Hybrid work environments — in which some employees work at an office and some work from their homes or other remote locations — are increasingly commonplace. According to research from PwC, 72% of U.S. executives plan to invest in tools for virtual collaboration, and 57% of them plan to invest in conference rooms with enhanced virtual connectivity.
To maximize the value of these investments, IT leaders should follow best practices for designing and administering the proper hybrid conference room setup. Here's what IT professionals need to know about establishing and maintaining conference rooms and huddle spaces for organizations with hybrid work environments.
For example, a dedicated conference room or huddle space may require a fully integrated meeting room solution with conferencing processors and endpoints as well as loudspeakers and echo-cancelling capabilities. This allows remote meeting participants to hear and be heard, making it easier for everyone involved to understand one another. Many organizations are creating flexible workspaces that can be adapted for a variety of collaboration scenarios. It's beneficial to be familiar with what meeting room solutions are available so they can be deployed quickly to ensure a time-sensitive public announcement or board committee meeting goes off without a hitch.
Employees and teams are likely using popular unified communications platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet. A hybrid collaboration solution should integrate with such platforms, allowing the organization maximum flexibility in connecting with external stakeholders including business partners and customers, regardless of their preferred platform.
Additionally, employees who work remotely may appreciate noise cancelling headphones that integrate with mobile and desktop conferencing tools and make it easier to hear their colleagues. Lighting is equally important wherever participants are located. For remote contributors, good lighting makes it easier for in-office coworkers to see their remote colleagues during video calls, facilitating communication even further.
Any hybrid conferencing solution should be able to grow as an organization expands and its requirements become more complex. Network requirements, including adequate bandwidth and quality of service (QoS), are also essential to keep top of mind as hybrid collaboration takes off.
An organization could have the most cutting-edge conferencing technology available and still struggle to collaborate effectively in a hybrid environment if managers and employees don't know what the tools can do or don't understand how to use them in their day-to-day work. With this in mind, IT leaders who offer conferencing-tool training that caters to their organization's needs will reduce the number of help desk requests down the road.
For example, managers of hybrid teams should learn how to conduct team meetings composed of in-person and remote staff, as well as with customers or clients. Regional offices may have specific collaboration requirements for engaging their colleagues in the main office. Executive assistants may also need role-specific training so they can support meetings involving senior management or customers located both on-premises and in remote settings.
All employees should have the same baseline knowledge when it comes to what conferencing technology can do and how it enables hybrid meetings. Accordingly, it's a good idea to offer refresher training periodically or on demand, and provide cheat sheets employees can refer to. Incorporate conferencing technology training into new hire orientation as well.
Long-term planning is also critical to the success of a hybrid conference room setup. If an organization only budgets with short-term requirements in mind, it may need to rethink the conferencing solution sooner than expected. IT leaders should assess the lifetime cost of the conferencing solution and plan for its ongoing administration. Such a budget analysis typically encompasses line items for user licenses across all office locations and remote workspaces, licenses required to operate conferencing solutions in specific meeting spaces, and any hardware upgrades needed for conferencing equipment and accessories in offices or remote work environments.
Also, consider the IT staff time required to maintain and update the conferencing systems in addition to any analytics software required to troubleshoot and optimize conferencing performance. Solutions that offer remote management allow for easier tracking and management of the system's health as well as remote deployment of software updates for efficiency.
There may also be costs associated with training sessions for existing and new employees as well as administrator-specific training for IT team members. As more employees and teams adopt the conferencing solution, IT should budget for networking resources to support smooth hybrid conferencing experiences across all locations.
According to the PwC study, over 60% of executives expect increased spending on virtual collaboration tools and manager training. IT leaders should prepare for hybrid meeting environments by assessing their organizations' virtual collaboration requirements, training employees on how to use conferencing technologies, and proactively planning for the long-term maintenance and administration of a hybrid collaboration solution. With the right preparation, IT professionals can lead the way for an organization's successful hybrid work environment.