Designing and Delivering the Most Collaborative Hybrid Meeting Experience, Part 3: Technology

A hybrid meeting is a gathering that features at least one group of in-person attendees connecting virtually with other meeting attendees. This series offers insight into designing and delivering the best hybrid meeting experience for your users or clients.

As discussed in Part 1 and Part 2  of this series, many elements are necessary to create hybrid meeting environments that work. The best results are achieved when architects, designers, furniture providers, technology integrators and end-users collaborate early in the design process.

This chapter will summarize current technology considerations for hybrid meeting spaces.

 

 

Overview

The increase in demand for hybrid meetings for businesses is driving advancements in meeting room technologies at a staggering pace. The configuration, capabilities and quality of meeting room-specific technology hardware and platforms are already dramatically different today than before the pandemic.

All-in-one or pre-configured room systems have become popular and can work quite well for small to mid-size meeting spaces. They are competitively priced and can be configured for a company’s specific meeting room software platform such as Zoom or Teams and for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), making them much more straightforward to use than ever before.

Many equipment manufacturers have excelled at product development, increasing configuration options, expanding system capabilities and continuously improving quality and ease of use.

In the meantime, meeting room software platforms are introducing artificial intelligence (AI) into their products to address some limitations of even the best hardware solutions. Microsoft Teams’ Focus Room concept creates a more interactive experience for in-person and remote attendees. Zoom has developed a promising new feature called Smart Gallery that separates in-room participants into individual video tiles from a single camera. This advancement will level the playing field for remote workers, creating an environment where all participants can communicate and collaborate in the same way. Consult with your technology integrator to separate the proven from the promised.

With meeting room technology advancing so rapidly, some of what we know today could be dated as soon as six months from now. Aside from the challenge decision-makers face regarding the rate of technology advancement, there are some basic factors to consider when choosing meeting room technology.

 

Key Considerations

Meeting Room Size

  • Room size is often the first and most significant factor when it comes to selecting the right meeting room solution
  • The room size and layout will dictate technology requirements such as the size of the display(s) and types of camera(s), microphones and speakers
  • Typically meeting rooms are categorized as follows:
    • Small (2-6 people)
    • Medium (6-10 people)
    • Large (>10 people)
  • Pre-configured solutions can work well for small and medium rooms, but larger rooms will typically require more customized solutions

 

Meeting Room Audio

  • Intelligible audio is the most critical technology element for all attendees. Audio is king!
  • Communication is possible without video, but poor audio quality will quickly derail a meeting
  • For small and medium rooms, the microphones and speakers built into pre-configured systems continue to improve and, in most cases, do quite well
  • Large rooms require distributed microphones to pick up all in-person attendees effectively
    • Microphones come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors and installation types
    • Fitting the correct microphone type, quantity and placement within the space will enhance speech while reducing noise
    • Furniture design and cabling pathways must be considered for microphone style and placement
  • Speakers for large meeting rooms are typically mounted overhead to provide evenly distributed audio throughout the room
  • Acoustic factors of meeting room construction will have a considerable impact on audio quality, noise reduction and privacy

 

Meeting Room Cameras

  • The best meeting room cameras will capture the faces of all the people in the room
  • Select 360° cameras, such as the Meeting Owl Pro, may be placed in the center of the room or table, equipped with software designed to identify team members speaking and present them center stage
  • Select 180° cameras may be placed in the front of the room or wall mounted, equipped with Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) functions capable of automatically framing the view to include all participants
  • Additional cameras are specifically designed for “huddle rooms” that feature tables fitted against the wall, below the display
  • Large meeting rooms present serious challenges for cameras to make all participants’ faces visible to remote attendees. One way to address this is to have all on-site attendees use their individual laptop or tablet cameras with internal mics and speakers turned off to utilize, and prevent conflict with, the room audio system
  • As previously mentioned, meeting software platforms are beginning to pair with camera manufacturers to separate in-room participants into individual video tiles from a single camera using AI
  • With such a wide variety of meeting room cameras, each with its own features, strengths and weaknesses, it is a good idea to talk to an experienced AV integrator about which model(s) will best suit your situation

 

Meeting Room System Control

  • With the ongoing advancement of meeting software platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, along with their efforts to integrate with meeting room components, controlling a hybrid meeting can become almost automatic
  • Some rooms are set up using a BYOD philosophy:
    • Each room includes the necessary components (cameras, microphones, speakers, and displays)
    • The user provides a device (typically a laptop) that runs a meeting platform of choice
    • With a simple connection the room becomes a peripheral to their device to run the meeting
  • Other rooms are designed to minimize user equipment connections by building meeting functionality into the room itself:
    • Three major vendors (Cisco, Microsoft, Zoom) are offering “one-touch,” or even “no-touch” meeting joins where the codec device is part of the room (no laptop needed)
    • Having a dedicated touch screen control processor in the room enables easy joins as well as many advanced control functions
    • One drawback to this trend is that these rooms are generally platform specific. For example, if the room is set up for Teams, it may work less easily or not at all with other platforms
  • Be sure to have a thorough understanding of how the room will be used, who meetings will include, and any relevant corporate standards when talking to a technology integrator about what solution is best for you

 

 

Summary

The reality: The demand for hybrid meeting space continues to grow. Technology advancement is dramatically improving the quality, reliability, and ease of use of hybrid meeting room systems

The challenge: With so many factors to consider, the continuous introduction of new features, and the lack of hands-on experience with many of these products for verification, decision-makers are often placed in a risky arena.

The recommendation: Engage an experienced AV technology integrator that designs, installs and supports hybrid meeting room systems. Once they understand how you will use the room, they can recommend options to meet your objectives and budget while minimizing your risk.

The next part of this series will focus on hybrid meeting best practices.