By Kevin Morrison, CEO- Utelogy Corporation
It’s become an all-too common scenario: a video meeting starts with global participants sharing content and presentations. Then, someone’s ring light is too dim, and another’s screen is angled too far. The host’s microphone has poor quality and the lead presenter’s room has too much ambient noise.
After more than 18 months of collaborating, mainly through Zoom or Teams, even the most tech-savvy workers often have trouble getting online video meetings right. That inability to create an immersive user experience – whether on the part of an organisation or individual participants – is a leading contributor to video meeting fatigue and decreased meeting engagement.
According to the FutureSource 2021 AV conferencing and end user survey, “flexibility, technology and collaboration” are the primary features participants cite as the basic requirements for a satisfactory online meeting. On average, 29% of all conference sessions start with some delay – an increase from 25% in 2020 – and 77% of users face problems when joining remote conferencing sessions from a meeting room.
To elevate the experience, the AV industry collectively, has to do more than just give people a license and expect them to meet. That work is happening. Companies are educating employees on basic online techniques, supplying WFH teams with A/V kits and exploring new online collaboration and management tools, like those from Utelogy.
More Than Just COVID
Certainly, the pandemic has driven the volume of video meeting participants. When COVID hit, everyone was forced online with no preparation, no set-up and no support. Overnight, living rooms and dining areas became conference rooms and huddle spaces. However, the trend toward online meetings was already growing. COVID simply accelerated the process.
Now organisations are bringing employees back to offices, while also trying to accommodate the needs of workers planning to remain remote. Those returning will likely have new expectations for collaboration and meetings. Those staying off-site have grown accustomed to logging in for meetings and will want an experience that rivals or even exceeds that of their on-site colleagues.
It’s a complicated and delicate balance to strike.
Maintaining the User Experience
A customer recently noted their goal was to have everybody be a “first-class participant” when it comes to video meetings. An admirable goal, but that also put the onus on organisations, holding them duty-bound to carrying out that statement. That means helping their employees understand lighting, minimum acoustic levels, how to position themselves for the best camera angle, and even how to conduct yourself in an online meeting environment.
Microsoft and Zoom have done a great job of enhancing engagement, particularly with their user interfaces. Both have also expanded their technology ecosystems with Microsoft developing its Office 365 suite and the Zoom H.323 protocol-based Room Connector solution allowing integrated cloud-based meeting control for larger audiences and across multiple devices.
Advancements like these will be key drivers for merging the in-office and hybrid/remote collaboration experiences. People now just want to connect from any location, and the seamless transition from handheld devices to the meeting room is critical.
In the past several years, traditional – and complex to manage – corporate conference rooms have been gradually replaced by huddle rooms and more informal meeting areas, and that trend is certainly continuing. Now with the increased ubiquity of Zoom and Teams, as well as Google Meet and WebEx, we’re seeing the build-out of more places where employees can hang out and hold ad-hoc meetings with remote attendees.
These unconventional meeting spaces aren’t necessarily huddle or collaboration rooms but more “on-the-fly” areas for people to connect. Because unconventional meeting spaces and virtual meetings have become so prominent, companies are starting to take a harder look at their real estate and are redesigning their office layouts to accommodate. Utelogy has a customer that stated their plans to increase the number of non-traditional meeting spaces by approximately 40%; spaces that will look nothing like the type they would have considered building a year ago.
Hybrid workspaces with larger collaboration areas will be the new norm. AV/IT managers will need to replace outdated hardware and equip these newly designed spaces with collaboration systems that are cost-effective, user friendly and easy to control.
From the enterprise side, the tools necessary for enhanced engagement have improved dramatically. Within the Utelogy platform, we’ve developed several tools including the U-Manage remote management and monitoring solution and U-Automate Utelogy’s room readiness product. With U-Automate, AV and IT managers can optimise their meeting spaces by conducting automated room and device testing during off-hours to ensure a room is ready for its next scheduled meeting. By eliminating the need for people to be on-
site physically, and executing sweeps from room to room, U-Automate makes sure a company’s valuable and expensive resources are allocated only to the rooms that have errors and alerts.
These capabilities, combined with built-in analytics, enable the growth of “clever” room systems that can measure and compare the acoustics of an organisation’s rooms in New York versus those in Singapore. The system can determine if problems are related to a network or a microphone issue, or maybe someone’s touched a button they shouldn’t have, or changed an HDMI input. Individual room settings can be saved and programmatically restored each time a room is used.
Users also need the ability to monitor which AV/UC devices are most commonly used, which rooms are reserved least often, and which devices elicit the most errors and alerts. With a platform like Utelogy, users can gather and store all these meaningful insights. Then, when it’s time to expand or build a new facility they can incorporate this data from day one. The platform’s open nature also supports seamless integration with third-party solutions allowing users to customise a management and control solution according to their specific needs.
Not everyone likes meetings, but they are a reality and online video meetings will remain permanent fixtures of everyday business life. Working together as an industry, the future of video and online collaboration will continually improve year after year with more features, affordable prices, quality video and audio streaming, and above all, a dynamic user experience.