Week 5 – London. Happy October from us at eOffice! This week we have a slightly different feature in our Workplace Series, presenting VEGA Europe with an interesting interview with Mike Adams, who gives us a unique insight into modern workplace technology and meeting spaces innovation, by identifying the latest trends in office design.
Mike Adams has been in the IT industry for more than twenty years and now works as a senior technology consultant for VEGA Global, one of the largest global video collaboration technology companies, specialising in workplace technology solutions, such as audio-visual equipment, Video Collaboration, Digital Signage, Workspace Management and Unified Communications. On a daily basis, Mike visits many office meeting rooms around London and provides advice to customers on how to improve the technology experience of their staff, whether they are working from their desk, in a meeting room, or remotely.
Today, he is telling us all about modern workplace technology in an interview with eOffice founder, Pier Paolo Mucelli:
What are typical issues you advise customers about? Pier asks.
Mike starts explaining: “What you see when you walk into any office in the city, is that people struggle with technology in meeting rooms, and there are common issues that I observe every day. These issues are usually related to messy cables, and connection issues between laptops and screens, complicated remote controls, and issues with conference calls and unstable video connections. These issues usually occur because the rooms have been badly set up, the training has not been provided to the users, or it was set up a long time ago when the technology used to be more complicated.”
Pier: Mike, you talking about technology being complicated, so I just have to ask; is technology becoming easier or more complicated nowadays?
“That’s a really good question, Pier, because, on the one hand, we try to simplify the user experience as much as possible, but on the other hand, user requirements are much more advanced today than they were 10 years ago; we keep adding new features to allow people to do more things. But it all comes down to a balancing act between being too complicated and not having enough features. Therefore, what we are doing is simplify the user experience to make it usable both for geeks and non-geeks, which is done by focusing on the user rather than on the technology itself.”
Now, moving on to the main purpose of the interview, Pier asks:
What are the main changes and trends in workplace technology that you see today?
“Of course! We do see a lot of technology trends in the workplace, which apply to companies of all sizes” Mike begins, and then goes through the 6 most important trends in workplace technology today:
Trend One: Wireless Presentations
The first trend is getting rid of all cables in the meeting room and moving towards wireless presentation solutions. This trend is one of the biggest ones and is happening at every level, from small start-ups to big corporates. The goal is to simplify the user experience to avoid the common issues with different cables for different systems and laptops. At the same time, wireless technology also provides more flexibility to users who can now move around the room without having to worry about cables.
“Now, as wireless technology can be quite complicated, it is important to find a system that is easy to use,” Mike adds. “There are some elegant solutions on the market where you literally just plug in a wireless USB device in your laptop and press a button to share your screen; no configuration, no setup and no Wi-Fi settings. It’s a major trend to remove all cables, and users love it!”
Trend Two: Redesign of the Workplace to Maximise Office Space Utilisation and Flexibility
In the past it was usual to have dedicated fixed desks for each staff, and a few big boardrooms with six to fifteen seats mostly used by senior staff. Mike explains that “what we are seeing today instead, is a complete redesign of the workplace to provide more flexible meeting spaces to all staff; we have more hot desks than fixed desks and we have a lot of small huddle rooms with three or four seats rather than a few big boardrooms.”
Furthermore, Mike observed the reason for this change is mostly based on two things; technology and space. Looking at the technology side, you see that typical big boardrooms have very expensive technology such as large screens, video conferencing equipment, audio conferencing equipment, and bespoke control systems, but as the price of technology has gone down dramatically in the last ten years, firms are now able to have many small huddle rooms, with all the technology needed in each room, all for a smaller cost than before. This way, firms are not wasting space on big rooms that only a few people use, but instead achieve much better space utilisation.
In addition, there is also a demand for more versatile meeting rooms where furniture can be moved around. This means that instead of having meeting rooms with a fixed table and cables which are difficult to move around, there is no technology on the table at all. Instead, there are wireless microphones, remote controls and wireless panels that can easily be moved around.
Trend Three: Video Conferencing
Today, companies are deploying Video Conferencing (VC) on a much bigger scale; many companies are putting VC equipment in every single meeting room, both small and big, and there are many companies installing it on every single desk, allowing staff to make VC calls from anywhere. One of the drivers for the mass adoption of VC technology in the enterprise are millennials coming into the workplace, who are used to using Skype and Facetime. They expect video-calling technology to be part of any modern office. Companies don’t want to miss out on potential talent, so want to offer a modern working environment with VC technology as a common tool for all staff.
A positive effect of this trend is more flexibility for staff to work remotely, while still feeling connected with their team at the office and, along with that, a redefinition of traditional working hours. In fact, allowing employees a flexible schedule and their choice of location might be the most effective way for them to be productive, as it allows them to escape from the typical workplace distractions. Mike points out that to provide employees with flexible working options, it is essential to have the right VC technology, to allow people to attend meetings online and stay connected at all times.
VC technology also opens up new ways of feeling connected and together as a whole company, even if satellite offices are located in different cities or countries. This is typically done is by having screens in common areas at each location with a permanent video-call between them. This allows employees in separate offices to see each other every day, and as a result, they feel like they are in the same office.
Trend Four: New Collaboration Tools
Audio conference calls have been a common tool in the workplace, but many people dislike them because it is hard to stay focused and feel engaged; many people fall asleep, don’t pay attention, or check their emails during the call, and no-one knows if they are actually actively listening. Also, if you want to share a presentation, you have to use a separate tool, and the whole process becomes complicated. Therefore, the trend is to get rid of these different tools and use a single tool for all types of meetings, whether it’s for audio conference calls, or video calls and/or sharing a presentation. One example of this trend is Skype for Business from Microsoft, which allows participants to join a meeting from any device and any location, by simply clicking on an invite sent by the organiser.
Trend Five: Cloud Telephony
The next trend, cloud telephony, is a big trend in corporate offices to unify all calls from desk phones, headsets and mobile phones, because most companies have no control over where people are making calls from. Mike explains that: “One of the trends we see is an integration of all calling devices, which results in a single tool that can be used for phone calls on your desktop, on your mobile, or on a headset. This provides more control for IT managers who can now manage all calling activity from a single cloud platform, and lower their total company telephony costs.”
Trend Six: Simplifying the user experience
Moving on to the last trend, we see another way to simplify the user experience in meeting room technology. People want to get rid of all remote controls and instead, use a small touch screen that can control all elements in the room. The interesting part is not the touchscreen itself, but rather the user interface which is designed to mimic the exact representation of the room design, to make it obvious to users as to where they should click. Users can simply touch what they see on the screen to easily control the room.
Another huge improvement in the meeting room experience is the room booking process. People often struggle to find available meeting rooms, but by installing a small touchscreen with green/red LEDs outside the meeting room, people will know if the room is available by looking at the red or green light. These room booking screens can also be used for small huddle spaces, even in open areas.
“One of the exciting developments in meeting room technology is artificial intelligence. For example,face recognition cameras can provide a report on how many people and who actually showed up for a meeting, by linking each participant’s face picture to their company directory or LinkedIn profile.”