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Corporate AV: Exploring
the new horizons of hybrid working

The long-term outlook for corporate AV is starting to become clearer as the pandemic recedes, and there’s no doubt that emerging technologies are going to be of huge importance, writes David Davies

The last in-depth survey of corporate AV in Installation, back in early 2022, caught the market at a moment of renewed uncertainty. With the Omicron Covid variant suddenly hitting hard in many countries, the sense of a world beginning to ‘return to normal’ was again called into question. And whilst the number of cases began to fall again relatively quickly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the early phases of what could be the worst recession in many countries for a century have ensured that the 2022 mood music was less than upbeat.

So it is against a backdrop of continued precariousness that we once more take stock of the corporate AV market, although the good news is that – to date – the fresh cycle of activity prompted by the spread of a hybrid workplace culture does not appear to have been slowed much by the oncoming economic storms. Indeed, the impression garnered from many interviewees for this article is that it has been a milestone year in which the long-term outlook for the industry has become increasingly clear, as has the fact that it’s going to be characterised by the adoption of new AV solutions and technologies that help companies to operate more flexibly and efficiently.

Sennheiser’s TeamConnect intelligent speaker

Above all, though, it’s a story of video’s sharply increased importance across the corporate world, as indicated by Gunnar Kyvik, business segment lead – meeting & conferencing at Sharp NEC Display Solutions Europe: “The uptake of video as the main go-to tool for meetings has been unprecedented. This change has not been forced; it has been embraced. This could not have been foreseen prior to the pandemic. As a result, the development of software and hardware, and the relationship between them, to optimise connectivity over video as the primary source of meetings has been significant. The success is such that there is now a new challenge: how to get staff back to the office. The corporate AV market must now go back to the drawing board in devising ways to create better meeting room experiences which will provide the purpose to return to the office, requiring new investment in the office landscape. “

All of the companies interviewed for this article emphasised the rapid nature of technological change affecting corporate meetings during the last few years. But now that the major mindset shift has taken place, it appears we are set for an extended period of refinement in which the hybrid experience is optimised for all participants, wherever they are located. 

Putting the scale of the uptake of new communication solutions in context, Crestron’s VP and general manager at Crestron Europe, Annelies Kampert, observes: “Pre-pandemic, only approximately 20 per cent of the companies invested in video collaboration platforms. Then Covid hit and remote meetings became the norm. Today, after years of upheaval, the workplace has stabilised, more or less. Research we did in partnership with Simpler Media Group shows that 80 per cent of employees have at least one meeting a week that includes remote participants. As we’re unlearning decades of ‘office work’ and learning what we need to make hybrid work successful for everyone, now is the time for companies to invest in the collaborative, connected technologies that can make the hybrid meeting equitable, efficient, and ultimately successful.”

Making all participants’ meeting experiences equitable is a recurring theme, and it’s arguable that this is becoming more acute as employees again spend a greater share of their time in the office. Joe Andrulis, executive vice-president corporate development at Biamp, comments: “Hybrid work is moderating, I would say, with more and more companies moving back to the office for part of the working week. At the same time, the way that people are doing things is now all UC [unified communications] based. As an AV vendor it has had a massive impact; it’s hard to imagine a space of any size now without some sort of support for these kinds of communications.”

With that taken as a given, the focus can shift to enhancing the tech experience. “It can be the case that the video experience is falling behind sometimes, for instance if you have the effect of a room with [small representations of people] then it appears small to all of the remote participants, and it’s difficult to see who is actually talking,” says Andrulis. “So I think you are going to see lots of investment in new camera technologies that are able to isolate all the individuals and magnify them. That way you create an experience for everyone that looks more uniform and creates a sense of equality about the meeting, which contributes towards better collaboration.”

There is a consensus that tracking technologies of various kinds are bound to be employed more frequently. Kampert remarks: “The best solutions for in-office spaces are intelligent video systems with speaker tracking that can ‘cut’ from attendee to presenter and back again, depending upon who’s speaking. The panning, tilting and zooming of the camera are absent from the video, providing a higher-quality viewing experience for the remote participant.”

Sof Socratous, head of Northwest Europe, Poly Hybrid Work Solutions at HP, adds: “Meeting room solutions such as videoconferencing bars and cutting-edge cameras that can track speakers automatically are emerging technologies that will be in demand as organisations redesign their office spaces.” In addition, “active noise cancellation solutions that can filter noise and cancel out distractions enable workers to remain immersed and collaborate with their colleagues.”

Shure’s MXA920 ceiling array mic

Picking up on the audio implications of hybridisation, Inesh Patel, business development manager, business communication at Sennheiser says: “People are now partly on-site and partly at home. As a result, we have seen more emphasis on rooms needing to be capable of hosting true hybrid spaces where every participant can be seen and heard, whether they are in the room or remote. From our perspective at Sennheiser, our focus is on audio, but we have seen the high interest in using the telemetry data from our TeamConnect Ceiling 2. [This involves] its automatic beamforming microphone being used to trigger third-party PTZ cameras in order for participants to not only be heard clearly, but also be seen more clearly than viewing a wide angle shot from a fixed camera.”

James Hill, director integrated systems sales at Shure, says that from a technical perspective, “the bar has now been set in terms of quality, both from an audio and visual standpoint, in videoconferencing equipment and performance”, adding that one of its most significant developments in 2022 was the launch of the MXA920 Ceiling Array Microphone, “the next generation in our award-wining ceiling array series of microphones; easy to use and super-efficient in terms of deployment and audio capture.”

For many businesses, powerful UC capabilities are increasingly becoming non-negotiable; they are simply essential to keep their operations up and running. But that does not mean that they come without significant challenges, both from a price perspective in terms of outlay on new equipment, and the resources required to manage the new infrastructure effectively.

“The need for every space to have connectivity – from the smallest huddle niche to the largest auditorium – means an uptick in work for IT departments,” says Kampert. “A system that can report on every aspect of every connected space can be a huge help. What equipment is nearing the end of its life cycle? What licences might be expiring? What machine simply might need a reboot? If a system can report on these issues, an IT department can be proactive rather than reactive. Coupled with that, the right control system – perhaps software-based – can be a huge help. If that system is both customisable and scalable, if an IT department can take the design of a conference room and push it out to every relevant space across an enterprise, that’s a huge time saver.”

It’s inevitable that demand for managed services will also grow. Asked to highlight a corporate AV trend that is likely to be prominent during the forthcoming trade-show season, Hill responds: “Managed services across the IT channels, including video-conferencing (UCaaS) and the adoption of Teams as a requirement of any video-conferencing application. This isn’t exactly new, but it has led to an increased means for IT and UC channels to provide tech solutions for corporate AV.”

 Whatever the approach that individual corporations take to monitoring and managing their systems, the meeting technologies and control platforms that emerge from now on will need to be increasingly flexible and responsive. Not surprisingly, it’s an area where automation is widely expected to have a huge impact in the next few years.

Kampert highlights the use of AI tracking technology in its Crestron Sightline Experience, which comprises a complete ecosystem of hybrid meeting technology: “The algorithm cuts between speakers and frames them automatically, following the natural ebb and flow of meeting conversations without camera operators. By keying on individual speakers, the camera, display and audio solutions, working in concert, increase engagement and lessen fatigue.”

Meanwhile, it seems that at least one aspect of corporate activity – large-scale conferences such as AGMs – is returning to a more in-person-drive ethos. Brian Cole is president & CEO of Edgefactory, a US-based creative production services company. “Our experience in 2022 suggests that there has been an element of fatigue in terms of doing meetings virtually; people want to be back in the same room again,” he says. “So in the first quarter of 2022, we saw a downturn in virtual, then in Q3/4 a resurgence in in-person meetings became very noticeable. [Moreover] it was clear that people wanted to really increase the AV element again.”

Sharp NEC large-format displays

Large-scale hybrid events, with both physical and online components, remain an important part of Edgefactory’s business. Nonetheless, the in-person aspect has come back strongly: “More and more we are seeing a demand for bigger events and a desire to do more with AV. So people want to bring in more LED walls and have events that are more [dynamic].”

Alongside the advent of a new day-to-day working culture, it’s arguable that the other primary factor shaping AV investments from now on will be sustainability. Aside from the increasing regulatory impulses to reduce carbon output and disposal of technology products, many companies are now advancing their own ambitious environmental strategies.

Simultaneously, it’s a dimension to corporate operations that is becoming ever more important to securing and retaining employees. A recent survey reported that more than 70 per cent of respondents were more likely to decide to work for a company with a robust environmental agenda, and that millennials were most likely to have already done so (source: FAST Company). Meanwhile, the 2021 Corporate Climate Crisis report from PLAY, which canvassed the opinions of 1,000 UK employees in 2021, reported that 77 per cent of respondents wanted their employers to be “more transparent” about environmental impact. Hence, both doing the right thing – and being seen to be doing the right thing – will be more critical to long-term company prosperity.

Andrulis confirms that customers in this space are highly conscious of “the standards that are being introduced, for example with regard to packaging materials, recycling, and the disposal of non-recyclable materials. They are also very aware of the need for power efficiency. These are all [standard requirements now].”

For Sharp NEC, Kyvik adds: “Environmentally friendly certification of products has long been important but more so now than ever. As a manufacturer of energy-consuming devices, we feel our responsibility deeply. We have always focused on sustainable production. We produce particularly high-quality and recyclable products in order to ensure their longevity and, as a result, avoid repair costs and reduce waste. Our large format displays, for instance, are 97.4 per cent recyclable, which is remarkable in our industry. 

“Our commitment to the environment goes beyond legal guidelines: as a member of EICTA (the European ICT industry umbrella organisation) and the Japanese Business Council Europe, we have a voice in Europe and are actively involved in the formulation, promotion and implementation of EU environmental policies. For our global customers especially, sustainability, and proof of our sustainable management, is a key purchasing criteria.”

The extent to which expectations are evolving across the board means that a systematic approach to obtaining customer feedback has arguably never been more essential. “We consult with both end-users and consultants on a daily basis,” says Hill. “The fact that we work so closely with customers and audio professionals makes us understand the market well and what their needs are. That interaction can be anything from helping with designs, technical queries or just stock levels. We also beta test with end-users and consultants before we bring products to market as they often come up with some great ideas. By listening to their needs and working with them on their feedback our R&D department can then commence work on new products designs, which are ultimately vital in product development going forward.”


As the new working culture solidifies, so will companies’ understanding of how it affects them operationally. Inevitably, this will also help to determine the kind of AV systems they seek in the future. Socratous notes: “Businesses are identifying the different employee personas they have in-house. These personas – from the ‘flex worker’ to the ‘office collaborator’ – can help organisations make better decisions when investing in AV solutions. For example, the ‘flex worker’ splits their time between the office and home, so will likely prefer lightweight devices or headsets that provide comfort over portability, whilst the ‘office collaborator’ will be most interested in having a device that can cancel out the noise in their environment. Businesses are observing how individuals want to work rather than making broad assumptions. By considering employee preferences, they can help to ensure staff are always seen and heard.”

In the shorter term, a period of review and refinement – in which companies will upgrade some temporary pandemic-era solutions in favour of something more suitable on a long-term basis – should help to keep this sector buoyant despite the dawning of what could be a sustained recession. 

“I am very confident about [the corporate AV space],” says Andrulis. “One of the factors offsetting the economic conditions is that once you [have the technologies] to go into different application spaces, the sheer number of opportunities opens up substantially. [With the solutions we have now] we can address so many opportunities in corporate AV, so I have great optimism for the potential of this market.”