HOW-TO: Turn your old meeting room into a collaborative space

Legacy collaborative systems are often just that: discrete ‘systems’ that offer communications and sharing capabilities, but not usually integrated into the usual office workflow. The latest report from BlueJeans Network adds further weight to the argument that collaboration builds employee engagement, but the recent announcement by Microsoft and Polycom that might see collaboration embedded into the central office workflow.

Collaboration is a good thing. Isn’t it? Well for once it’s not just the technologists making the point. The latest study commissioned by BlueJeans Network reveals that office workers themselves feel alienated if their employers do not change their approach to new ‘live’ technologies.

Polycom’s RealPresence Group Series in-room video conferencing solutions will be qualified on Skype for Business Server and supported on Office 365.

Polycom’s RealPresence Group Series in-room video conferencing solutions will be qualified on Skype for Business Server and supported on Office 365.

But while 85% of the employees surveyed (4,000 employees across the U.S., UK, Germany and France) use video as part of their everyday lives, only 28% say their employers are proactively encouraging them to use video at work to communicate. The majority (72%) feel that live video has the power to transform the way they communicate at work and 69% believe that increased use of video conversations would help employee retention at all levels within the organization.

Almost two-thirds of respondents (63%) assert that their employers could make better use of live video, pointing to culture, collaboration and training as examples. Furthermore, 63% say that younger employees now expect to use live video as a communications tool when they enter the workplace.

“Consumer adoption of video is ubiquitous now and we’ve seen that employees are clamouring for the business world to follow suit. Yesterday may have been all about email, fax and the phone, but today it’s all about that face to face connection you get through video,” said Lori Wright, Chief Marketing Officer at BlueJeans Network.

“The research shows the millennial workforce or “selfie generation” have already integrated video into their daily lives and if businesses don’t recognize it as a key channel of communication, it risks not only leaving potential business on the table, but also losing out on the top talent that will fuel the workplace of the future.”

Integrating collaboration

The results of the BlueJeans study beg the question of how employers should encourage the use of collaborative technology? Perhaps the best way is to integrate collaboration into the regular workflow of the office, using familiar tools and user interfaces.

This is exactly what Polycom and Microsoft plan to do. Underpinning the ambition of the partners to expand the reach of Skype for Business meetings is the facility to leverage employers’ existing video investments as they move to Microsoft Office 365 and Skype for Business environments.

In addition, Microsoft customers new to video collaboration will have the option to use Polycom’s proven technologies in their new deployments. Customers will also be able to collaborate with other existing video platforms using a new cloud video interoperability service built by Polycom and Microsoft.

Hardware options

Polycom’s RealPresence Group Series in-room video conferencing solutions will be qualified on Skype for Business Server and supported on Office 365. A familiar Skype for Business-like user-interface on the Polycom RealPresence Touch will make it even easier for Skype for Business users to integrate video conferencing into current workflows.

In addition, as part of Microsoft’s newly announced Project Rigel, Polycom will deliver a new line of room solutions purpose built for Skype for Business that will offer plug-and-play simplicity in a variety of configurations to meet the needs of any sized business and any sized room. Additionally, Polycom’s voice and video technologies, such as Polycom CX5100 and Polycom RealPresence Trio, will be certified for Project Rigel solutions.

Peter Leav, Chief Executive Officer, Polycom explained: “Our customers have told us that they rely on our combined solutions to reach the highest level of productivity and efficiency. Together, we equip our customers of all sizes with cloud-ready solutions that will help them realise the powerful benefits of collaboration in the workplace of the future.”

“Uniting Skype for Business in Office 365 with Polycom’s high-quality audio and video solutions gives customers the most complete collaboration toolkit for the modern workplace,” said Zig Serafin, Corporate Vice President, Skype for Business.

The nature of meetings

A second factor in any consideration of the means of encouraging employees to use collaborative tools has to be the appropriateness of the technology, Not only does collaborative technology have to fit naturally into the workflow, it also has to facilitate the style of collaboration that the employees actually want.

Polycom’s CX5100 and CX5500 are 360-degree camera systems that sit in the middle of the conference room table

Polycom’s CX5100 and CX5500 are 360-degree camera systems that sit in the middle of the conference room table

A recent Wainhouse report concluded that: “Traditional video conferencing systems were designed to support traditional business meetings.  By placing the camera at the front of the room, the main presenter and even a few other people sitting nearby could be captured on camera.  And for the most part, this works well … offering both local and remote participants a good view of the other people and locations in the meeting.

“But teaming sessions work differently.  While traditional meetings include a defined hierarchy with the leader (and his direct reports or co-presenters) sitting at the head of the table, teaming sessions are leaderless.  Instead, like a meeting of the Knights of the Round Table, everyone is (in theory) an equal participant and is equally important.  For these sessions, the ideal seating arrangement is a round or oval table as this fosters a feeling of democracy and equality.  In such a teaming session, the participants huddle around the table and work together to achieve a common goal.”

Hardware innovation

With its CX5100 and CX5500 products, Wainhouse cites Polycom as having taken an innovative approach to resolving this situation.  The CX5100 and CX5500 are 360-degree camera systems that sit in the middle of the conference room table, providing remote Skype for Business / Lync users with a better “connection” to the meeting room. Unlike traditional video conferencing systems, the “camera in the middle of the table” approach is flexible enough to support both standard / formal meetings and teaming sessions.

Unlike traditional, stand-alone video conferencing systems, CX products are designed to connect via USB to a meeting participant’s notebook computer.  Once connected, and after the device is recognised by Windows and the standard video / audio drivers are automatically installed, the notebook PC sees the CX device as a USB camera and USB speakerphone.5

The CX systems provide remote Skype for Business users with two simultaneous views of the meeting room. The first is a panoramic (360 degree) view of the meeting room at up to 1920 x 288 resolution.  This is accomplished using five camera signals that are stitched together to form a single filmstrip view of the space (see image below). The second is an image (at up to 1080p) of the currently active speaker (a.k.a. voice activated switching).  When a different person speaks, the system automatically shows the new speaker.

With a new generation of tech-savvy employees, solutions that support collaborative working models are likely to be favoured. Traditional video conferencing systems that leverage front-of-room cameras are well suited for “standard” meetings. However, Wainhouse says: “they are unable to properly support a teaming / huddle session without leaving the remote participants feeling somehow outside of the circle of participation.”

Resolving this issue and integrating collaborative tools into the workflow may soon see video as the natural choice.

Video is the future?

The research from BlueJeans Network also found:

◾Talent magnet: 51% said they would prefer to work for a company that embraces live video as a way to communicate and 73% believe hiring of new staff could be transformed with video, changing relationships between employers and candidates as well as between bosses and employees at a cultural level (75%)

◾Longing for live: 72% of employees admit they have higher expectations of information being readily available than they did two years ago, and 82% see live video playing a useful role within their organization over the next two years whether in training, troubleshooting customer issues or product collaboration

◾Transforming meetings and inboxes: Seeing people rather than just hearing them is seen as a key benefit of video communication (60%). Furthermore, 68% see live video saving time spent in unproductive, long face-to-face meetings in the next five years, while over half (54%) see it significantly reducing the volume of email traffic

The findings show that there is a genuine appetite for live video, which is only set to increase over time. Employees see it as part of their daily, personal lives but do not seem to be actively encouraged to use live video in the workplace, despite the obvious benefits available to organisations.

Categories: CURRENT REPORTS, How-to?

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