As organizations plan their return to offices and support a hybrid workforce, they must address the challenge that nearly all meetings now require video. It won't be enough to simply outfit meeting spaces with cameras and displays.
In the last two years of remote work, people have become accustomed to the equality that came with remote meetings. Every attendee appeared in the same-size box in a gallery view and generally had the same meeting experience.
"None of us were life-size, and sometimes, cameras weren't perfectly focused, but we were all equal," said Ira Weinstein, founder of analyst firm Recon Research.
Now, as offices reopen, organizations need to consider how to ensure employees don't lose that feeling of equality as meetings go from remote to hybrid.
Weinstein and other industry leaders spoke at Enterprise Connect on how organizations can improve video meeting equity, from the meeting room to devices. Meeting equity is ensuring remote and in-person attendees have a similar experience and feel they have equal opportunities to contribute to a meeting.
Reimagining rooms for meeting equity
Organizations need to rethink their approach to meeting rooms at the office to ensure remote attendees don't feel left out of meetings.
"Every physical business space has to be as inclusive as possible," said Ilya Bukshteyn, vice president of Microsoft Teams Devices.
Bukshteyn said Microsoft has been exploring how to use technology, cameras and AI in the cloud to better connect participants who can't physically be in the meeting room. The company is looking to balance how video and content are presented on a screen and improve how in-room participants are displayed.
For example, Microsoft has started rolling out a hybrid meeting feature called front row, which moves the gallery view of remote attendees to the bottom of the in-room screen so they appear to be at eye level with in-room attendees.
Organizations are taking different approaches to design workspaces for a post-pandemic office, including dividing larger meeting rooms into smaller ones or removing cubicles to add more collaboration spaces. Meeting space technology needs to be flexible to support how employees want to handle their hybrid meetings.
"No two spaces are created equal," said Graeme Geddes, head of platform and product acceleration at Zoom. "You can't set up a table and chairs and force people to work in a space in a particular way."
Organizations should also consider what employees are trying to accomplish in meetings when revamping their meeting spaces.
"The technology should be the last conversation," said Beau Wilder, senior vice president and general manager of video collaboration at Poly. Once organizations have established how employees will use meeting spaces, the technology can blend into the background.
Simplify the meeting experience
Supporting video meeting equity isn't just about redesigning meeting spaces, but improving UX, Geddes said.
"The absolute worst thing in making an investment in technology is having it there in the room and people not knowing how to use it," he said. The focus shouldn't be on the latest meeting features, but on ease of use.
Providing a consistent UX by making it easy to join a meeting, easy to share content and easy to support video enhances meeting engagement, he said.
"Before the pandemic, we thought the experience we had was acceptable," Weinstein said. The improvements made to meeting technology during the COVID-19 pandemic mean employees need more than a stable video connection to have a good meeting experience.
Improving IT management is also key to ensure hybrid meeting equity, particularly around devices used by home-based workers.
Nathan Coutinho, director of global conferencing business strategy at Logitech, said customers have expressed frustration at the complexity of managing devices, such as webcams and headsets, provided to home workers. In response, Logitech expanded its management platform to personal devices so IT can manage firmware and settings for home devices like conference rooms.
"We've expanded that space to make it easier and equitable, so people at home have the same experience as in the office," Coutinho said.
Don't forget audio
While video may be the main technology focus area for hybrid meeting equity, audio still has an important role to play. While video is important for sharing content and seeing colleagues, audio latency can make it difficult to follow meetings.
"As important as getting every face into an individual box is, audio is just as important," Wilder said.
Organizations should look for products that ensure quality audio and eliminate distracting noises.
Poly developed two capabilities to improve meeting audio quality. NoiseBlockAI reduces distracting nearby noises that can be picked up by a microphone, such as keyboard typing or shuffling papers. Poly's Acoustic Fence uses echo cancellation to create a virtual boundary that blocks background noise coming from beyond the boundary, which can help hybrid meetings in open collaboration spaces, he said.
New devices support hybrid meetings
Meeting hardware providers have introduced products that are tailored for the remote and hybrid meeting experience.
Last year, Logitech introduced Logi Dock, a docking station that includes a speakerphone and the ability to connect to two monitors and five USB peripherals.
"A lot of people at home don't like to have a headset on all day long," Coutinho said. Logi Dock enables home workers to connect to meetings with the built-in speakerphone. The device also has meeting controls to enable a single click-to-join for meetings and supports video calls in multiple meeting platforms.
Microsoft also expanded its support for hybrid meetings with its hardware partners, Bukshteyn said.
Hardware startup Neat achieved Microsoft Teams certification and officially joined the Microsoft hardware ecosystem. Neat's portfolio of devices includes Neat Bar, Neat Pad and Neat Board, which also include software to support video and audio quality, as well as hybrid meeting features, like active speaker tracking and split screen, to better frame in-room attendees.