The definition of an ideal conference room setup has changed with hybrid working. In the past, the challenge was to find cameras that could fully capture the meeting room table and microphones that could clearly pick up the voice of anyone in the room. The good news is that today’s cameras have wide fields of view and microphones have excellent range and include advanced features, such as background noise cancellation.
However, companies today want more. They have achieved a fantastic experience for home office video users and want to bring meeting room participants to the same level. Businesses and users want true meeting equity, which can be expensive or complicated for most hybrid meeting spaces.
By understanding what constitutes an ideal hybrid conference room setup, companies can bring meetings closer to equity. To do this, companies must assess the following five factors:
- incoming video
- outgoing video
- incoming audio
- outgoing audio
Let’s look at the office meeting experience for these factors and what can be done to make the meeting room experience almost as good.
1. Incoming video
When attending a meeting virtually from their home office, participants are typically seated directly in front of their screen. In a conference room, participants may have to crane their necks to one side or the other to see a monitor hanging on the wall.
In an ideal hybrid conference room, there would be monitors on each wall so everyone in the room could look directly ahead to see remote participants. However, this could be a complex and expensive investment for most meeting rooms, so the next best step would be to position the monitor with meeting participants in mind.
For example, the monitor can be placed on a wall parallel to the side of a conference table, rather than at the very end of the table. This allows participants in the room to face the same direction towards the camera and the monitor without having to look around. Remote participants also have a better view of who is in the room.
2. Outgoing video
Meeting participants calling in from their home office on desktop video tend to be perfectly framed, like a newscaster. A meeting room camera, on the other hand, captures the entire room. Instead of the participants in the room having their own perfect frame, they all share a single camera. The result is that each person is small and difficult to see.
Meeting participants in the conference room are not present as remote team members connecting from their home office. This is usually the most discussed aspect of meeting fairness. Video hardware and service providers are working to solve this problem through a variety of approaches. Some use voice or face tracking to zoom in on the active speaker, while others break up the larger image of the room into smaller images of each participant. The market has yet to decide the best approach, so IT teams should test a few options and see what works best for their meetings.
3. Incoming Audio
Participants in remote meetings typically use headsets or their computer’s audio system for meetings. Hearing the other side of a video call is rarely a problem in home offices. In a conference room, audio can be much more complex. Headsets are not an option, so IT teams should ensure video systems include a high-quality speaker system. If the room is large enough to require it, external speaker modules should be considered.
4. Outgoing Audio
Headset microphones and desktop microphones both have the same advantage. The speaker’s mouth is usually a few centimeters from the microphone, which makes it much easier to pick up the sound cleanly. In a meeting room, we don’t like wearing headsets, and it’s expensive and inconvenient to have a table microphone at every seat.
Fortunately, today’s video systems have microphones with excellent sound pickup. The current generation of video bars and video conferencing audio systems can pick up every speaker at an acceptable level of quality, even in a small to medium conference room. For larger rooms, external microphone modules or more advanced beamforming array microphones are recommended.
Chat can be a huge productivity tool in meetings. While the meeting is going on, people often share links and files via chat or even have side conversations. But there’s no perfect way to make meeting room chat easier.
Some video hardware vendors support built-in chat in their tabletop displays. An additional monitor on the wall could also display the meeting chat for participants in the room, but this does not allow them to participate fully. Participants can log into the meeting from their laptop in order to use chat, but this only complicates the way meetings are facilitated. Although this problem may not be easily solved with the design of the room, it should be kept in mind so that we at least know that the participants in the conference room might miss some information.
While the ideal hybrid conference room setup may not be feasible or achievable for most businesses, home offices have provided a roadmap. We’ve created an almost ideal video conferencing experience while sitting at our desktop computers. The more IT teams can render the meeting room experience like the home office experience, the better. If everyone has the same video, audio, and chat experience, we will have achieved true meeting equity.