As a growing number of companies set dates for employees to come back to the office, many are developing strategies to satisfy employee demands to continue working from home, at least some of the time. This shift to a hybrid workforce is driving employers to consider a myriad of new requirements, including how the physical office and meeting spaces can effectively support seamless collaboration and productivity of both in-person and remote workers at scale.
Essential AV equipment – from monitors and mics to video conferencing systems – must be reliable, flexible, and secure. As a result, organisations are re-evaluating their current AV systems, only to find that many are outdated given the breakneck speed at which such technology is innovating. And while some might first consider upgrading, the task of rolling out hundreds of conference rooms quickly and reliably with little or no disruption to work is difficult, time-consuming, and costly. While ubiquitous, AV equipment itself is complex, often resulting in lengthy deployments, which are then further compounded by the intricacies involved to manage and maintain.
Across the board, hybrid work is driving the need to create a consistent and reliable conference room meeting experience for more users wherever they are. These companies are also seeking web-based conferencing solutions that enable their global employees, whether in the office, at home or other remote location, to work collaboratively, despite being in different geographies. These meeting solutions need to keep pace with the technology advances their users are demanding. Collectively, these factors are strengthening the case for organisations to consider an “as-a-service” model rather than make large new capital investments to upgrade their AV equipment and adapt to the realities of a new work environment.
Simple AV Experience Wherever Work Happens
Prior to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the trend was towards an increasingly rigid workplace with employees primarily using complex AV technology from their companies’ conference rooms. Such complex AV equipment requires dongles, special software, separate networks, and multiple logins. Companies also had to contend with other barriers to effective video conferencing, such as incompatible cables, slow networks, substandard cameras, mics, and speakers, which fuelled employees’ negative perception of video conference calls.
As more employees started working remotely using platforms like Zoom over the last two years, many discovered collaboration through a video conference was simpler and more effective than they ever expected. In turn, businesses learned that the technologies used in their huddle rooms, conference rooms, and boardrooms were not nearly as simple and sophisticated as unified communications and collaboration (UCC) platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
With a work-from-anywhere movement in full swing, employees are now in a position to demand more flexibility in how—and where— they get their jobs done. They need AV technologies that are simple to use and transition seamlessly between an in-office and remote working environment. After all, these technologies are one of the core elements needed to make the hybrid work model possible!
More Productive Collaborative Environments
This shift is driving changes to meeting spaces as well. Companies must offer more flexibility to ensure their employees have options to collaborate more effectively whether they’re sitting face-to-face or not.
Many are now standardising on web-based collaboration platforms, like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, because these platforms can be easily managed, updated on employee laptops, and typically require less IT support.
Huddle rooms, conference rooms and boardrooms are also becoming more collaborative. Although hardware for these environments is pre-configured for a single platform, there are systems available with bring your own device (BYOD) or bring your own meeting (BYOM) options. BYOD and BYOM features allow users to access and control the conference room equipment, regardless of the pre-configuration, using any other collaboration platform. In other words, if your conference room system is configured for Teams, but the person running the meeting is using Zoom, they could use Zoom if the system had the BYOD feature. These types of features can make a company’s transition to using a standard video collaboration platform easier and provide flexibility for guest users.
Keeping Pace with User Demands and AV Technology Advances
Although many employees are heading back into the office, we’re still not yet at pre-pandemic levels. For that reason, companies are setting up more small meeting rooms that support video conferencing for up to five guests with extensive systems, such as an intelligent HD camera, display, beamforming microphones and quality audio. Large conference rooms are being outfitted with these same technologies, though with fewer employees in the office, office space that was once used for large meetings is being freed up for other uses, such as R&D, product showcases, and workshop spaces geared toward high-quality, on-site collaboration.
Organisations are also setting up one-on-one rooms, where individuals can conduct interviews, employee reviews, collaborate with peers working remotely or meet with a customer – all on camera. Other new AV advances include hot-desking, where multiple users work in the same space at different times, along with sensor technology and reservation tools that help facility and office managers track utilisation and maintain those spaces.
Remote Workers Create New IT Challenges
Supporting the rapid uptick in remote workers created several IT challenges – security concerns increased, VPNs needed to be scaled up, and user login issues grew. AV technology is no exception. When AV issues occur, employees have little patience to troubleshoot a workaround, as these issues can interfere with critical meetings, or disrupt sales opportunities. Remedying the problem is urgent and preventing the disruption altogether is ideal. By investing in video collaboration systems through an as-a-service subscription that includes support, companies can alleviate the demand on IT teams, while also monitoring the availability of their systems, and meet the expectation of their distributed workforce.
A Hybrid Workforce Drives Interest in AV as a Service
Given businesses discovered how productive their workers could be from home, it’s clear the hybrid workforce model is here to stay. Many companies are now turning to an AV as-a-service subscription model to continue supporting their hybrid workforce while outfitting all meeting spaces with state-of-the-art AV technologies.
The ubiquity of video conferencing as a result of the pandemic and commoditisation of video conferencing technology has led to an increase in volume across offices and homes. Because the technology to provide this desired end result can become outdated quickly, and it needs supporting to ensure a consistent user interface and maximised uptime, it makes sense to consume as a service. Thanks to the application ubiquity of collaboration platforms and video conferencing hardware commoditisation, AV as-a-service is made possible.
Historically, to deliver an AV solution, companies needed a complex and creative approach that was difficult to scale and often needed to be supported by the company that designed, integrated and installed it. That is no longer the case – with AV as-a-service, complexity and costs are reduced while solutions can be scaled across the broad geographies over which this technology can now deploy.
With AV as-a-service combining the AV hardware, on-demand support, and warranty in a single package, businesses can upgrade their meeting spaces without a large capital expense, increased demand on their IT team or sacrificing other key corporate initiatives. Partial or full transition to operating expense from capital expense means greater budgeting flexibility. AV as-a-service is not only easier on a business’s budget and IT teams, it provides the simple user experience employees have become accustomed to these last two years.
Bill Geary is executive vice president and general manager for communications and security solutions at Wesco International.