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Exclusive: Hybrid, but equal – corporate comms post-Covid

Joe Andrulis, executive vice president of corporate development at Biamp on conferencing environments

Corporate collaboration has undergone a dramatic shift that is fundamentally changing how AV professionals design and equip conferencing and collaboration spaces within corporate facilities. Before the onset of the pandemic, the primary focus was installing the UC clients and devices that supported seamless, high-quality meetings within the office, from small huddle spaces to large boardrooms. Meetings were composed of participants on both the near and far end who were primarily joining from these spaces. On occasion when attendees might be on the road or at home for the day, they would call in from a remote location. 

The pandemic changed the work environment seemingly overnight, and with it, the conferencing and collaboration experience changed as well. People went from gathering in conference rooms to joining almost exclusively from their homes. Everyone was remote, and everyone relied on the performance of their personal device to conduct a video conference. Thus, the quality of meeting experience was essentially equal across all participants.

As people returned to the office, this change heralded the introduction of yet another meeting scenario: hybrid conferencing. This new model is a blend of in-office and remote workers – however, instead of remote participants being the anomaly, they’re now the norm, equal to or more than the number of participants joining from a conference room. 

The hybrid conferencing model is vastly different than the traditional conferencing scenario to which AV professionals are accustomed, and it presents the curious challenge of ensuring that people in a conference room don’t feel at a disadvantage to the people who are remote. Some might question how that could be the case when today’s conference rooms benefit from professional grade conferencing systems, but one of the advantages remote conferencing is that the AV technology that remote attendees are using – including the mic, speaker, and camera – is dedicated specifically to them, so everyone sees and hears them clearly. An attendee in a conference room isn’t represented in the same way. Individuals don’t look as prominent and are typically shown as a group within the room, as captured by their video conferencing camera. Research has shown that some of those meeting room participants are often unintentionally ignored because they’re less prominent visually. 

Lest anyone in a meeting feel left out and unengaged, AV professionals must account for this spectrum of meeting scenarios in the design and installation of today’s corporate meeting rooms. Most meetings going forward will be hybrid, and many expect that the hybrid workplace will persist for a long time, if not permanently, for various reasons. In fact, many well-known global companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Slack, Spotify, Twitter, and LinkedIn, have announced plans to continue offering remote or hybrid work arrangements indefinitely. As a result, AV professionals must look at the conference room through a new lens. There will still be microphones, speakers, and video cameras – the principal players in every installation – but the new challenge will be to create a uniform, high-quality experience for all: one that is hybrid, but equal. 

This can be achieved by deploying discrete and all-in-one integrated AV solutions that boast intelligent features that help to bring individuals in the conference room forward both auditorily and visually – for example, microphone systems that actively track and mix conversations from around the room so that no matter where someone sits in the conference room, they’ll sound as clear as if the microphone was right in front of them. This will also require video conferencing cameras that automatically identify, focus, and zoom in on participants when they speak, similar to how remote participants are presented on screen. In addition, high quality audio and video conferencing bars that incorporate these same features will provide IT departments with complete meeting room solutions without any changes in the quality of the experience, offering enhanced ease of set up and use. 

As decision makers, selecting equipment has never been more complex or critical. When evaluating conferencing AV solutions, integrators and designers can help customers feel more confident by presenting solutions that are certified by their chosen UC platform, such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom. This will not only speed up the decision-making process but also vastly simplify installation and configuration for these rooms. 

Although the dynamics of the conference room may have changed in a short span of time, one thing has not: meetings play a vital role in corporate communication and productivity. Whether in the office or at home, all participants must feel like a cohesive and equal part of the team. When meeting rooms are designed with intelligent AV solutions that level the conferencing playing field, the AV professional plays an essential role in making meetings more productive and engaging for all.