Retrofit or replace?
As the world descends into anarchy, John O’Brien looks at video conferencing in dynamic environments.
In these trying times of social distancing, there has never been a better moment to invest in systems that assist remote meeting and working. The rapid evolution of our society under pandemic conditions requires equally quick and nimble solutions to collaboration and communications.
If your client’s business is suddenly in need of remote working capabilities or just improved teamwork facilities, perhaps a technology retrofit to their meeting rooms might help.
Meetings and their spaces
Like them or not, meetings are an essential part of conducting business. Timely and effective meetings rely on tight scheduling, good chairing and the appropriate facilities. These amenities need to enhance the meeting and not
detract from it. If time is lost getting data to the displays, swapping dongles, dropping connections or any other tech based issue, the business suffers downtime and participant frustration.
This is where a well considered technical solution can add productivity to a meeting space and value to both your client’s and your bottom lines. Meetings are all about connecting to collaborate. As the world swirls around in continual reset mode we need these ways to connect more than ever.
Tech for meetings
Conferencing technologies have come a long way over the past decades. No longer are we interfacing a scratchy audio codec with an ISDN line and crossing our fingers for a muffled audio conference. Nowadays, it’s all HD streaming, BYOD and WiFi/cloud access.
So how do we best deploy our tech options? First is to perform a needs analysis. Talk with your client about what they’ve got, what they want and what they think they need. Try delving a bit deeper to uncover their true needs. Ask
questions like: “What problems do you have with technology in your current meetings?” or “How easy is it for all staff to access and use the existing gear?” to get the responses that will help you design a good fit.
Know the strengths and weaknesses of each space. Large conference rooms need to cater for large groups. If they’ve been in use for a while, there is likely already some tech installed. Do a full inventory list on your site visit. Is it worth keeping and adding on to or would it be more cost-effective to replace? Meeting rooms and boardrooms are smaller versions of the above. The real swish gear always seems to end up in the boardroom but you can replicate or standardise your approach in the meeting rooms and related areas to keep it consistent for all users.
Huddle spaces have been the recent flavour of the month. Whether these areas encouraging smaller and more intimate groupings of individuals stay in favour is yet to be seen. There is plenty of cool tech in this space though, so I can see potential for pitching a way to keep businesses running while minimising physical contact.
Kiss the standard
If you do your job well, the end users should never know how complex the back end of a system is. In fact, their impression should be the opposite. If every staff member can book a meeting room, walk straight in, operate it easily and with confidence, then you’ve succeeded. They don’t need to know what gadgets are in the rack, merely that the gadgets work consistently. The more that they trust the system, the more they use it.
Two main design attributes that assist this goal are standardisation and simplicity. Configure and arrange systems
so that all rooms have the same interface style or functionality. If the CEO can walk into any collaboration space, get their presentation easily on screen and get on with their meeting, then you’ve won. If they can’t, you’ll be in for a rude call.
Technically, regardless of the platform, audio quality is king. It doesn’t matter what brand you use or how funky your
install looks if the participants cannot hear the other end clearly or get their message across. Do your due diligence with gear selection and capabilities but also try and suggest some room treatments for acoustic horror zones.
Sometimes overlooked, a standardised scheduling platform will enhance efficient room allocation and save meeting and contact time for workers and attendees. It’s worth pushing the benefits of such a system to your clients as they will get a better experience using the spaces and you’ll get more margin on software and support.
Training and familiarisation are then crucial in gaining confidence with the equipment from the end user. This is also aided by uniform approaches in system design and interface layout. Further, more than ever, clear and easy to follow how-to guides and cheat sheets are a good way to keep the users happy and the systems in use.
Staged rollouts are often a good way to spread the financial load and business disruption over a longer timeframe than one mega-refit. Integrators can offer pre-wire across a whole premise and fit off individual rooms as the timing
and client needs dictate. Or, maybe try wowing them with a bells and whistles boardroom and then slowly add other
spaces using scaled down versions of the same platform.
A great beauty of commercial spaces is relatively easy access to adding wiring. Drop ceilings with replaceable tiles and hollow core partitions are much easier to cable than heritage residences. The main goal is to hide all of this copper and enable easy wireless connectivity for participants. No leads to touch and everyone can sit the requisite distance apart.
Whatever you do, try to standardise across all rooms and software, keeping training to a minimum and familiarity to
a maximum. You can choose a unified package from one vendor but do ensure that it allows the end users to be device agnostic. That is, your goal is to ensure that every meeting attendee has a seamless experience connecting to any collaboration system that you assemble. It has to be simple and quick for the end user and it has to work well and reliably. You only want praise from your customers, right?
With the current global meltdown in full swing, site access might become a bit of an issue. I have no answers for this one beyond keeping clear communications with your clients and following any advice from official channels.
If you can manage to get your vans onsite, fantastic. Be prepared to work out of normal hours though. If your client
is worried (for whatever reason) about having techs in the same space as their staff or just keeping the contact numbers low, you could offer to access the site overnight or after hours.
And if the hardware supply and install channel starts drying up, start looking at what software solutions you can deploy. Perhaps the combined knowledge of your clever staff can find a way to support a more online based presence or business venture. Already, some savvy operators have started spruiking live streaming facilities that can broadcast in relative personal isolation safety for all.
Online options might become the de facto collaboration environment for a while. Coincidentally, there might also
be limited windows to physically install equipment onsite, even when it’s needed most. Work with your customers to find a way that suits you both.
WHERE TO NEXT?
Even among the madness we are experiencing, there is still plenty of opportunity retrofitting meeting spaces. Perhaps more than ever as we transition rapidly to remote working.
It’s time to keep your company flexible and think smart to provide solutions that keep us all connected while we work together at a distance.