Revenge of the Survivor's Guide for the Zombie Meeting Room

In in my previous blog post, "A Survivor's Guide for the Zombie Meeting Room," I argued why companies must double-down on conference room technology to better capitalize on the new ways people work. Treating these rooms as just rooms only limits the collaboration and productivity of your employees; a zombie meeting room only produces zombie workers.

Now I will go into the different ways to bring these rooms back to life.

Building Collaboration From the Ground Floor Up

From my frontline experience, I would say convincing a company on the value of smart meeting rooms is one of the biggest challenges of many collaboration projects. Most neither understand what the technology can do, nor see the point of building out physical conference rooms when work is shifting to virtual spaces. However, getting folks into a testing environment where they can validate the technology and put it through the proper paces can really be an eye-opening experience. A common takeaway from these sessions is how the physical and the virtual are interconnected.

Smart conferences rooms can be a reliable hub for workers connecting remotely, facilitating meetings that are open, clear, and rich with features for everyone inside and outside of the room. Investing in smart meeting rooms is an investment in the foundation for virtual collaboration.

The perfect opportunity to invest is when you're shifting to an open floor plan, expanding to a new building, or remodeling your current campus. By starting fresh, you can integrate the technology into the very DNA of the space to produce a comprehensive meeting experience native to the environment. Video collaboration, room reservation, lighting, climate control, and file sharing can all be tied together and made available through one unified interface.

At World Wide Technology (WWT), we recently embarked on such a journey with our new, 210,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in St. Louis. We applied many of the things we learned building conference room technology for clients into our new building. For example, we added a mapping system for mobile devices that allows workers to pinpoint the locations of and directions to open conference rooms. As we moved into an open office layout, we needed to make sure that all the rooms were on an equal footing when it came to running video and audio. We decided to standardize on Cisco endpoints, and by doing so, we created a unified meeting room experience throughout the building. The consistency and quality of the experience will help improve productivity.

Betting on Collaboration and Innovation

I've identified several universal factors to keep in mind when building out a smart conference room. These include:

  • Simplicity -- The technology in a smart meeting room should be simple, easy to use, and unified. If the tools meant to foster collaboration are not intuitive, then you are killing any chance of productivity right out the gate. Technology must be an enabler, not a deterrent. Luckily, lots of workplace collaboration providers have taken this to heart. They've gotten away from customization and have adopted a standardized model. Clients can pick all-in-one units with features they can apply across rooms of any shape, size, or location. Everything works out the box, with no need to worry if one person's video conferencing system will connect with another person's video conferencing system. It's clean, efficient, and most of all, productive.

  • Do Your Homework -- Even though conference room technology itself is becoming simple, there are still many different flavors of it from many different vendors. As a rule, you'll need some degree of customization to align technology to the unique workflows of your organization. Like a tailor, a systems integrator can pick the right solution that works for you or fix it to your measurements. At WWT we always recommend that our customers take a few possibilities and stress test them. Here they can see what works, what doesn't work, how one component acts in relation to other components, and what they can tweak to make it all work together. It takes the guess work out of new, unfamiliar technology. Once they arrive at the right solution, we can turn that proof of concept into a live platform.
  • Cloud vs. On Premises -- A key element companies should test for is the infrastructure that's behind the curtain. You may have the most sophisticated HD video conference setup out there, complete with facial recognition and voice identification, but it won't do you any good if your network is so overcapacity that it's dropping frames and causing the audio to become unsynchronized.

    Evaluate your bandwidth requirements in unison with your considerations of a video solution. Determine if you need the reliability of an on-premises network server, or whether you can move these operations into the cloud for the cost-savings attached to a pay-as-you-go bandwidth model. From what I've seen, making a big investment in your network is always a safe bet. Connectivity is a core premise of the smart meeting room -- especially in the Internet of Things (IoT), where more elements of the meeting room will be producing and sharing data with one another. Also consider the value-add that comes with an HD presentation. People communicate so much through body language that reading the room accurately in HD can go a long way toward making the meeting productive.

  • Adoption and Training -- Remember the human element behind any implementation of new technology. As many bells and whistles a new piece of equipment might have, it will all be negated if workers don't know how to use it. After you choose a solution, test it with sample groups from within your organization to find out how they take to it. As you near implementation, promote the solution within your organization by setting up workshops and training sessions for your employees. A gradual approach is often best. If you're doing a total revamp of your conference rooms, start with a select number of rooms in a building or region. This way you can work out any impediments along the way for a more effective rollout through your entire organization. A good technology consultant or integrator will have a methodology on the books for ensuring adoption of whatever you are implementing.

A Smarter Way

The conference room is far from extinct. If anything, it's more vital than ever in grounding new workflows. The key is in making rooms more than just rooms. They need to be treated as competitive assets that prop up worker collaboration, productivity, and innovation. With artificial intelligence and IoT going mainstream, we now have the means to make that transformation possible for any enterprise. Doing nothing will only lead to zombie meeting rooms that sabotage any other workplace initiative you try to implement. The zombie meeting room is a choice, not a fate to which enterprises must resign themselves. Now is the time to breathe new life into your organization.