When the pandemic struck, the move to remote work was swift, but even as more states open up and loosen social distancing restrictions, we will continue to see more companies opt for at least a partial in-person contingency. It is unlikely that we’ll see a major rush back to the office and campus, particularly as the U.S. still faces surging COVID numbers; it is more likely that there will be a shift toward a hybrid work environment that comprises both in-office and virtual/remote students. This isn’t all bad: companies have now figured out how to enable work from home productivity because they were forced to.
This shift to hybrid work means enterprises need solutions to balance collaboration and safety equally, allowing employees to interact and be productive without putting anyone in danger of contracting the virus. This creates a unique opportunity for AV professionals to position their services and AV technology as one way to mitigate this challenge. This includes collaboration and unified communications (UC) solutions, technology platforms that support social distancing, provide important data and analytics, and can be easily added to existing or new systems in spaces of any size or scale.
The hybrid work environment will force facilities managers to make significant changes to the footprint of offices and public spaces. Collaborative environments that are bigger and support social distancing—think fewer shared desks and more conference and meeting room spaces—will be in demand, but enterprises will need a way to enforce the new rules. Technology can help support social distancing restrictions with features like people counting.
People-counting is a need-to-have, not just to protect employees from the virus, but also to measure how space is used in our new work environment. AV installers can implement this safety functionality by using the latest unified communications (UC) and collaboration tools, which have cameras that support people counting.
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To further promote collaboration, AV professionals can add room video systems that tie into their UC platform. This allows the technology to support everyone in a meeting equally, whether they are in the room or remote: The digital display and UC platforms allow all participants to see each other, while high-quality audio technology (soundbars, microphones, ceiling speakers, tabletop audio devices, etc.) ensures everyone can hear each other clearly.
All technology that goes into a modern office should be designed to also enable remote working as this shift will be dramatic—and can be a huge force for good. In fact, a recent survey from Xerox found that “56 percent of respondents are expanding their technology budgets in anticipation of new requirements stemming from fully remote or hybrid workplace arrangements,” supporting a need for technology that can successfully bridge the gaps that exist between in-person and remote communication.
Another technology for AV professionals to consider is a personal device content-sharing gateway, which allows users to plug in their own devices (laptops, mobile phones, etc.) to share content onto another screen. A personal device content-sharing gateway combines safety and collaboration so that meeting participants don’t have to touch anything that isn’t their own device, which helps prevent the spread of bacteria around a building. Neither do they have to huddle around one person’s laptop in close quarters to review notes or a deck, which promotes social distancing.
Additionally, personal device content-sharing gateways allow people to work off the devices with which they are most comfortable and familiar; they know where their files are, what shortcuts are programmed into the trackpad settings, and so on. Less time is wasted learning how to control and share with new devices on the fly, which helps everyone make the most of the meeting.
It is also important to consider using UC technology that will power these added devices using a strong, reliable, secure, and low-lag network, as well as displays that bring the latest in picture quality to provide a more lifelike experience for virtual users.
Every company, campus, and organization are in a different place with their return-to-work plans and procedures following the height of the first wave this past spring, and there is no playbook for this new reality. But one thing is for sure: Safety and hygiene now will have to be prioritized just as highly as productivity and collaboration was and will continue to be. AV professionals can use this time to support customers in rethinking their system design and by deploying technologies that meet the needs of the hybrid reality that we are faced with.
Alex Peras is speaking at the 2020 AV/IT Summit on AV in a Post-COVID-19 World panel.