Viewpoint: A Meeting Equity Progress Report

Nyere Hollingsworth
(Image credit: Future)

As I reflect on the direction of corporate collaboration and the evolving utility of corporate office space, it is clear to me that things are never going back to the way that they used to be. Having been party to major space renovations in multiple companies in various industries, one common theme has remained true: Technology professionals and corporate real estate professionals need to talk more and work together to make the office make sense, as well as to facilitate collaboration and productivity among their colleagues.

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By now, the "return to office” is well underway. Lessons learned from the widespread adoption of video collaboration technology have brought these two entities closer together than they have ever been.

Mistakes of the Past

Five years ago, video collaboration was a “nice to have” feature of a medium-sized conference room or executive boardroom. The participant experience for those unable to be in the room was hardly a consideration in the budget and subsequent design of these spaces, because the most important people were always in the room. Today, this technology is a requirement in all collaboration spaces, and many organizations are trying to figure out what to do with the space that was not designed to suit the needs of a workforce that is no longer dependent on physical office space.

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In the past, many organizations relied exclusively on the corporate real estate team (since they carry the budget) to determine the collaboration technology needs of their organization. Despite good intentions, these professionals often had little to no experience in this technology and less of a desire to ultimately support and maintain it once deployed.

As a result, spaces were often built with little consideration for the lighting and acoustic treatments necessary to realize the value add of a well-designed collaboration system—and often these systems would be value engineered to the point of being ineffective to satisfy the use cases of the organization. That leaves organizations with a present-day collaboration technology landscape that now needs a major overhaul in its conception, and intent, to enable the equitable meeting experience that is critical to the justification for corporate office space.

The Right Direction

Organizations that had remote working cultures prior to the pandemic are better positioned today to cope with these changes, as their space designs at least considered remote participants. Those that are moving in the right direction tend to be those where technology and real estate are talking very often and collaborating on the strategic vision of the organization.

They are more realistic about the technology lifecycle of their space beyond the cost per square foot of a given project. They are shortening the asset depreciation timeline to allow for technology to be refreshed on a more frequent basis. They are shifting space improvement funding to the technology team and bringing them in earlier in the project to help determine what the right technology investments should be.

Those that are moving in the right direction tend to be those where technology and real estate are talking very often and collaborating on the strategic vision of the organization.

However, these organizations are more of the exception than the rule, and the vast majority of U.S.-based companies are struggling with what to do, now that people are coming back into the office and relying on poorly designed video collaboration space for their communication needs. Investment in meeting equity rarely factored into key design choices 5-10 years ago, and many of those spaces have inherent architectural limitations that make it nearly impossible to incorporate technology to enable equitable collaboration among remote and in-room participants today.

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We are in the very early stages of conceiving collaboration space where technology is utilized to enhance human physiology and equalize engagement across geographic boundaries. Yet, at present, we are looking for technology to mitigate the effects of design choices made years ago. When the technology needs of today conflict with decisions made years ago, it is really hard, really expensive, and really time consuming to implement truly equitable collaboration spaces that every organization needs. 

Nyere Hollingsworth

Nyere Hollingsworth is the senior manager for collaboration and productivity solutions at Grainger.