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Sustainability Article #2 by Anna Bateman & Richard Jonker

November 21, 2022

"Five trends in post-COVID conference room tech - and how to solve multiple hybrid working headaches".

As we are coming up to the third anniversary of the start of the COVID pandemic, the way we use technology to communicate with each other is once again changing.There are a few trends emerging from that one umbrella trend: “Hybrid working is a given – deal with it’.

This is the 2nd article in a series, written by either Richard Jonker of NETGEAR. The first article is called “Basic Sustainable Design-Best Practice”, written by Anna Bateman of Visualization

Trend 1:  Hybrid working, any meeting, anywhere, anytime.

We all had the 2022 experience of going into a conference room and finding out that some meeting participants ‘thought this one was remote’. It’s funny – when that meeting is actually a lunch in a nice restaurant, nobody seems to make that mistake.

The reality is that, besides good sushi lunches, meetings are now default hybrid, which means that employees need to learn how to get themselves organized and employers must focus on facilitating high quality, hybrid, easy to use conference technology.

Whether you want it or not, communication between people at work keeps on changing. We went rather quickly from ‘office life’ to ‘working at the kitchen table with a crap laptop’ to the conclusion that we need ‘equity of experience’ - from the point of view of the remote meeting participant - because that is the default. The part where some employers thought that we would go back to ‘normal’ did not last very long. Attempts to force the Great Return To The Office were met with waves of resignations. As usually, after the phases of denial, anger and sadness comes the phase of acceptance. And that is where we are today.

Trend 2:  There are three kinds of people

You and your immediate coworkers or teammates may behave in a similar way, when it comes to choosing working from home or working from the office. But when you zoom out (no pun intended), you’ll find that there are really three profiles of behavior; you either need to work in an office, a store, a factory, or other building, where the work is, all the time; or you work remotely all the time, or you choose a hybrid between these first two. Hybrid workers typically come to the office for collaboration and social interaction. It’s now the largest group of workers.

There is no difficulty for employers to organize the first two categories, because it is predictable where people will do their work at any time – either at home or at the job site. But with the ‘hybrid’ category, there are two seats to be made available to each of these employees: one at home and one in the office. Since 87% of employees want to work from home at least one day per week, you could say that on average, at least 15% to 20% of office desks will be unused. It also forces the creation of more and better meeting rooms to facilitate fully remote or hybrid workers.

Trend 3:  From cubicle to video conference room layout – doing it right

From what we see at NETGEAR, this trend is only getting started, but it is hyperbolic in volume. The retooling of offices, to facilitate more video conferences, comes in waves.

During the initial COVID panic, companies bought quick-and-dirty video conferencing kit that did the initial job, from existing meeting rooms. A year or two later, most people are fed up with poor video- and sound quality, poorly ventilated rooms, bad chairs, constantly plugging USB-video and audio kit into laptops, tinkering, and migraine inducing lighting.

This is not just some soft HR perspective, this is a rock-hard issue with measurable loss of productivity, because people cannot hear or see each other well in meetings and suffer from ‘Zoom-fatigue’ anyway. It's not a difficult issue to sell to upper management – they are all going through the same – we are in it together!

So - there is an overwhelming desire to design better video conferencing rooms. Which companies can’t do alone. And all-in-one easy-peasy solutions from Microsoft (Surface Hub), Neat or Logitech don’t cut it, because they assume that they can put all four key human interfaces (displays, cameras, microphones, speakers) in one device hanging from one far-away wall. If there is one thing that we have learned the past two years, is that does not work if you are not the person sitting right in front of it.

For equity of experience, you need all four interfaces, crisp and clear, in front of every participant in the meeting room. An alarming sub trend here is that employees who are not able to work hybrid with the right facilities, will simply resign. Companies should not cut corners.

Trend 4:  Let’s add an energy crisis to all of this

With the rising costs of energy, two trends emerge.

  • Employees may choose to work in the office on cold days, so they don’t have to heat their home throughout the working days. There goes your hybrid working planning.
  • The second trend is that companies are keener on driving down energy consumption in offices. That was simple when we were all working from home, but things changed with ‘hybrid’.

To minimize energy consumption, offices now apply smart technology to basically switch off any unused equipment (including lights, heating, and also video conference technology).

The best way to do this: use smart sensors that allow lights or conferencing kit to switch on when a user is detected, so no human interference is necessary, and install some remote monitoring technology to make sure all is working correctly, with the possibility for scheduled shutdowns, software upgrades and troubleshooting.

As Anna Bateman mentioned in the first article of our series, there is already an existing need for holistic 'sustainability thinking' when designing video conferencing solutions, but this need becomes more urgent for three reasons: we need more video conference rooms, that will be used more often, and electricity is becoming very expensive.

Trend 5 is the resulting trend: the solution to the above challenges requires two tech upgrades

It is by now clear that companies need scalable, energy efficient, remote-manageable video conferencing solutions. They need to be easy to use, cloud connected (because it is almost 2023 – everything is in the cloud, including your Zoom, Teams and Office365). And preferably easy to deploy, like a cookie cutter solution, over multiple floors, sites or even different subsidiaries in various countries.

The deployments need to be based on modular and standardized equipment, affordable, upgradeable and all equipment needs to play nicely together, within the existing network.

The AV industry has responded by accelerating two technology innovations. With moving audio/video to the language of IT and the internet (TCP/IP), it can benefit from seamless integration with office IT and use beautiful looking software-defined applications that evolve with the users’ requirements. This technology is called AV-over-IP.

The other innovation is the evolution of Power over Ethernet (PoE) to simplify installations of conferencing equipment.

With PoE, data and power are delivered to every piece of technology through one simple ethernet cable. That is not only far more affordable, simple, and aesthetically pleasing than running 110V/220V power cables to outlets everywhere, but it also brings down energy use, by combining many small inefficient power supplies into one efficient one.

Furthermore, PoE adds the ability to remote-manage the power consumed by these devices, by simply turning them off or into sleep-mode.

Did you know that there are at least eighteen building blocks for video conference rooms, all using PoE to receive power? Here is the already impressive list – and counting.

PoE VoIP conference phones or desk phones

PoE personal conferencing devices with various audio and video functions

PoE WiFi access points; for internet/network access or sharing content

PoE Tabletop videoconference (Zoom, Teams, Crestron Flex) human interface devices

PoE Video encoders/decoders

PoE Audio encoders/decoders

PoE Amplifiers/speakers

PoE Microphone tiles in the ceiling

PoE Microphones tabletop

PoE Controllers for AV systems

PoE Powered PC’s / NUC’s / Video players / displays

PoE Lighting fixtures

PoE Room occupancy/light sensor or room divider sensor

PoE Environmental health sensor (temperature, humidity, CO2, CO, etc)

PoE Control touch panels

PoE Occupancy / reservation announcement displays outside meeting rooms

PoE Door locks and access control devices

PoE to USB-C power supplies or chargers (for devices like phones, tablets or laptops)

Fun fact: Did you know that NETGEAR are the specialist in both AV-over-IP signal transport, working with 170+ manufacturers in this industry, as well as PoE switching?