Like most IT and AV leaders, I've had to rethink the hybrid working model based on the new reality of video conferencing. How can we give everyone equal opportunities in meetings?
by Robin Hamerlinck*
Are your meetings really collaborative in the hybrid world of work? Are participants who are in their homes heard? Or do people who attend in person dominate the conversation? This is what we call "equity in meetings," where everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute, from wherever they join the meeting.
It's a topic I know will resonate with IT and AV leaders, as hybrid work has become the new global norm. In this landscape, we must ensure that our teams have the right collaboration tools to remain as productive as they have ever been. And these tools include audio technology.
We are as we sound
I can hear some of you wondering 'Why is audio important?' That's a good question. I believe that by investing in the appropriate audio equipment, we not only value the workplace, but provide an environment where everyone feels involved, where collaboration is facilitated, and productivity is optimized. Eventually, this will also increase the well-being of all team members.
To put it another way, let me quote a colleague who simply says, 'We are as we sound.' By this he means that the sound we transmit can affect the way we are perceived. The effect of an audio failure, or even the absence of it, is equal to when the quality of an image is poor or too dark.
The way others perceive us has a great effect. Poor audio quality from a remote participant can make those present, and other members who are online, less likely to take that person into account in discussions.
This brings me back to fairness in meetings, which is a key issue for Shure. A recent article in the Washington Post describes the "surprisingly daunting" experience of an employee who felt "isolated" when joining meetings from home, and heard the "laughter and comments from the group that was present, many of which she couldn't see very well."
In search of equity in meetings
This is the sad reality of several users today. It is clear that if a person in a meeting is ignored consecutively in the discussions, or if their comments or ideas are not considered valuable, that person feels marginalized and disadvantaged with respect to the other participants. In other words, the value of their contributions decreases and they are not on an equal footing with their colleagues.
The Washington Post described the problem as follows: "Between the dreaded echo that occurs when two employees and their respective devices are close together in a video conference and it becomes difficult to hear and see people joining the meeting from a conference room, many hybrid workplaces are finding that video calls can be frustrating, complex and sometimes decidedly unfair."
So, as an IT leader in the AV industry, I know the challenge is how to best ensure an inclusive meeting experience. How do we prevent our teams from feeling demoralized and their engagement from declining as a result of increased remote work, as quoted by Frost & Sullivan in its latest research.
How to integrate with collaboration platforms?
The reality is that without excellent audio technology integrated with Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WebEx, and the other collaboration platforms, which are now available on the job site, it's difficult (if not impossible) to achieve truly inclusive meetings. So what technologies should we invest in to imperceptibly connect teams to each other and give each person an equal opportunity to contribute? How can we equip spaces that are conducive to hybrid work and ensure flawless audio wherever your staff is?
In our joint research work with Frost & Sullivan, we recommend an Audio Ecosystem comprised of hardware, software, and accessories that stimulate engagement and productivity by enhancing the audio-visual conferencing services that employees use widely today.
Such an Ecosystem brings together microphones, speakers and digital signal processing (DSP) that integrate imperceptibly with your current communication platforms to raise audio quality. IT and AV leaders should consider how the Audio Ecosystem integrates with third-party unified communication technologies to ensure that the audio infrastructure complements any existing IT investment.
How to improve productivity and well-being?
Ensuring a flawless collaborative audio experience takes time and effort. But the effort is rewarded by having colleagues able to clearly share their opinions, no matter where they have joined the meeting from. Meeting fatigue can be eliminated with new audio technology that enhances the overall experience. It also boosts morale because teams participating remotely no longer feel that internal experience in the office is being prioritized. And all this, improves the productivity and well-being of the team.
Attending a hybrid meeting, whether in person or remotely, should be a pleasure, not a problem for all participants. How do your teams feel about the meetings they attend?
*Robin Hamerlinck is Senior Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at Shure. He has worked with Shure since 2007 and is responsible for the Company's technology needs, including it strategic planning, infrastructure development, application systems, networking, operations and security.