As we take a look back over the past year of the pandemic, it’s amazing to see how far the AV industry has come. Innovation always follows eras of disruption, and the workplace is undergoing the biggest change since the rise of digital technology. It’s a change that will impact everyone, from technology innovators to administrators to end users, so it’s important to think about what workplace innovation will mean for each of these groups, and what it means for the AV industry as a whole.
While there have certainly been new technologies developed to support challenges and opportunities created by the pandemic, we’ve also seen an acceleration of concepts and technologies that were already in flight. Touchless infrastructures and user interfaces, for example, have been in development and use for a while; including room control through personal devices, motion sensors, gesture recognition, and other touchless automation processes. Once considered ‘nice to have’, the pandemic has created increased urgency and demand for these types of technologies, accelerating both development and adoption.
We have also seen the emergence of the ‘hybrid workplace’; this concept that we can work and be productive from anywhere, and that the workplace should support both in-office and remote workers on an equitable basis. The notion of remote work is not new. Many have worked from home from time to time or brought their laptop to a coffee shop for some heads-down time away from the office. This type of work has been around since the 90s on a slow boil, with a slow adoption curve. The reality now is that we need to accelerate tool adoption and look at new and enabling technologies to support the on-site/remote worker continuum because the hybrid workplace is here; and it’s here to stay.
What does this mean for technology innovators, integrators, and AV/IT administrators? How and where individuals return to work will be driven by personal choice; technology will need to support the vast continuum of how people want to return to work, and people’s choice of where they want to work from. Enabling technologies for the hybrid workplace will not only need to be flexible to this dynamic environment, but also create an egalitarian playing field for workers who may or may not want to come into the office.
The hybrid workplace has also created an increased need to understand the office and worker behaviour. The pandemic has really highlighted concepts like synchronous and asynchronous work, and that different types of spaces support different types of work. This seems obvious when you say it, but the workplace infrastructure will need to embrace the ad-hoc nature of work, and the ability for workers to decide on-demand whether they have a particular type of work and where they want to accomplish it. For many, this concept will largely feature the office as a collaboration centre for group productivity and the home as a place for individual productivity that requires focus and isolation.
Technologies enabling the new normal
The technologies that we create and deploy need to offer a seamless and intuitive workflow for the more dynamic nature of the hybrid workplace. The technologies that will have an enabling impact for organisations – across all verticals – are those that are flexible, offering touchless, software-based user interfaces.
Mersive has always been a company that focuses on the flexibility of software because of the impact it can have on cost and usability. We’ve always believed that using your own device to meet, share, and collaborate is a better user experience than third-party room panels, installed PCs, and other infrastructure. This means our approach has always been focused on touchless. We didn’t design our technology with a pandemic in mind, we designed it this way because it provides a better user experience, really pushing the technology out of the way so meetings can focus on what’s important; the human-centered exchange of information. Software-based solutions also provide greater flexibility for admins, supporting room integrations and enabling organisations to leverage existing infrastructure and more easily scale at a lower price point. These solutions are now allowing people to return to work in a safe and effective way and still be very productive.
- The changing face of the corporate workspace
- AVIXA reports further acceleration in pro AV growth
- Pro AV Technology Outlook: The role of AV technologies in a post-pandemic world
Looking to the future
Two of the most important technologies that will play a pioneering role in the future professional environment are ‘bring your own meeting’ (BYOM) room solutions and workplace analytics.
BYOM solutions will be among the most important technologies for organisations navigating the hybrid workplace. Many workers have now spent over a year being able to access everything they need, run video conference meetings, and be productive, all from their own laptops. When they re-enter the workplace, they will expect the same easy workflow, using their own devices to access their content, their conferencing application of choice, their calendar, and their productivity tools. BYOM room systems will enable this same workflow in an environment where users can access and control the meeting space technology – high-quality displays, cameras, speakers, etc – to augment and enhance the meeting experience that they would have at home; all through a touchless interface controlled from their laptop.
BYOM is a logical extension of BYOD. We’ve adapted our workplaces to enable workers to bring their own devices, now let’s put those devices to work so that users can control the entire meeting experience and room technology from their laptop. This is a technology trajectory that has been in motion for a while, it’s the reason why you have a phone in your pocket and don’t have a telephone booth outside of your office. It’s the infrastructural vs privatisation of our own technology landscape. And with BYOM, workers can use this technology to customise and curate their meeting experience.
It’s become increasingly clear that traditional vendor-locked room systems will not support the needs of a dynamic workplace that functions on flexibility and personal choice. By replacing the dedicated room system hardware with a system that can be run from user devices, BYOM systems provide a solution that is more intuitive and familiar to users, as well as more flexible and cost-effective to deploy, allowing admins to install them in any space and more easily scale their deployments.
The combination of AI and analytics will also create an environment that is productive and safe for both end users and admins. Workplace analytics will allow administrators to be more predictive as they better understand how people are using meeting spaces. Advanced UC analytics enable admins to ‘see around the corner’, providing meaningful insights into how people are returning to work and how they are using the rooms. What are people doing? What devices are they using? What conferencing services do they prefer? Collecting meaningful metrics on meetings, room use, occupancy, and preferences is critical to understanding and optimising our spaces in the hybrid workplace.
For the end user, workplace analytics data can be distilled down to a microcosm of what the AV/IT manager gets through the analytics platform, enabling workers to answer questions like ‘what room should I meet in?’ – and offering other insights and tools for location, wayfinding, and room discovery – providing them with the information they need to more easily connect and collaborate in the hybrid workplace environment.
This environment has also been facilitated by remote deployment, monitoring, and management, which have enabled managers to set monitoring alerts, schedule software updates, and address issues remotely without impacting end-user collaboration of meeting schedules. At Mersive, our ability to pre-provision and template make rolling out new tech possible without being on-site.
Our success in the hybrid workplace will depend on flexible technologies that give workers the ability to be deterministic about how they return to the office, and our ability to understand how people are using and interacting with these technologies and meeting spaces when they do. BYOM solutions will help us to create peer environments between home and office, and integrated workplace analytics will enable organisations to understand and optimise these environments.
In a way, hybrid means never having to say where you are. Who cares where I am? Technology needs to support us no matter if we are working from home, in the office, or anywhere else.
This article first appeared in Installation’s Pro AV Technology Outlook report, which is now available to download.