As part of this year’s ISE show in Barcelona, Futuresource Consulting’s head of collaboration, Alistair Johnston, was invited to participate in AV Magazine’s hybrid working panel discussion. Filmed at the show, the panellists contributing alongside Johnston were Alpesh Unalkat, CEO of Aura; Adele Thornton, Regional Manager for UK and Ireland at Synergy Sky; Scott Wharton, VP & General Manager, Video Collaboration Group, Logitech; and Jon Sidwick, President of Collabtech Group.
The panel session raised discussion around how hybrid working creates new demands for technology, and what meeting equity and efficiency means in practice. Plus, with many workers reluctant to give up their new-found freedom and flexibility in some countries, how will the shape of hybrid working be re-moulded as we press forward towards the middle of the decade?
Johnston noted that although much of the panel discussion was likely to be focused around meeting rooms designed for larger groups of people, there’s a real need for smaller breakout rooms. “One-to-one video calls are just terrible to conduct in an open plan office environment,” Johnston said. “And if you're going into a call on your own, you might not want to hijack an eight to 10-person meeting room, just to take your call.
“That’s why we’re seeing a real need for those smaller meeting rooms for one or two people, with a stripped back level of tech. You just take a laptop in there. Perhaps there's a webcam, maybe a speakerphone and a display. And any call can be powered through that self-contained environment.”
As the panel looked back over the period since COVID-19 made its world-changing appearance, Johnston noted that the first year of business was mainly determined by questions like 'what's available?', 'what can I buy right now?' and 'how do I plug a hole this week? We need video, I need whatever cameras we can get’. He remarked that it’s only been over the last year that companies have started to believe the hybrid situation is here to stay.
As a result, businesses are now thinking strategically and making long-term plans for office spaces. Prior to 2022, there were a lot of internal discussions around how offices could look and what might happen, but most businesses were reluctant to invest in major changes to meeting room spaces and office structures.
In terms of personal tech, Johnston pointed to a great proliferation of laptops. “Pre-pandemic, there were still a lot of people with desktops,” Johnston pointed out. “That’s now changed beyond recognition, and the easiest thing for people to do is to just take their laptop into a meeting room and launch the meeting from their device.
“Many people have been launching meetings from their laptops for years now, so they know how it all works. The most consistent option for them is to use their own device rather than some other piece of hardware in the meeting room. In fact, we were running research on this recently. When we asked users what they prefer, they like to use their own laptops to control the meeting, rather than any in-room or purpose-built system. Around 70% of respondents told us they prefer their own device.
“And the younger the respondent, the more they prefer their own laptop. It's only in the very oldest group, the over 65s, where we saw a 50/50 split. But there are a lot of solutions out there and this is going to be solved in a myriad of ways. It’s also worth considering who’s making the decisions. Users might prefer to take their own laptops, but whoever is controlling the budgets or the administrators might prefer to get the same solution in every room, and roll out Zoom Rooms in a full 50 rooms, for example.”
Wrapping up the session, Johnston said that the one piece of advice he’d give to any business grappling with the hybrid challenge would be: “Think strategically about what you’re trying to achieve and what kind of company you see yourself wanting to be part of in five years’ time.
“It’s very easy just to grab something off the shelf, but it may not be solving your particular problem. There are plenty of different ways of doing this, and lots of different models for running a business. There are also your own specific cultural aspects to take into consideration. Don’t just ask yourself ‘how do we get consistent video?’, think strategically and ask yourself how you should prepare for a hybrid future.”
You can watch the full AV Magazine panel session here: https://www.avinteractive.com/av-tv/ise-2022/hybrid-working/
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