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What will touchless collaboration in meeting rooms look like?

Touchless collaboration will determine how employees use meeting room equipment in the future. Learn about three options -- one of which represents the worst alternative.

There is growing consensus about the future of meeting rooms in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Socially distanced meeting rooms will have fewer people, and we won't be huddling together any longer. Cameras and microphones will have to capture rooms in ways that accommodate spread-out seating. Air filtration will be a big topic of conversation. And what about actually using the equipment in the room? How are we going to start the meetings and make our video calls?

While it is always risky to predict the future, I see three likely options, two of which involve touchless collaboration. The first is the option industry is most likely to develop, hype and push. The second is the option I personally would like to see. The third is the alternative I actually expect to see in place in most meeting rooms next year. And that's the most unfortunate outcome.

Option 1: Industry's favorite -- voice control. If everything in the meeting room is voice-controlled, then no one has to touch any surfaces. Voice control technology is reasonably mature, has worked in many applications for years now and can certainly handle commands such as "Start my meeting." It is also sexy from a marketing perspective. Theoretically, collaboration vendors can implement and sell voice control in the immediate future.

My only concern is adoption. We may be used to Siri and Alexa, but walking into a meeting room and just talking to the equipment will still take some getting used to. Also, while simple things like "Start my meeting" can be easily voice-controlled, there still are some things that are easier to do with touch, such as manipulating shared documents.

Option 2: My preference -- mobile app. I love the idea of just using a mobile app to control the meeting room. It gives me all the benefits of touchless collaboration, with none of the concern of shared surfaces. Everybody loves using their mobile devices. But mobile apps pose challenges for vendors, developers and IT. Account management, authorization and other security issues have to be resolved to ensure that only those people invited to meetings can access them.

Option 3: The unfortunate probability -- disinfectant policies. Hopefully, businesses will deploy voice control or mobile apps in their meeting rooms. But, in reality, most companies today are scrambling to keep things safe and to keep business moving. Voice control and mobile apps might be on their wish lists; for now, however, many companies may be forced to adopt meeting room hygiene protocols that rely on the disinfection of shared contact surfaces before and after use.

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