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Collaboration: Ensuring Equality in Meetings

colaboración, conferencias

Essential Tips for Ensuring Audio and Video Technologies and Meeting Spaces Support Hybrid Work Teams

Phil Langley*

Hard as it may be to imagine, just three or four years ago meetings were mostly held with all participants in person, gathered around a conference table in the same room. Occasionally, participants "attended by phone," but this was far from the norm.

Fast forward to 2023
In many cases, today's meetings are comprised of both in-person and remote participants, significantly changing the audio and video requirements of facilities for successful collaboration and effective communication. Now more than ever, employees need to rely on technology and creative huddle spaces to ensure their voices and ideas are heard and conveyed as effectively – and equitably – remotely as they would in person. It's not an easy task for today's facility professionals. Plus, with the ever-increasing pressure to ensure a positive and productive employee experience, time is of the essence.

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While many facilities may have the "right" technology, from Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) applications to conference room audio and video solutions, meeting equality goes far beyond your technical considerations. How employees view their opportunity to participate in meetings can have a fundamental impact on company culture, interpersonal relationships, employee engagement, and overall job satisfaction. These high-impact considerations are not discussed enough and have become a major responsibility for facilities professionals today.

Why Equality in Meetings Matters
The hybrid meeting experience today is often more difficult for remote participants due to a mix of factors, from misconduct in meetings (e.g., muting other participants or multitasking) to unclear expectations (e.g., using cameras or where the meeting should be held from), to low-quality conference room equipment and sound issues.

Remote participants often mention that they find it difficult to follow the conversation for a number of reasons. For example, the microphone picked up and prioritized the nearest sound (which could be a side chat rather than an influential speaker in the meeting); Participants were seated at a long conference table with a single camera, making it difficult to see the person speaking, and there were inequalities when trying to participate in the conversation, as they realized they were not heard as clearly as in-person participants or were not considered in the same way.

So what's the problem with all these situations?
First of all, who is speaking is important. If an employee can't clearly understand who's talking, they may struggle to determine how to prioritize action items and know who expects what after the meeting.

reuniones virtualesSecond, these meetings may not be productive. If everyone sitting at the real (and virtual) table can't be seen, heard, or follow the conversation, they'll likely tune out and might even feel frustrated or demotivated. This can directly affect employee engagement and productivity. Third, if their contributions can't be easily recognized, this could affect job satisfaction and career trajectory.

The reality is that we all continue to learn, and the ability to deliver a completely seamless and equitable meeting experience can be challenging. But as a facilities professional, there are critical steps you can take today to help overcome the usual hurdles and show employees that their contributions are heard and valued, regardless of where they work.

Enabling Equality: Essential Tips You Can Implement Today
Here are three critical steps to help achieve greater meeting equality for all employees and help ensure your facility offers the technology and meeting space requirements needed to best support hybrid work.

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1. Consider office furniture: A traditional, long conference table won't create as collaborative an environment for the hybrid workforce as an arched table facing the screen and remote participants. Going forward, it will be necessary for facility professionals to consider which rooms are chosen as conference rooms and how these rooms can incorporate tables on wheels that, for example, can be repurposed for different meeting modalities to ensure that all employees can participate equally.

2. Prioritize high audio and video quality to create unity: 4K video helps all participants feel like they are sitting together at the same table (e.g., by implementing tools that move the camera toward the person speaking) and the IP audio system (compared to analog audio over a phone line connection) provides superior audio quality. Here are two simple steps that should be taken to avoid the usual frustrations related to audio and video quality issues.

3. Create equality in conversations: When deciding which collaboration tool to adopt, investigate how these platforms can contribute to equality in meetings. For example, some platforms offer a "gallery" view mode where each participant appears in their own box, and all boxes are the same size on the screen. When all participants are in their own boxes, they can see each other clearly, and when speaking, their box will light up, avoiding confusion about who is speaking. In addition, with all participants in an equal-sized "box," employees gain a sense of equality and the same ability to "share their voice" in the meeting.

Hybrid work is here to stay, and there's more pressure than ever to ensure a productive and positive workplace. Taking the time to understand employee frustrations and common challenges associated with meetings will be critical to making strategic facility-related decisions and supporting employee engagement, regardless of where they work. Considering both technical and meeting space requirements is essential to providing a more enjoyable and equitable meeting experience.

*Phil Langley is Global Senior Vice President, Audio & Video and UCC, Wesco.

Richard Santa, RAVT
Author: Richard Santa, RAVT
Periodista de la Universidad de Antioquia (2010), con experiencia en temas sobre tecnología y economía. Editor de las revistas TVyVideo+Radio y AVI Latinoamérica. Coordinador académico de TecnoTelevisión&Radio.

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