How AV Teams Can Benefit From Fewer People Being In The Office Right Now

Use this time wisely.

During this time when all are concerned about keeping our families and colleagues safe , the current situation creates an unexpected opportunity. With many teams working remotely, it is much easier to complete onsite tasks that are ordinarily difficult to schedule.

For organizations that in normal times use conference rooms, collaborative meeting spaces, or large-scale visualization systems all day, every day, now is the ideal time to consider upgrades and reconfiguration of both software and hardware assets. It’s also a time to consider training and troubleshooting so that when people return to the office, everyone will be immediately productive.

Here are three recommended activities to consider pursuing during this imposed down-time.

1.     Standardization

audio visual systems in a training room

Some companies are using the break in everyday onsite activities to standardize their AV set-ups and simplify the systems used. Over time, it is easy to add AV equipment piecemeal and end up with an odd mixture of configurations and equipment. Whether it is speaker phones, projectors, or fully integrated videoconferencing systems, standardizing makes teams more efficient when it comes to use and maintenance.

It means that employees know what to expect when they are setting up for a meeting, and when maintenance is required, it can be efficiently performed across all systems. Standardization eliminates last minute surprises and nerve-wracking situations when a meeting is about to start, and the equipment is unfamiliar.

A major energy company is using the time during the pandemic to standardize its AV equipment and set Zoom as its regular videoconferencing application. It is standardizing video conferencing equipment so that each room is consistent with the others. While the equipment is less frequently used, the company is also using the time to create documentation and training materials to help first time or infrequent users with starting Zoom calls or accessing projectors and displays.

2.     Upgrades

For organizations with advanced AV systems or visualization laboratories, now is a great time to refresh and upgrade equipment. In ordinary times it can be very disruptive for installers to get access to video walls and control centers that are critical to designers, researchers and managers. So now is a unique opportunity and a good time to review the status of AV system components including displays, projectors, speaker and microphone systems, controllers, motion trackers and more.

A university had an upgrade scheduled before the pandemic began, but having the facility shut down gave the integrator two months straight without interruption to get the job done right. The team ran into some unexpected challenges, which would have caused difficulty in normal times when scheduled events could have been impacted.

Displays

Older LCD Panel Arrays and rear projection cube wall displays are typically being upgraded with Direct View LEDs. LEDs improve brightness, color accuracy, and provide continuous, seamless imagery. They have a very shallow profile that enables a broad range of mounting options and they are ideal for areas with significant ambient light because of their brightness and their less reflective surface.

For organizations considering total cost of ownership, LED displays are robust, reliable, and their long lifespan contributes to better value. It is a good time to consider upgrading to LED display systems while rooms are in disuse and now, because they are becoming more widely adopted, cost for high-end Direct View LEDs is coming down.

Projectors

Projector technology also continues to advance with more lumens, higher resolutions, and faster frame rates. Now is a good time to evaluate current projector performance and consider how an upgrade might enable more dramatic presentations and better decision making. For immersive display systems, the latest projectors are fast enough to enable multiple tracked viewpoints within a virtual environment.

3.     Preventive Maintenance

For companies that don’t have dedicated AV support, sometimes conference rooms and visualization spaces are left alone for long periods of time without any regular maintenance. It’s a good time for fine tuning things like color balancing and alignment. With fewer people working onsite, less busy IT teams can run AV equipment through its paces and troubleshoot issues before they disrupt business as employees return to the office. The functionality verification process reveals if there are faults or problems and they can be resolved while the rooms are not in demand so that when teams return to the office AV systems are at their best and downtime is reduced.

Organizations that move forward with standardization, upgrades, or preventive maintenance projects during slowdowns or shutdowns will reap the benefits when collaborative spaces are once again in demand.. Having the latest equipment tested and up and running will improve productivity and bring long term value to the organizations that have the insight to use this time wisely.

If your AV equipment needs a checkup or the AV system could use an upgrade, contact our team now.

 

 

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Measuring the Value of Technology-enabled Meeting Rooms  

In a previous post, we talked about the questions and considerations to help effectively plan meeting rooms that enable collaboration.  Goals and expectations for room and technology utilization should be considered before planning begins. Knowing what success will look like is imperative. Establishing how you will monitor and measure that success is equally as important, especially as investment may be required to configure new rooms for back to work and hybrid scenarios. Progress reporting on metrics allows for any necessary alterations or improvements after implementation.

Meeting room with multiple people and display with results data

Establish Metrics When Planning

Metrics should be established based on what is meaningful to the organization, along with knowing how the organization assesses return on investment. A few examples include:

  • Correlating the number and frequency of meetings to the results generated
  • Availability and up-time of technology, as meeting delays can be costly
  • Utilization rate of meeting rooms, because space is valuable once metrics are decided, the next step is to set benchmarks for each. You might have to look at past projects to set some starting figures.  Then, begin monitoring.  It’s best to be proactive in gathering results rather than waiting for anecdotal feedback. This being said, anecdotal feedback can be very helpful because it often provides insight into intangible value that can’t be measured.

Some tangible measures that can be tracked to determine whether or not collaboration spaces are adding value include:

The number and frequency of meetings

  • What is the room utilization rate?
  • How many meetings take place in each meeting room?
  • Are users favoring particular rooms that have specific technology?
  • If you implement new meeting room technology, does the utilization of these spaces increase?
  • If you have some meeting rooms without technology, has their use declined dramatically?

For real-time statistics, room scheduling systems can track activity and frequency based on user IDs.  If you don’t have scheduling technology, setting up an online booking system or a simple survey may reveal new meeting patterns. Space utilization is an important metric because empty rooms don’t add value.

Development efficiencies

  • How long did it take to complete a project or get a new product to market in the past?
    • If employees start using collaborative spaces and technology, are projects being completed more rapidly?
  • Have some development costs or rework costs been avoided because more cross-department collaboration is catching possible issues sooner?

Reduction in development time can be measured in part by the salaries of those involved and the time spent on the project.  

Reduction in the number of iterations and tests

  • How many prototypes are required to get to a final result?
  • How much money is being spent on testing, trials, or external evaluations?

This metric focuses on the hard costs of these activities. If better collaboration can speed development through less iteration, there are real savings to be realized on prototypes or other testing.  This is hopefully a straightforward calculation of savings.

User satisfaction

Many consider satisfaction to be an intangible measure.  However, there are many ways to administer regular surveys that can include satisfaction scales and comment boxes.

  • What are users saying about the functionality of the meeting rooms?
  • Are user voicing complaints or sharing accolades, and is one or the other increasing?
  • Similar to the usage questions, why are rooms being booked or avoided?

Technology and spaces that are easy to use, designed to the task, and are comfortable will generate positive results. Consider surveys that ask about and grade user acceptance ease of use and overall satisfaction.  Ask for recommendations for improvement and accomplishments resulting from collaborative discussions.

Measure Then Improve

Monitor results regularly, especially user feedback, so improvements can be made. It’s also good to map data trends over time to demonstrate the impact meeting spaces have. Even if you started with uncertain benchmarks, looking at the results on a rolling basis will establish firmer ground over time. Consider space utilization as an example. If your rooms were in use 50% of their available time, you might want to set 75% as a goal. If after three months the average utilization only grows to 60%, questions can be asked. You may discover there wasn’t enough training to make users confident, or there are missing features/capabilities that caused users not to return as frequently, or at all.

At the end, when meeting rooms facilitate collaboration sessions that become part of an organization’s culture, there should be noticeable and measurable productivity gains. The important thing is the up-front work to consider what metrics will be measured and gathered. If you are planning new meeting spaces, establishing success factors should be done first to inform how those spaces should be designed to help achieve desired goals. To some, this may sound a bit circular, or “chicken-and-egg.”  If skepticism exists, try the approach on some pilot rooms before making a major investment.  Realizing positive results fuels future improvements.

 

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Planning Technology-Enabled Collaboration Rooms

Collaboration is, essentially, a group of people coming together to get the most from their combined analytical and creative energies. Time and again collaboration proves to be one of the most significant ways to solve business challenges.  Today, the meetings themselves can be a challenge given the increase in remote workers and changes necessary for others returning to offices.  The balance of live and remote engagement must be considered even more. Meeting and collaborationroom with projection and flat panel and seating in a large U shape

Often collaboration occurs in teams within individual departments during design reviews, production analysis, and planning, or presentation planning. When collaboration involves two or more departments, the value realized can increase exponentially. Diverse teams can bring very diverse types of content that need to be effectively shared. For example, sharing CAD design concepts between engineering and manufacturing teams can optimize a product for smooth production and after-sale service. Reviewing end-to-end workflows in large spreadsheets or visual diagrams provides insight on the impact one group’s work has on another’s. Cross-functional collaboration such as this not only improves workflow and time and cost savings, it also boosts satisfaction of engaged participants.

Designing Collaborative Spaces for Users’ Workflow

Enabling effective collaboration requires an investment in meeting spaces and technology appropriate to the tasks. Given the shift to remote workforces, more meetings require technology to facilitate discussion.  Most organizations are overwhelmed with digital communications, data, and images. The use of printed handouts or huddling around one computer never was ideal for a collaborative environment, and they are definitely not effective tools now that so many people are working remotely or even separated in meeting spaces. Connecting remote teammates is especially difficult without thoughtfully designed distance collaboration tools, including both hardware and software.

As many people do return to work, there needs to be an effective balance with in-office and remote meetings. Ultimately, the displays and collaboration tools in the room should suit the user content and objectives. The type or number of large-screen displays in a meeting room is only one of many technology decisions to be made. Audio, connectivity, software, and other tools are key to enabling productive sessions and remote connections. A review of sample use cases, workflows, and user profiles could lead to the standardization of room designs based on recurring work, teams, and their data requirements.

Define Success Up Front

Start your planning with the end in mind to guide design. How will you know the investment in collaboration technology was successful? Will you be measuring space utilization rates? Are you trying to increase the number of cross-functional meetings? Do you need to support a growing, globally dispersed workforce? Do you want more engaged users who are building a culture of collaboration?  How to measure success is a topic unto itself, but knowing what success looks like will guide space design and technology choices.

Questions and Considerations in Design:

With so many component options and platforms available, ensuring seamless integration of all equipment is critical. Involve an AV design specialist as early in the process as possible. This is especially important with new construction to ensure the interplay of space, sound, visuals, and structure is considered up front to avoid costly rework later. An experienced designer should be asking questions such as:

  • Are you planning spaces for new construction or renovating an existing space?
    • If existing, does the layout or structure create any limitations for running network cables necessary or added electrical connections?
    • If new construction of multiple spaces, is there an opportunity to standardize room sizes and technology based upon the work being conducted in them?
  • Is user content mostly spreadsheets, documents, and PowerPoint slides, or is it more complex 2D/3D data and photo-realistic rendering?
    • If the content is complex, at what scale should it be viewed to enable effective review and reduce time-to-insight?
  • How many different user applications/software packages must be open at one time?
  • Will users want to share content from their devices? If so, will the sources be a mix of laptops and hand-held devices?
  • What codec (Cisco, Polycom etc) is in place or required for remote participants?
  • Will there need to be a primary presenter and podium in the space?
  • How is the seating arranged as this will affect microphone placements.
  • How many and what types of audio sources will be in the space?
  • Will multi-point remote collaboration be necessary and, if so, between how many locations?
  • What network bandwidth is available for sharing complex data remotely?
  • What interaction capabilities do remote participants expect?
  • What level of security is required?
  • What technical support plan is necessary to ensure systems are maintained and available to expectations?
  • When users experience a problem or have a question, what support structure is in place to minimize meeting delays?
  • How long does the technology need to last?
    • Does your company have a regular refresh cycle or do you need systems to last as long as possible?

Regardless of how long collaboration technology needs to last, understanding workflow and expected use cases is a critical first step.  Effectively designed spaces and appropriate, simplified tools will be highly utilized and generate measurable return.  Establishing metrics to gauge success also needs to be done at the beginning, though measures and benchmarks can be updated as experience increases.  Regular monitoring of use and performance data will provide timely insight into needed system modifications or user training. When the time comes to plan the next set of technology upgrades, justification for investment is much easier with data that proves the payoff.

Read the follow up post Measuring the ROI of Technology-Enabled Meeting Rooms

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Audio visual technician checking cables on the back of a large array of LCD panelsWhether you have complex audio visual systems with multiple screens and projectors, or a more simple set up, you’ve decided to invest in creating functional meeting spaces that meet your needs. Supporting your investment over time is an important consideration. Proactive system maintenance can discover issues before they become serious problems. This reduces IT burden, system downtime, and user frustration because users experience reliable and well-performing audiovisual (AV) systems.

1. Prevent an outage

A small issue that goes unchecked can become a big problem that may shut down your system. With regular maintenance, a professional team performs a full check of your system – even the elements that are not used regularly, to ensure everything is working together as it should. This allows your team to focus on your business without concerns about your AV technology slowing them down.

2. Extend the life of your equipment

When a professional services team monitors all components of your system, issues can be identified and resolved immediately to ensure the maximum life expectancy of the system. This is similar to the regular maintenance recommended for an automobile because it extends the life and performance of the vehicle. An AV system works much the same way and will benefit from regular proactive maintenance.

3. Create a technology road map

Every piece of technology has a scheduled end of life. Regular maintenance will identify the pieces that need to be replaced, before they fail at the wrong time. This allows you to plan and budget for new components well in advance.

4. Get more from your service agreement

Proactive maintenance is a great way to get the most out of your contract because it includes regular checks or often an on-site team member. Regular interaction creates a more engaged process and expands the team member’s knowledge of your systems. The regular checks ensure that the system is always working at peak performance rather than responding reactively to service tickets.

If the agreement includes an on-site team member, this makes support for end-users more accessible and convenient.

5. Maintain your inventory

Part of proactive maintenance includes monitoring an inventory of supplies and spare parts. Ordering can take place when supplies are low – avoiding shortages that may cause system downtime.

 

Through regimented proactive maintenance, Pentegra’s technicians will reduce incidents from the start. As a result, you experience more efficient and effective working sessions. We schedule maintenance activities around your meetings, staying non-obtrusive. Talk to us today about how proactive maintenance can save you time and money.

 

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Corporate meeting and video conference room with four chairs and one LCD display panel on the wall with video camera and microphone

Prioritizing Needs for Audio Visual Collaboration Upon Return to Work

While some organizations are starting a returning to work program, all employees may not be returning at the same time so some remain remote. Even those returning to work may not be returning to prior meeting routines. Regardless of location status, many people have become very familiar with video conferencing platforms over the last few months. It’s likely that this form of collaboration will be required for the foreseeable future. However, not every organization has the same tools available in all locations. How do you keep large teams collaborating locally and remotely upon return to work?

If you are planning to deploy collaboration rooms in the near future, there may be some critical factors to consider before you get back to business as usual. Keeping staff safe is always going to be top priority. A phased approach when coming back to work ensures social distancing measures are followed. In addition, travel may be restricted, making video conferencing even more essential. These new working conditions may come with pressure to implement solutions quickly to maintain high levels of productivity.

Audio

Integrating AV with video conferencing platforms in your meeting rooms can improve collaboration activities. When choosing a solution for a collaborative meeting room, the main focus should be on audio. Having clear, intelligible audio allows teams to communicate most effectively. There are a few options to consider especially if you have budget constraints.

  • Speaker and microphone placement are critical; speaker and microphone coverage areas should be mapped out in advance to ensure everyone will be able to hear local and remote presenters from any location in the room.
  • Implement simple acoustic treatments and reduce noise reflection.
  • Invest in a system with Acoustic Echo Cancelling (AEC) capabilities.
  • Remove any unnecessary, noisy electronics from the room

Sharing Content

Another important factor to consider with collaboration solutions is the ability to share presentations and data effectively. The main sharing enablers are displays and the user interface. The display doesn’t need to be fancy. Almost any monitor or TV will allow teammates to share their content.  But if your data is highly detailed, the size and resolution of the display become factors to consider.

User experience needs to be intuitive enough for any user to boot up and begin a presentation. Most people working from home have been using remote collaboration services. Choose a user experience which operates similar to those products to help meetings get started on-time and reduce calls for support.

Camera

Selecting the right camera is the next technology consideration. Although face-to-face interaction is important, budgets may dictate tough investment choices. In these cases, video cameras can be categorized as “nice to have”. Depending upon the intent, successful meetings can result from sharing verbal and written information, not necessarily seeing each other.

 

Prioritizing your conference room needs can be difficult, especially in a time of uncertainty. Remember, audio should be the main focus. Finding a solution that fits your organization’s specific needs will be key. Getting a head start on planning now will increase your collaborative success upon return to work.

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