What to expect when returning to the office after Covid-19

Meeting room experiences will likely change as video meeting behaviour has evolved to keep employees productive

Anders Løkke
By Anders Løkke on 14 July 2020
What to expect when returning to the office after Covid-19

Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit the world, Microsoft Teams was the fastest growing business application the company had ever released. Then with Covid-19, Teams usage skyrocketed, and suddenly, every meeting and interaction for millions of people worldwide became a Teams experience. We have started to accept this as the ‘new normal’. We join meetings from our laptops and mobile devices as individuals rather than groups of people in video-equipped meeting rooms.

But what happens when millions of people return to their offices? Will existing video-equipped meeting rooms now sit dormant and not be used at all? Will we walk into meeting rooms designed for small and large groups – with designated video conferencing systems – and sit around the table and meet from our laptops? Or will organisations be able to manage the return, regain some of that normality we used to know, and continue to use their purpose-built meeting rooms?

Although public officials have issued guidelines for how to minimise exposure to Covid-19 as workers rejoin in offices, changes in meeting culture and technology usage behaviour are not addressed.

For organisations, there are many challenges around returning to the office – the most important of which is to ensure employees are safe and not subject to contamination. Minimising exposure to the virus at work is extremely important to limit further spreading. Public officials have guidelines in place to help with this.

In a recent poll during a Crestron Electronics webinar, only 17 per cent of respondents indicated that they believe we are back to “100 per cent normal” when asked “What do you think your return to work will look like in a year from now?”. On the other hand, 79 per cent believe the workplace will be at 30-70 per cent capacity, with many users still working remotely. The ‘new normal’ may change how we work and how we use our offices and meeting spaces for a long time, perhaps permanently.

Conducting Teams meetings is now normal for the vast majority of organisations. As workers return to the office, we must need to embrace the behavioural change to ensure business continuity and a seamless transition back to physical workspaces. 

It is easy for an organisation to put measures in place to meet the guidelines for maximum meeting room occupancy alongside social distancing – by reducing the number of chairs in a room, the usage will change accordingly. However, addressing the change in technology usage behaviour is much more difficult. The desire to walk into a meeting room to join a video meeting hasn’t changed, but the platform used to host the conference has. 

Hundreds of thousands of organisations now have rooms where the existing video technology simply does not work with Teams meetings. And organisations risk investing in redundant technology as a result. 

An additional risk of using meeting spaces is that everyone will be required to operate shared in-room technologies such as touch control panels and buttons. The preferred method for many to join a shared video meeting is to walk into a room and join the meeting by following a well-defined and familiar workflow, such as dialling an address, clicking a ‘join’ button, or accepting an incoming call. As this happens from shared devices, it is essential to ensure proper disinfection and decontamination, but also minimise the need to operate such equipment.

However, addressing the change in technology usage behaviour is actually quite easy. The required technology is available from several of Microsoft’s independent software vendor partners, of which Pexip is one. The company’s Cloud Video Interop, which is a Teams-certified solution developed in partnership with the Microsoft Teams engineering group, enables any existing video meeting room technology to join a Teams meeting. In practice, meeting hosts simply schedule their Teams meeting like they usually would, and behind-the-scenes technology ensures compatibility between current modern workplace and legacy systems. Participants can then join the Teams meeting from any legacy video meeting room or personal devices.

But solving the compatibility challenge itself does not address the use of shared in-room technologies or devices. That’s why Pexip also has technology and functionality to enable touch-free operation of any such room. With Pexip, meeting participants can reduce the interaction in existing meeting rooms by only operating their own personal devices. As a Teams meeting exists in the calendar, a participant can use their phone to connect the meeting room they walk into to the Teams meeting, either by selecting from a list or by simply scanning an in-room QR code.

Returning to the office after Covid-19 will be challenging for many organisations. We must follow guidelines and directives put in place by public officials. But we must also embrace the ‘new normal’ for meetings and interactions to ensure employee safety and business continuity. The technology already exists to address many of these behavioural changes. 

Anders Løkke is the senior director of strategic alliances at Pexip

This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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