If you’ve attended a company meeting from a conference room at any time in the last twenty years, I’m sure you’ve heard at least one (if not all) of the following things said:
- “Does anybody have the meeting number and code I have to type in to get this thing started?”
- “Can you guys see what I’m sharing? I can’t tell from here.”
- “Where is that noise coming from? If you’re not speaking can you mute yourself?”
- “Who is talking? I can’t see your face or tell who that is.”
- “Everybody in the room please be quiet for a minute. We have to give the people on the line a chance to speak.”
For far too long in the collaboration industry, meetings have been mostly about the technology used. We built conference rooms that looked and worked just like the last hundred rooms before them, we installed unnatural control technology that forced people to learn how to use it, and we conducted our meetings to conform to the requirements of that design. And, I might add, we’ve been just about universally disappointed.
Then the world experienced a global pandemic.
I’ll leave discussions of the horrific health tragedies and tremendous successes of science and vaccines to experts in those areas, and focus here on what we learned about collaboration as organizations around the globe strove to keep functioning in the face of unprecedented challenges. There were many lessons.
Thanks To Collaboration Tools, Remote Work Stigmas Dissolve
Firstly, we learned that the collaboration tools and technologies we have been singing the virtues of for years actually do work. Knowledge workers – many of whom were forced to work remotely for the first time in their careers – learned that they could effectively rely on these tools to accomplish their tasks. Yes, we lost out on the in-person camaraderie that we experience naturally in a group setting, but we were able to communicate, share ideas, collaborate and remain connected.
We learned that the concept of the “lazy remote worker” was just an inappropriate stigma, as productivity generally increased. We found ourselves discussing the fatigue that came from overwork, not the fallout from lazy people in their homes. Work From Home solutions – when implemented correctly – really do increase productivity and save money and time.
We’ve also learned that the best collaboration when using technology happens when the tools adapt to us, not when we have to adapt to the constraints that they might bring along. Or, said another way, we learned that we need to use platforms, tools and technologies that are smart enough to do what is required without we users having to tell them what to do.
The application of that perspective will be monumental for global organizations. We now know that work is what you do and how you do it – it’s not where you go. That means, in order for the tools to truly meet our needs, we need to select components and platforms that treat all the participants as equal – regardless of where they are or how they are participating.
Let’s unpack and examine those concepts a bit.
Innovative Offices Lean More on Advanced Technology, Collaboration Spaces
Today’s collaboration technologies are far smarter than the systems and components available even just a couple of years ago. If you choose the right room systems you no longer need to pick up a remote control or decipher a complex touch panel to start a meeting or adjust camera shots and other settings. The cameras are now smart enough to make TV director quality images and follow all the action automatically. There are no more ‘down the bowling alley’ shots of conference tables with tiny pictures of people’s faces. Everyone in the meeting regardless of location can be seen up-close and clearly.
Additionally, this now can happen using super high quality, small, in-room cameras that no longer move around using noisy and distracting motors. It’s all automatic. The same AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) that now can automatically produce excellent pictures are also at work mitigating any sound issues. The banging typist, the food wrapper crinklers, the noisy gardener or vehicle passing outside – these are all eliminated from the sound going to the far end while still letting the speaker’s voice come through. Far-end participants are spared from the noise that in-room participants have to suffer through, a ‘better than being there’ experience.
As many of us prepare to go back to offices, the purpose of these offices has clearly changed now that we’ve entered a Hybrid Working world. We’ve proven that doing individual work remotely is very productive. It is in fact the model preferred by most knowledge workers.
However, we did miss the teamwork, camaraderie and socialization we got when we all collaborate, brainstorm, design, etc. from the same space. Offices will now be a place specifically for those experiences – for that teamwork – not for us to commute to just to type emails and work on spreadsheets. Office meeting rooms will now need to be designed from the function outward not from the aesthetic inward.
We’ve all lived with ‘pretty but non-functional and not-useful’ rooms for far too many years. We will start to see innovative collaboration rooms that will come in many shapes and sizes. These will be places where we can share concepts, develop ideas, and build teams. The major difference from before is that these rooms will use the advanced technology I mentioned to support the meetings – regardless of where the participants are.
The now larger body of remote and at-home workers will require that every office collaboration room be equipped with systems that allow far-end participants to participate as equals. Everyone will see everyone else’s face clearly when they speak, and no one will have to wait their turn to get in a comment or question. AI and ML-based systems will just support the natural human interactions, and they will do so at a far lower price point and far simpler design than ever before.
Work From Home, Hybrid Work is the Future
Looking a bit into the future, once the few remaining security and technology concerns are overcome we will be able to initiate our meetings with such technologies as voice control, facial recognition, personal smart-device communication and other advanced methods. Every day that passes new features such as these are introduced and/or refined for enterprise applications. (I’m certainly not minimizing the PII and security challenges of such features, but resolving them is inevitable.)
Clearly, not all organizations will adopt these changes at the same pace. There will be some that want to stick to their old ways of doing things for a while. The evolution, however, is also inevitable.
If some firms embrace technologies and progressive, Work From Home workstyles quicker than others, the ones that don’t will have issues with employee attrition and recruiting. You can observe that culture shift happening right now as the more stodgy firms call their knowledge workers back to an office and many employees are balking and looking for other opportunities with more progressive organizations.
Our role as collaboration technology providers and visionaries is to make these continuous next-generation advancements available as rapidly as possible and drive the working from anywhere experience to new heights.
It is rare when we can realize that we are living through a time of tremendous change. Leading that change toward equal meeting experiences from anywhere is a mission we couldn’t be more proud to embrace. As we’ve said for years now, “work is not where you go, it is what you do.”
David J. Danto is the Director of Emerging Technology for the IMCCA & Poly’s Director of UC Strategy & Research.