “share of voice” potential in the meeting.

Hybrid work is here to stay, and there is more pressure than ever to ensure a productive and positive workplace. Taking the time to understand employee frustrations and typical challenges associated with meetings will be crucial to informing strategic facility-related decisions and supporting employee engagement, no matter where they work. Considering both the technical and meeting space requirements is essential to delivering a more enjoyable and equitable meeting experience.

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Langley is Wesco’s Senior Vice President, Global Pro AV and UCC. His extensive background in power distribution and substation control set the stage for an early entry in the European pro A/V industry. For over 20 years, Langley has consistently led in nearly every facet of the ICT space from consultancies to system integrators, manufacturing, and distribution across the globe.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at jen@groupc.com.

Check out more technology and facility management news in previous Facility Executive Tech & FM Columns.