The rise of the virtual meeting room
I was struck by just how powerful a virtual meeting room (VMR) had become for me when I was in the office with two co-workers and we wanted to connect with someone in our Montreal office for a discussion.
Instead of looking for an open meeting room and using technology to connect our colleague in Montreal into the room, we all went back to our desks and called into a video VMR. Not because there wasn’t a room available, but because it would be a better experience for everyone. We could:
- See each other better
- Hear each other better and;
- Each share the content on our computers with each other easily
I have heard similar stories from other companies as well. Sitting at their desks people can join virtual meeting rooms instead of going into real meeting rooms – even when they are on the same office floor.
On the surface this may not seem very significant, but the impact of the increased use of VMRs in your company can be dramatic.
Lets take a step back first and review the four types of meetings that can be enabled using real-time collaborative communications tools:
- A Meeting Room connected to another Meeting Room(s)
- A Meeting Room with Remote Participants connected into it
- Person to Person connections
- Virtual Meeting Rooms (VMRs)
While the first three types of meetings are probably familiar to everyone, VMRs might not be, so let me explain.
A VMR is a room in the cloud. It replaces the requirement for a physical meeting room and it only exists temporarily when technology creates a connection between people. Participants call into a technical address with a simple name like “Paul’s Room”. When they call into Paul’s Room, the images from the cameras on their PC are combined into a single image shared by all the participants. So if there are 4 participants in the VMR the image will look like this.
In a VMR everyone can see each other clearly. There is no “Boardroom Bowling Alley” view of the people in the room where participants are so far away from the camera that you can’t really see their faces. You can hear each other well, assuming your PC audio is set up properly, and it is easy for people to share content with each other right from the computer they are using to make the call.
Everything you need for a VMR call is right there on your PC or Mac. And you can make the call from anywhere as long as you have your PC and it is connected to the Internet. A broadband, quality Internet connection is pretty standard and a lack of this type of connection is really the only thing that can prevent people from participating fully in a rich collaborative VMR experience. A virtual meeting that has video as part of it eliminates a lot of the shortcomings a virtual “audio only” call has, as explained here in this blog.
VMRs – better than being in a real meeting?
I often prefer to have a virtual meeting instead of an in person meeting.
This may seem odd, but there are some real advantages to virtual meetings that just make it easier to collaborate and it delivers a better experience for everyone. Here are some of the advantages for the meeting participants of using a VMR to conduct a meeting:
- You can hold the meeting anytime, as long as everyone is available for the meeting. There is no need to look for an available meeting room. Everyone can connect from their desks, their homes, on the road, wherever they are.
- Everyone can share the content on his or her PC or Mac computer.* The meeting is not limited to the content of whoever is connected to the room system. These problems with content sharing in a room are being eliminated with some of the new in-room content sharing technologies which I covered in this blog.
- Each participant can manipulate their own view of the content being shared, e.g. they can make it bigger and more legible to suit their needs
- Each person can focus on the people in the room or the content being shared as it suits them. Just like in a live meeting.
- There tends to be less distraction in the meeting because everyone is using their technology to participate in the meeting, versus doing other things on their technology in a live meeting.
*Some collaborative communications tools allow multiple participant sharing, others do not.
VMRs can drive a very good business case
Not only can VMRs become a preferred way to conduct some meetings, but there are also some very good economic reasons for using them.
- Savings on real estate: The more your organization uses VMRs the less the requirement for physical meeting rooms. Real Estate costs are still one of the most expensive costs for organizations. See this blog for more on how People-Place-Technology are coming together. And meeting rooms are still scarce in most organizations. Enabling everyone in the organization with his or her own virtual room will drastically cut down on the demand for physical meeting space in the office.
- Enable more meetings: Because people can enable a meeting on demand from wherever they are, you can make your workers more productive. The VMR eliminates the constraint of requiring a meeting room to be available in order to conduct a meeting. In addition, the time it takes to find and book a meeting room is eliminated.
- Speeds up execution: Saving cost on meeting rooms is an operational savings, but even more dramatic returns are realized as an organization moves to greater collaborative optimization. Eliminating constraints to workflow will speed up the execution within your organization. The organization will be collaborating better, which means the organization will perform better than its peers. And organizations that collaborate better outperform their peers by 2 to 6 times.
Personal technology required
To be able to use a VMR your personal technology accessories needs to be easy to use and provide a quality, consistent experience. You need:
- A good unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tool set, like Jabber or Skype for business; or good Meeting facilitation software like WebEx
- Good audio quality
- A second screen display screen for content viewing
- A camera on your PC that provides a good image of you and proper lighting
I talk about these in a bit more detail in the second part of this blog but I will write a separate blog on personal technology accessories for better communication in the future.
You should get started using VMRs for more of your meetings. They can be a very powerful collaborative enabler for your organization. The easiest way to get started is to buy the capability through a cloud service provider (click here for a blog about Video in the Cloud), or by signing up for your own WebEx account.
If you have a story about using VMRs, we would love to hear it. Please share it in the comment section below. If you want to learn more about creative technology solutions contact us to learn more about our HybridX solutions.
What Type of Space Do You Need for the Workplace?
Your Connected Path to the Future
We recently completed a consulting engagement to align the UC technology and room systems technology of a large organization. Strategically, we delivered a comprehensive roadmap to align their diverse technologies and move them forward with a cohesive UC&C framework. This in turn would set them up for significant opportunities to capture long term ROI from operational, procedural and strategic sources.
And then, they had a re-organization.
New Challenges Arising From a Re-Org
All of a sudden, the new Executive in charge of IT Infrastructure had a lot on his plate and the execution of the UC&C Roadmap was just a small piece.
The client didn’t have time to:
- Absorb the material
- Review the recommendations or
- Understand the roadmap and the strategic impact it could have on his organization.
Immediate operational decisions were required that impacted the long term UC&C direction. And he didn’t have time to build a relationship of trust with the consultants that had laid out the future roadmap for the organization.
Saving Your Way Into the Future?
Like all of us who are faced with making decisions constrained by limited time and looming deadlines, he had to rely on what he knew.
He started to eliminate strategic elements of the technology for the Room System standards because he didn’t understand why they were required or how they fit in. He thought he knew what was important, because he’s been in IT for 25+ years.
With the challenges in front of him, he planned to “save” his way into the future.
Over the last dozen years, often the business method of coping with change is to cut expenses. This is especially true in large organizations where a change in direction is slow to take effect. Cutting expenses on the other hand is quick to put in place.
But this is a slippery slope that’s hard to get off once you’re on it and it certainly won’t put your organization on the path to innovation and “Blue Oceans”.
Macro Market Trends
There are two current macro trends that I feel historians will look back at and use to define our time in history.
- The pace of change has gone exponential. We are at an inflection point in the rate of change and the impact is profound. You have to innovate to keep up with, let alone stay ahead of the inevitable – change. Gary Hamel has done some compelling work showing why we can’t do things the way we used to.
- The end of the Industrial Age and the beginning of the Connection Economy. Seth Godin writes about this. This shift is having a profound impact on businesses as things change.
ET Group helps organizations become more connected so they can better collaborate and innovate.
To do this effectively requires an understanding of how different disciplines or business offerings interact and come together as the nature of how we work changes.
The Workplace Of The Future
Meeting rooms are where workspace and technology really come together. Room systems must be effective places to meet where both the physical and virtual world intersect seamlessly. They must contain the right mix of conferencing technologies to enable the required level of collaboration and this will naturally lead to innovation.
The figure on the right shows the different disciplines that have always been separate, yet related and are now critically connected.
As the world changes, how is your business space requirements changing? After people costs, space costs are often the second most significant operational cost requirements of a business.
- How much space do you need?
- How will your space change?
- How can technology enable operational savings, productivity and strategic innovation?
Note: The importance of organizational culture and the need to focus on users and adoption for any significant change you introduce to your organization is not being discounted. This is a fundamental requirement.
Rethink Your Collaboration Workspace
We created this Infographic that highlights some interesting stats about the changing nature of work and how companies are adapting by:
- Adding more “We Space”
- Moving to smaller more efficient spaces
- Supporting alternative work strategies
To do this effectively and enable people to remotely collaborate, your room systems technology must align with your workers personal technology or a UC&C strategy. Note that 72% of people STILL come into the office to collaborate.
This is true whether your organization has 3 or 3,000 meeting rooms.
Meeting rooms are a scarce resource. Meeting rooms are an important part of your organization’s collaborative capabilities.
What Conferencing Technologies Should be Available in Our Meeting Rooms?
We recently received an honest attempt by an organization to better understand the conferencing technology solutions available in today’s marketplace via a Request For Information (RFI). Interestingly enough, it was a relatively blank canvas asking for:
- Inventive solutions to provide high quality teleconferencing abilities for meetings and
- The ability to offer interactive webinars as an educational tool.
This is a great opportunity for us to educate and share the collaborative solutions the organization has available to them. And in this case, the blank canvas allows us to provide a multitude of solutions.
The Organization and Their Business Problem
The organization currently has meeting rooms across the province that hold over 30 people. Each room is equipped with a poor quality audio solution and they are unable to effectively connect their internal and external stakeholders using these rooms via teleconference today. They would also like to be able to do remote training. Today that can only be done through self-study materials.
The Organization’s Requirements:
- To conduct training remotely using leading edge collaborative technologies
- The only room specification provided is that a round table seats up to 35 people
- They are interested in “teleconferencing,” “webinars” and it would be nice to have distance education
This approach could result in a wide variety of responses.
Will the solutions presented meet their needs? Do they really know what they want and do they know what technology is available?
I think the answer to each of these questions is “No”.
The focus will likely be low cost approaches to upgrade their audio phones in the rooms and offerings such as WebEx or GoToMeeting. But do these solutions really give the organization the high quality teleconferencing experience they are seeking?
The Risk of Using an RFI to Educate
This organization is trying to use a purchasing vehicle to educate themselves on the products available. This method is really a “hit and miss” approach because it depends on who in the marketplace takes the time to educate them on their choices by responding to their RFI. Typically, the best price wins in an RFI unless your proposal stands out for other reasons. To make your proposal stand out, you need to really understand your buyer’s needs.
You also need a buyer who is open to suggestions and has a good understanding of their needs.
But if the organization doesn’t know what they are looking for, how will they know when a really good solution is offered?
Finding a Solution for Connecting People
Using technology to connect people is a common-place activity however the sheer number of options available to do this is absolutely mind-boggling and getting clarity on a solution is difficult to achieve.
At a high level, organizations are looking to connect room systems and individuals together over distance for real-time communication.
3 possible combinations are:
- Room system to Room system(s)
- Room system to Individual(s)
- Individual to Individual(s)
Deciding which of these conferencing technologies are required for connecting over distance is critical in determining the level of collaboration that can be achieved.
The Velocity of Collaboration
Each of these different conferencing technologies brings a different dimension of richness to the collaborative experience. Frost & Sullivan wrote a very insightful whitepaper a few years ago about the “Velocity of Collaboration”. It was a sponsored whitepaper so it had some biases in it but the conceptual model was eye opening. They spoke about 6 different real-time conferencing modalities (if you boil it down there are really only the 4 above – unless you add in virtual world collaboration, which is only used at the fringes).
Never-the-less, the Velocity of Collaboration model is very useful and we have adapted it to consider the four conferencing modalities. Part II of this blog will detail this adapted Velocity of Collaboration model.
Once requirements for user based collaboration capability are determined, you can select the meeting room technologies and the individuals connecting into conferences. This process is critical. It avoids wasted effort and brings a cohesive approach to the technology roadmap your organization requires. By turning the patchwork of technology found in most organizations into a tapestry of technology, you’ve created an enabler to greater collaboration within the organization.
The ET Group has helped many organizations through this process. Please contact us if we can be of assistance to your organization.