Best hybrid meeting technologies to democratize your conference rooms 

It was not long before realization struck that the ‘remote-only’ work culture is not viable in the long run. A complete return to onsite work also did not seem like a favourable solution to many employees. Workplace flexibility is key to keeping the workforce engaged and loyal to the company. Studies show that flexible working increases business productivity and improves work-life balance. Many high-growth companies have implemented the hybrid workforce model. But working with a partially onsite and remote team comes with plenty of challenges. 

One of the hassles in the flexible work model is hybrid team communication and collaboration. The sudden shift to the remote working culture increased reliance on video conferencing technologies. Zoom and Microsoft Teams nearly replicate face-to-face meeting experience. But hybrid meetings are different from the conventional meeting style. It requires well-planned hybrid meeting room solutions for effective collaboration. Moreover, it should provide an equitable experience to onsite and remote attendees. 

Why redesign your conference rooms: common problems with hybrid meetings   

In the pre-pandemic era, team meetings were gatherings that facilitated information sharing and decision-making. Meetings could be held on short notice. Team leaders and employees could have face-to-face team communication spontaneously.  

But hybrid meetings are both physical and virtual in nature. So, a productive hybrid meeting room setup must go beyond the laptop screens.  

Here are some of the common deficiencies of conference rooms in a hybrid meeting room setup: 

• Inadequate Audio-visual technologies 

• Lack of visibility of in-room participants for remote attendees 

• Lack of updated technologies for interactive virtual collaborations  

• Non-camera-friendly seating arrangements 

• Time-consuming procedures to connect devices for information sharing 

Inclusion is the core foundation of a hybrid workplace. Conference rooms in the hybrid working era need to be more than a place to gather and discuss.  

Hybrid meeting room setup checklist for a seamless hybrid meeting experience  

It is imperative to design hybrid meeting rooms to provide an equal space for remote employees to collaborate. Making adjustments in a room design can hugely impact the hybrid meeting experience. Technology is a key facilitator of a seamless hybrid meeting. Invest in the right technologies and equipment for hybrid meetings. It is also important that all technologies and equipment are updated to meet the needs of a distributed workforce.  

Here is a checklist of an ideal hybrid meeting room setup: 

1. Choose the right venue and seating positions 

Picking out the right venue for the hybrid meeting room setup is important. The meeting room should be able to accommodate the equipment needed for a hybrid meeting. It should also have the right amount of lighting and spacing. The size of the meeting room depends on the number of in-room participants.  

A traditional conference room has long tables with a parallel seating arrangement or a round table seating. But these are not fit for a hybrid meeting because participants may be too far from the camera or displays.  

In a hybrid meeting, remote attendees must have a clear view of each in-room participant. The seating should be such that it is close to the camera and audio equipment without any physical obstruction.  

For better visibility of all in-room participants, an arc-shaped table positioned in close proximity to the cameras is an ideal arrangement. It gives remote employees better visibility of every in-room participant. Moreover, this arrangement makes it easier for smart cameras to capture faces accurately.  

2. Install high-quality sound management systems and improve room acoustics  

Speech intelligibility is critical in a hybrid team meeting. It means that all meeting participants must have superior audio clarity. This is essential to understand conversations between the team effectively. Invest in proper sound management technologies such as high-quality microphones, speakers and soundproofing equipment. For a big room, use multiple speakers for all participants in the room to hear well. 

Good room acoustics can also impact sound quality immensely. Study the room acoustics to understand sound distribution levels across the meeting area. Prioritize noise cancellation and reduction of reverberation time. Install sound diffusing or absorbing materials. For example, hard surfaces like glass walls and bare floors can cause reverberation. It interferes with the audio quality in the room. An effective solution to this problem is to install sound absorbers. Materials like carpets, curtain drapes or even acoustical panels are great absorbers. This helps in equalizing sound distribution across the room. 

Soundproofing solutions are quite helpful to prevent external noises from interrupting meetings. Sound dampening panels are effective for noise cancellation. Installing these panels on walls or the ceiling can help in optimizing audio quality.  

3. Use multi-streaming technologies and intelligent webcams 

Choose the right team communication and collaboration tools for effective hybrid meetings. Upgrading to AI-powered video conferencing technologies can give an equitable experience for remote employees. For instance, Zoom’s Smart Gallery provides a ‘multi-streaming’ feature for in-room participants. It gives remote participants a clear and individualized view of their office teammates.  

Similarly, a recent hybrid meeting solution is the ‘Front Row’ feature in Microsoft Teams. Front Row showcases remote employees at an eye-level view below the display screen. It almost replicates the feeling of remote employees being in the room.  

Online participants must be able to see in-room participants and vice-versa. Remote participants can use their laptop webcams. But visibility is a challenge for in-room participants logging in through a single connector.  

Using multiple cameras instead of a single camera setup can give a wider field of view. Use intelligent cameras to show a speaker-focused view rather than a group view. Smart cameras detect the active speaker in the room. In this way, all participants can have a clear view of the speaker. A useful hybrid meeting technology is the Intelligent Capture by Microsoft Teams. Intelligent capture is a certified smart camera. It helps remote attendees to get a well-defined view of content on the in-room whiteboard. The content camera also lets remote attendees to ‘see-through’ anyone who obstructs the view of the Whiteboard.  

4. Use interactive displays and wireless information-sharing tech 

Digital displays are vital to view remote participants and information in a meeting. Projector screens are also a widely used option. The size of the screen should be proportional to the size of the room. For example, large screens are ideal for spacious boardrooms. Small TV screens suffice for huddles with relatively small group sizes.  

Larger the screen the better. Large displays make it easier to see and hear other participants. Avoid placing displays in positions that provide low visibility. Sometimes the content on the screen is not visible to due excessive light glare. Place screens in anti-glare positions or use anti-glare screens for better readability.  It is also prudent to consider if there should be a single screen or multiple screens. Displays can be a large single screen or a dual-screen setup. Many of the latest presentation technologies provide integrated functionalities like video conferencing, content sharing, and whiteboarding along with in-built speakers. 

Minimize the use of wired connectivity. Connecting wired panels and devices makes the setup complicated and time-consuming. Modern devices provide plenty of wireless sharing options. Presentations, documents and other information can be shared with wireless technologies like Bluetooth sharing and Mirroring. However, it is important to ensure that all devices used in the meeting room are compatible and interoperable.  

5. Use digital whiteboarding technologies 

During a traditional meeting, whiteboards are used to brainstorm and illustrate ideas. In a hybrid meeting, the challenge is to ensure the board is visible to remote employees too. For an inclusive hybrid collaboration experience, use digital whiteboards.  

Digital whiteboards are quite helpful for hybrid team collaborations. It has smart touch capabilities that allow users to make digital illustrations. In a bid to improve hybrid meeting experiences, Microsoft has recently rolled out features on its Whiteboard app. Some of the new features include a Laser pointer to pinpoint notes during a virtual presentation. Collaboration cursors to track fellow participants in real-time. Microsoft also introduced the concept of a ‘Fluid Framework’. It allows users to share ideas across from any of its documents on the Whiteboard seamlessly. There are many other interactive whiteboard alternatives such as Miro, Mural and LucidSpark that enable hybrid brainstorming with an impressive array of features.  

 An ideal hybrid meeting room setup brings together a distributed workforce. Technology should not be the only focal point in a hybrid meeting room setup. A good setup depends on the room design and the quality of equipment used. Redesign conference rooms to cater to the needs of a hybrid team. Follow a ‘remote-first’ approach while designing a hybrid meeting room. Choose the right room, compatible devices and digital technologies. Visual presentations and discussions must be visible and audible to all meeting participants. Install the right hardware like cameras, mics, and speakers for better communication.  The core principle of a hybrid meeting is to provide an inclusive experience. Remote employees must be actively engaged in the meeting like their on-site counterparts. Implementing practical hybrid meeting solutions can make meetings more engaging and productive for distributed teams.  

By Malik