Today's hybrid workspaces—whether corporate buildings or college campuses—come with their challenges. People come and go on different schedules, while others work remotely. As a result, writing down meeting times on a whiteboard has become a dinosaur-like approach.
Meeting equity and collaboration is important, but so are room analytics for IT professionals. The right hardware and software to manage all this is something systems integrators are prioritizing in one of the hybrid world's latest trends.
Control panels, both the mini-digital signage dynamos themselves along with the right software, can help manage it all. We called on industry experts to find out what features are essential, as well as best practices behind room scheduling control panel installation.
More than the Minimum
So, where do you start in your quest to find the "right" control panel? Colin McDonough, product marketing manager, Crestron, said the bare minimum should feature adjustable time and date calendar functions, along with an occupancy/status indicator. "The most efficient solutions can work with a variety of scheduling platforms—communicating with the Microsoft Outlook calendar, for example," he explained.
“Native compatibility with popular calendar programs is vital to the user experience,” confirmed Robert Bird, product marketing manager, Altona. “Workers want the freedom to use the systems they are comfortable with and understand.”
Joe da Silva, vice president of marketing for Extron, feels there are a slew of “must-have” features to look for in a control panel. Some of the more important features include enterprise-grade security with encrypted communication across the ecosystem; analytics to track room usage, activity patterns, and occupancy trends; intuitive touchpanels with an LED status indicator to check space availability and meeting length; a check-in button to confirm meeting attendance; and the ability to monitor room occupancy to release the room to available status if left unattended.
While control panels used to take a more-is-less approach, with advances in software and technology to keep up with the ever-evolving hybrid world, more is more. So, what else can these panels do?
"To further simplify finding, booking, and locating a space, [Extron's] Interactive Wayfinding Interface connects directly to our Room Scheduling touchpanels," da Silva explained. "This combination provides real-time meeting space status and room location details on a centralized display. Having a Wayfinding Interface is especially useful in high-traffic areas such as lobbies, elevators, and major corridors."
“Given current technologies, the possibilities are limitless—in fact, we’d recommend a panel designed from the outset to be capable of many, many functions," McDonough said. "Scheduling and controlling lighting, shading, and HVAC, programming the right AV solutions for a hybrid meeting or a presentation, reporting on a room’s usage, even sending info to a control platform to track device lifecycles and licensing—all of those functions can now be handled from a single panel."
Keep It Simple(r)
As the technology world turns faster and faster, a key feature that most integrators and end users also look for is simplicity. This starts with an easy-to-install product as well as an easy-to-operate solution for the wide range of technological expertise end users possess.
"A properly designed touchscreen should be extremely easy to install—and versatile," said McDonough. "Crestron manufactures a variety of mounting kits for any surface or application you could conjure. And if wall installation simply isn’t possible, there’s a hefty tabletop version that’s available."
"Atlona AT-VTP-1000VL touchpanels are very easy to install," added Bird. "They ship with a dual-purpose glass and wall mount that is universally compatible with one-gang U.S., U.K., and E.U. openings. They also have a standard VESA 75 pattern for compatibility with third-party mounts."
As for whether these devices are agnostic, well, that depends on what the end user wants. According to McDonough, it is dependent on the manufacturer, although his solutions at Crestron are easily customizable and integrated with a variety of solutions.
"[Atlona's] Velocity gateways and touchpanels work together for room scheduling applications," Bird said. "In addition, they can be integrated with several popular calendar applications including Google Workspace, Office 365, Microsoft Exchange, and Astra Schedule."
Remember, installation doesn't end with mounting the control panel; you need to get the software up and running as well. "Setup is a breeze, with options to customize the touchpanel interface with the meeting options you need," said da Silva regarding Extron's room scheduling panels. "The free Room Agent scheduling software connects directly to popular calendar services such as Microsoft Exchange, 365, Google Calendar, and others."
In terms of scheduling the room itself, it should be a simple process. But can it be done right from the touchpanel, or is a separate software required? "In a best-case scenario, either/or," said McDonough. "While many users will schedule a room from the calendar apps on their devices, there are occasions when it’s handy to tap the screen itself and book a meeting time. A good solution can handle both."
Hybrid or Bust
It seems with every new device or solution that's introduced, the question has to be asked: Why is it important for a hybrid work environment? When it comes to room scheduling solutions specifically, why is something that schedules a physical meeting room important for people that may not even be in it?
“Room scheduling system synchronization with popular calendar applications is critical," Bird offered. "With this capability in place, the system can support meetings booked by participants across the country, across the corporate campus, in the building, or at the room.”
"More than ever our work lives are dictated by schedules," added da Silva. "With hybrid work, employees may have a variety of schedules. Room scheduling, in conjunction with a calendar system, facilitates fluid and accurate information across staff to find, book, and locate a space—keeping everyone in sync and avoiding wasted time to search for a space. Room scheduling touchpanels maximize resource management and room usage, enabling users to locate and book the proper size room."
It's important to remember that IT and executive leaders benefit as well as employees or students. "Understanding the true amount of 'connected real estate' that a business needs in the modern hybrid work environment can be incredibly useful to a C-suite that’s making budgeting decisions," McDonough said. "These tools can also tell IT which rooms may be underutilized—and help them understand why."
Now that you know what to look for, which control panels should you consider? Here are nine for your consideration.
Velocity is Atlona’s complete solution for AV control, room scheduling, device management, and remote access. The room scheduling component is designed to provide information on the current status of meeting spaces as well as upcoming events. Velocity gateways synchronize with several popular calendar applications, including Google Workspace, Office 365, Microsoft Exchange, and Astra Schedule, allowing room schedules to be displayed on Velocity touchpanels. The touchpanels utilize color coded GUIs and bezel LED lighting, if equipped, to indicate whether a room is available or busy. Plus, users can book a meeting for an unoccupied room right at the touchpanel.
AMX Varia Touch Panels
The professional-grade AMX Varia Touch Panels are designed to adapt to the unique needs of multiple environments by offering a selection of pre-loaded apps—called personas—that define the entire panel experience. Personas include Web Kiosk, Zoom Rooms Controller, AMX Book Room Scheduling, and AMX G5 Control. Varia panels offer simplified mounting flexibility with included wall, glass, and VESA-mount capabilities, as well as optional tabletop mounting accessories. Varia panels include advanced security protocols, and an integrated wizard streamlines initial setup, while CloudworX Manager ensures seamless future support through mass configuration and updates.
Black Box Reserva iCompel Edge
The Reserva iCompel Edge line of touchscreen meeting room signage solutions is powered by Black Box's flagship iCompel digital signage platform. Available in three screen sizes, Reserva provides an intuitive and customizable user interface that enables users to locate and schedule rooms in an instant. Businesses, educational institutions, and hospitality venues can advertise, build brand awareness, and share internal communications through Reserva.
Crestron Flex Scheduling
With Crestron Flex Scheduling, workforces can quickly book the right space with the right technology, all while helping manage occupation density. Crestron Flex Scheduling gathers the different types of spaces in your workplace on one convenient platform that allows you to quickly identify what you need and determine availability. Book from your desk, on a personal device, or on the spot using enterprise-grade scheduling panels. The illuminated indicators and wayfinding integration help teams and guests quickly locate rooms. Scheduling panels outside rooms and in-room signage display work together to show availability and schedule for a seamless start to meetings.
Extron TouchLink room scheduling panels connect directly to popular calendaring services including Microsoft Exchange, 365, Google Calendar, and others, which simplifies the room booking experience. Users can reserve rooms with a couple of taps on the panel or from their mobile device. Free Room Agent software makes setup easy, allowing customization of the touchpanel interface without additional processors or programming skills. Vibrant touchscreens and bright LEDs make it easy to see if a room is occupied or available, and the TouchLink Wayfinding Interface, in conjunction with the room scheduling panels and a display, provides a centralized real-time view of availability and location.
Humly Booking Device
The new Humly Booking Device addresses the evolving challenges of the hybrid workplace, providing users with a capacitive, high-resolution touchscreen solution to view and reserve bookable spaces on campus. Its flexibility is balanced with a compact, stylish design that can be mounted horizontally or vertically on any material, including glass, textile, metal, and wood—and positioned on walls, tabletops, shelves, and underneath desks. Interoperable with Humly Reservations software, the device is compatible with Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Office 365, and Google Workspace. Advanced features include control functionality for adjustable desks and sensor detection as well as a PoE powering option.
RTI designed the KX4 touchpanel to provide an easy-to-deploy solution that takes full advantage of single-room commercial control—from boardrooms and huddle spaces to classrooms. Combining an in-wall touchpanel and hard-button input with a built-in control processor, the KX4 allows integrators to complete installs faster and with the fully customizable control and interfaces their clients demand. The KX4 delivers both the on-wall control and processing power to manage multiple devices with ease. By bringing together a 4-inch capacitive touchscreen, five-button interface, and a control processor in a single unit, integrators can deploy cost-effective standalone single room solutions.
Predominantly used in corporate, education, and hospitality environments, Reserva integrates with calendar and timetabling systems to enable seamless delivery of room information alongside engaging room signage. Reserva provides centralized management and customization tools that allow organizations to easily monitor, control, and create branded content. Built-in analytics provide a clear insight into room utilization, while room summaries help staff, students, or guests easily navigate to their location in unfamiliar environments. Reserva Edge is a compact 10-inch, ergonomically designed room sign with a tilted touchscreen interface and built-in NFC card reader. Larger 15.6-inch and 21.5-inch room signs are available where visibility from a greater distance is critical.
Connect interactive room signs provide a feature-rich, cost-effective space management solution. Publish schedules from Exchange, Office 365, EMS, CollegeNET, and Google Calendar—and start, extend, or end meetings right at the room sign. Room booking is simplified: See if other rooms are available with red and green side lights, or cancel a walkup reservation at the room sign with the press of a button. Other features include customizable backgrounds, fonts, colors, room numbers, and AV resources, plus analytics to track room usage, availability requests, and resource issues. Multiple power sources include PoE network switch, injector, or DC power supply.