Workplaces have changed significantly in recent years. From entirely office-based operations to fully remote, and now a combination of the two in hybrid working models – businesses need the tools to help them adapt to this new landscape. Aurangzeb Khan, senior vice president of intelligent vision systems at Jabra, highlights a finding from the firm’s own research – that 67 per cent of the companies surveyed are adding more collaboration zones and redesigning their office spaces into ‘super offices’ that enable next-level collaboration.
Jabra's research also found that today’s workforce is split between office and remote working. “The majority (80 per cent) of meetings are hybrid, and there are often more remote participants than not,” says Khan. “However, many of these interactions are focused on sharing ideas, building relationships and getting things done, so you need a physical space that facilitates that.”
Effective technology is essential to delivering these reimagined spaces. “Hybrid meetings can be incredibly productive and have saved us over the past few years,” says Khan. “Despite being thousands of miles apart, individuals across the world can collaborate very effectively, enabling businesses to operate as usual.
“A critical ingredient to delivering this is high-quality audio and video, which offers a more natural experience. If I sound or look odd, there’s a cognitive dissonance that causes participants to lose focus and struggle to concentrate.”
In its study, Jabra found that approximately a third of respondents said they didn’t feel included in meetings. Nearly half said hybrid meetings work, but they are not as good as in-person interactions.
“If you can’t be seen or heard in a meeting, you are not an equal participant,” says Khan. “It’s a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. This is why the technology is so important. We intuitively absorb additional information in a conversation from people’s facial expressions and their body language. We pick up cues and signals on the quality of communication, but this relies on people being visible. Meeting equity is important because it enables our instincts about communication to work.”
With this in mind, Khan believes that ‘super offices’ will be designed around modern collaboration devices, systems and technologies to facilitate that higher level of equity, engagement and comfort that we’ve always had with in-person meetings.
Done right, hybrid meetings can even supersede in-person experiences with the ability to share information in real-time. However, many businesses struggle to manage their various systems and software – they can become oversubscribed with technology that doesn’t fit together. Jabra is helping businesses to overcome this issue by tightly integrating its solutions with Microsoft services, particularly Microsoft Teams.
“There was an older paradigm of grab what you can and make do with what you have,” says Khan. “The thing is, it doesn’t really work. You end up with people feeling frustrated with meetings, finding that they are not useful, and then not attending.”
Khan also highlights the losses that can result from ineffective technology. “Consider a situation where 10 participants spend 10 minutes at the start of the meeting figuring out why they are on mute, why their cameras aren’t working, why they can’t hear or see each other. If these are highly paid individuals, the business is wasting significant time and money. Good technology pays for itself very quickly.
“By aligning our solutions with Microsoft Teams, we can quickly help businesses make the most of an intuitive resource that they are already using, with greater capabilities added on top.”
The concept of ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) also plays into this challenge, as IT departments can struggle to manage and update the broad array of devices in use so that each employee has an equitable experience.
“People like having choice and having their preferences heard, which is why BYOD has been so popular,” says Khan. “Whatever device someone chooses to use, I would encourage employers to ensure that these devices are certified. The standards for certification are getting higher and they have a significant impact on the quality of experience. A device that isn’t certified may work, but not to the level of fluidity and seamlessness of a certified device.”
Jabra has also considered this in its products. “We enable our customers to decide what’s best by supporting them in BYOD and Microsoft Teams Rooms environments,” says Khan. “We have designed our solutions with network connectivity built in, so users can easily plug their device in and instantly receive scheduled updates for the best possible user experience.”
Despite Jabra’s focus on delivering high-quality remote and hybrid meeting experiences, Khan believes that the physical office will continue to be an important part of modern working life. “Humans are sociable beings,” he says. “We need open-ended conversations and casual interaction. Studies have shown that employees onboarded virtually often struggle to fully immerse themselves in workplace culture because they haven’t yet created that psychological trust with their colleagues. I definitely see offices continuing to be highly relevant.”
This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.