An evolving landscape has sent IT managers in search of useful recommendations for utilizing remote work technology. By the end of 2021, 51 percent of all knowledge workers worldwide are expected to work remotely, up from 27 percent in 2019, according to a recent Gartner study. If, how and at what capacity workers return to conventional office environments will vary considerably, as noted in an analysis from PwC.
When videoconferencing began to become widespread two decades ago, most offices concentrated their IT and AV efforts on a single space within a building. The proliferation of software-based platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, combined with the availability of inexpensive, high-resolution and ever-larger flat-panel video displays, encouraged the seeding of multiple smaller conferencing spaces throughout the office complex. Now, the growing remote workforce has created the need to extend an elevated conferencing experience to all sorts of remote endpoints.
IT managers are now supporting employees working from home, coffee shops, coworking spaces and even cars. In that pursuit, IT managers should strive to achieve what's come to be known as "meeting equity" — also known as "experience parity" — to make the conferencing and collaboration experience as consistent as possible for all participants.
To support videoconferencing needs within the office, IT managers advocated for embedding microphones in conference desks or overhead for best coverage. They installed full-bandwidth loudspeakers to keep sound close to the listener and avoid intelligibility-smearing reflections. Along with the addition of high-resolution cameras in meeting spaces, incorporated at eye level for more natural engagement between in-office and remote participants, these components assist with improved consistency and predictability of AV quality.
Those same characteristics are largely available for remote workers as well, including in the form of all-in-one videoconferencing solutions like the Bose Videobar VB1.
Remote-meeting hardware solutions should be complemented with acoustical treatments to enhance the AV experience. The easiest of these to implement are headsets with noise-canceling microphones. Remote employees who are often on the go and joining videoconferences from a mobile device can also benefit from these types of headsets. (And if you're concerned about the disappearance of 3.5-mm jacks on iPhones, an inexpensive adapter can remedy that.)
In addition to the quality AV components, remember it's "AVL" — audio, video, and lighting. Encouraging employees to have quality lighting setups supports team connection and communication, allowing them to see one another more clearly on calls. A variety of effective lighting solutions exists in the market that further enhance the experience of remote conferencing, including ones compact enough to travel with.
Compatibility between conferencing platforms in the office and elsewhere is critical. Fortunately, since most widely used platforms now are codecs, compatibility is easily achieved over networks and the internet. Thus, the challenge for IT managers has become the quality of connectivity for remote workers. That will only be exacerbated as higher-definition video becomes the norm — an HD Zoom conference needs about 2-Mbps bandwidth up and down to maintain a good video image, but a 4K image needs closer to 20 Mbps.
A central IT manager can't make a local broadband service better to support remote work technology, but there are a few optimization tricks they can suggest. For example, encourage employees to direct individual conversations to SMS messagingon smartphones to reduce the load on internet connections during a videoconference. Another helpful tip is to ask remote workers to adjust their router's Quality of Service (QoS) feature to give priority to the Wi-Fi connections. Routers equipped with smart switches allow setting QoS by port to a "high" or a "normal" queue, prioritizing work traffic. (Be advised: Some ISPs may require additional fees to avoid data throttling.)
Speaking of connectivity, workers will be moving between office and remote on a regular basis in the future, so both office and remote work locations should include flexible connectivity solutions such as laptop-docking stations and other quick-connectivity solutions that support workers' frequent transitions.
One of the lasting legacies of the COVID-19 era will likely be the continued dispersal of workers across a wide range of alternative work environments, where they will have to depend on remote work technology. Also wide-ranging, fortunately, are the audio and video solutions IT managers can recommend for collaborating and staying connected to work and colleagues.