Although more and more officer workers are returning to the traditional office environment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, how we work has fundamentally shifted. Even for those who have transitioned back to the office full time, the ability to work from anywhere remains a necessity, especially while traveling or for those based in satellite offices, at least for part of the time.
Known as the hybrid work environment, it is defined as where work is completed, either in the office, at home, somewhere else such as a coffee shop or shared workspace, or on the go. Facilitating this movement is the technology by which disparate workers across various physical locations and spaces stay connected, productive, and in sync. Today, most office workers are leveraging unified communication (UC) platforms, especially for conferencing, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, WebEx, and more. Furthermore, the environment and peripheral hardware and software leveraged, especially for video conferencing scenarios, also plays a significant role in how productive employees can be within hybrid work setups.
To understand the trends and issues affecting the return to the office, Biamp recently conducted a survey across North America and Europe with 2,400 participants. The respondents were divided into two groups: non-managerial “end users” of conferencing technology and those considered “decision makers“ who set the course for a given organization across human resources, technology, and operations management.
- End users and decision makers remain far apart on where workers are most productive, but both groups see technology as a tool to equalize the work experience between those in the proverbial head office and those located elsewhere.
- To achieve equality, end users noted the most important factors to a successful hybrid video conferencing meeting:
- Above all, meetings should be quick and easy—they should start without delay.
- Great sound trumps video—video conferencing solutions need great sound to be effective, even more so than video.
- After quality sound, end users expect quality video.
- In addition to being easy to setup, the software and hardware must be easy to operate during the meeting.
- Rounding out the most desired features, end users want remote video conference attendees to feel just as involved as those in the office conference room.
- During the past 18 months, end-user respondents overwhelmingly reported that their respective employers are asking for more in-person office time. This demand exacerbates the need for decision makers to facilitate improved hybrid work scenarios for those in the office but who still expect to regularly collaborate with colleagues located elsewhere.
Decision makers, at least 58 percent according to survey data, believe employees are more distracted working from home than in the office. Conversely, more than 50 percent of end users surveyed find that working in the office is the most distracting.
Decision Makers: What Work Environment has More Distractions for Your Employees?
End Users: Which Work Environments Have More Distractions for You?
The environment where end users and decisions makers are in most agreement is hybrid work. Not only is this preferred for the majority, but this setup also appears to be the dominant format for how business is conducted today. More than half of end users (~52 percent) and decision makers (~67 percent), respectively, say they work primarily within a hybrid work environment.
End Users: How Would You Describe Your Work Environment?
Decision Makers: How Would You Describe Your Work Environment?
With hybrid work scenarios serving as a compromise between the desires of end users and decision makers, respectively, this format is also the most dominant scenario for getting work completed. Therefore, organizations must find and implement policies and technology solutions that balance the needs of those in the office and elsewhere—hybrid but equal. Chief among those technology solutions is effective hybrid video conferencing technology for group meetings.
End Users: What are the biggest pain points that you’ve experienced while video conferencing?
The data show the top factors affecting a productive hybrid meeting. Those include how quickly and easily a conferencing system is to set up and operate. At minimum, the sound must be excellent, more so than video. Rounding out the top concerns, the setup must help facilitate remote-employee involvement with those physically located in the conference room; in other words, they desire equal footing for all participants no matter where they are located.
Addressing those concerns will be critical for organizations to enact and maintain an effective return-to-office policy. End users surveyed, roughly three in four, also note that they are increasingly being asked to spend more time in the traditional office space.
End Users: Has your employer required you or your coworkers to work in-person more in the last 18 months (either fully in-person or hybrid)?
Going forward, it will be important for organizations to maintain an effective video conferencing program. They will need to respond quickly to end user needs to retain and maintain productive employees as the business evolves. After all, end-user respondents (~75 percent) overwhelming said that in the past 18 months their respective employers are or will be requiring more in-person office time.
Yet, the decision makers at these organizations also must recognize the value of facilitating effective hybrid work scenarios, regardless of whether they have remote employees. According to anecdotal feedback from decision-maker respondents, there is agreement that the office environment needs to change to properly address workers at home, in satellite offices, and while traveling. One stated bluntly, “the office environment needs a makeover,” while another said, “new ways of communication are needed, and a new working culture needs to be established.” Another suggested that organizations should be, “providing a collaborative and supportive work environment that fosters teamwork and creativity.”
To get there, organizations need to take a thoughtful approach to how they upgrade the existing conferencing technology stack to better facilitate how work is conducted today. That includes leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) tools and above all, ensuring quality sound.
AI-Enabled Conferencing. Leveraging AI systems from the installation of conferencing AV equipment through to the end-user experience can help facilitate an improved and efficient meeting experience for all. Audio equipment is increasingly being outfitted with AI capabilities that will automatically tune the loudspeakers and microphones to the room. This process can take just minutes compared to the hours or days installers and integrators may require to manually tune equipment for a given space. For end-users, AI can also be leveraged to improve the visual experience in the room by tracking speakers as they move about, such as with an all-in-once conferencing bar. Meanwhile, noise canceling algorithms tuned to the human voice are reducing distracting noises such as the hum of HVAC systems or the tapping of a keyboard by eliminating these sounds from the loudspeaker output. These AI breakthroughs can drastically improve meeting efficiency by making it easier for participants located elsewhere to see and hear those in the conference room, enabling improved comprehension and contribution to hybrid meetings.
Ensure Quality Sound. The days of huddling around the conference room speaker phone or a laptop to hear are no longer sufficient. Organizations eager to ensure everyone in a conferencing room can be heard clearly and comfortably no matter where participants are located are supplementing conferencing spaces with embedded or pendent ceiling mics and loudspeakers. These accessory devices can help ensure broad pickup across the room so everyone can clearly hear and comprehend what is happening. Procuring and implementing effective video conferencing software and hardware peripherals offer a method to fill the gaps. They have and will continue to serve as a vital resource for facilitating effective hybrid work scenarios, playing a key role in improving the work environment for all, not just those in the physical office.
End User Study
This survey aimed to gather information from individuals aged 25 years and above in the United States, Denmark, and the United Kingdom, who were currently employed and used video conferencing for work. The survey was conducted through Pollfish, an online survey platform.
This survey aimed to gather information from 400 C-Level Executives, Owners or Partners, Directors, President/CEO/Chairperson, CTOs, CFOs, HR Managers, or Senior Management individuals aged 25 years and above in the United States. The survey screened individuals who were charged with or influenced return to office plans for remote or hybrid employees. The survey was conducted through Pollfish, an online survey platform.