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Meeting Rooms and the Return to Office

One of the assumptions about return to office (RTO) scenarios has been that enterprises must create spaces that employees want to come to, and can be productive in. And when it comes to technology's role in creating more desirable offices, much of the focus has been on the meeting room, with a general belief that pre-pandemic meeting room technology won't cut it in the era of hybrid work-not just for those who come into the office, but for the whole hybrid work experience, regardless of employees' location.

Many enterprises have already upgraded their meeting room estate as part of their hybrid work strategy, but it's possible that investments in technology refreshes for office meeting rooms may see a significant pause this year, as enterprise budgets face retrenchment in an uncertain economy. In an article on No Jitter, Prachi Nema, principal analyst at Omdia notes that, "With the rapid adoption of hybrid work, the industry expected enterprises to quickly rip and replace their legacy meeting room solutions with the latest collaboration tools." However, she notes that Omdia survey research indicates that, "enterprises in all [global] regions will delay significant refreshes as they focus on improving operational efficiencies in 2023," leading to single-digit growth this year-though the survey anticipates a rebound next year.

Therein lies a challenge: Enterprise leaders who insist on some RTO need it to happen now-actually, they needed it to happen almost a year ago. The longer employees get in the habit of not going into the office-or come to expect a sub-par experience when they do-the harder it gets to make RTO mandates stick, short of actually firing people who refuse to comply.

An interesting aside: This Bloomberg article shares some of the ways companies are "branding" their hybrid work programs, and points out that, "One phrase that's rarely used anymore is "Return to Office," with its connotations of harsh mandates." (This despite the fact that harsh mandates seem to be about the only thing that has a chance of actually getting people back to the office as frequently as some leaders would like.)

When it comes to meeting rooms, Nema sees ease of use as key to giving end users the best possible experience. That means, for one thing, multi-use and interoperability. "Meeting service-specific rooms (Zoom Rooms, Microsoft Teams Rooms, etc.) will continue to dominate in 2023 but will lose their appeal in hybrid work setups," she writes "Although video room systems optimized/certified for a specific vendor's meeting service will constitute the bulk of device shipments in 2023, enterprises will gradually move away from dedicated meeting rooms such as Zoom Rooms and Microsoft Teams Rooms. This shift will lead to multiservice rooms, allowing employees to take any video meeting from any room, regardless of the service used."

The interoperability pain point should ease with last year's announcement of Microsoft software's ability to run on Cisco hardware for the meeting room. Nema sees that deal as a harbinger of more to come. "New partnerships will shape the market landscape: We saw a few exciting partnerships in 2022, such as Cisco announcing a native Microsoft Teams experience on its Webex devices in collaboration with Microsoft. Since interoperability between meeting solutions is critical for enterprises, Omdia expects similar announcements from other vendors in 2023."

A final element of the meeting room (and remote) video experience is meeting equity, the idea that all participants in a meeting can see and be seen optimally. The non-equitable scenario is typically when the team in a meeting room are shown in a single shot, gathered around a long table, not identified when they speak and not seen in close-up, as are their remote counterparts. Nema writes that, "No vendor has yet delivered a genuinely equitable meeting experience," but adds that, "In 2023, this market will see rapid innovation as vendors start leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and multiple meeting room cameras in different form factors to support hybrid work delivery and equitable meeting experiences. AI will be at the center of new device innovations."

We'll be focusing plenty of attention on the meeting room and hybrid work at Enterprise Connect 2023 in Orlando the week of March 27. Nema will lead a session on Equipping Offices for Collaboration in a Global Enterprise, and Ira Weinstein of Recon Research will moderate a discussion on The Future of Video and Meeting Rooms: 2026; Weinstein's Recon colleague Jim Kelly will lead a discussion on video interoperability as well. And we've also got a General Session on Making Progress on Hybrid Work: The Enterprise View.

Whatever your enterprise's RTO and hybrid work strategies, the meeting room will likely play a major role. I hope you can join us in Orlando for three and a half days of intense, in-depth programming on this and the whole range of critical issues in enterprise communications-from contact centers/customer experience to security to AI and much more. See you at Enterprise Connect 2023!