When it comes to setting up a conference room for optimal communication, there’s a lot to consider. How many people will regularly use the room? Will the room be used frequently for remote communications? What sort of conference microphones and speakers will be needed?
For insights to some of these questions, we asked four UC experts to tell us their thoughts.
Here are their tips and strategies to consider when setting up a conference for maximum and effective communication.
Founder and CEO
My recommended approach to outfitting a conference room focuses primarily on workflow and usability. There is no “one-size-fits-all” kit that is perfect for every environment, because different working teams have different needs.
I would start by sitting in on a few typical meetings, then asking the teams what they would like to do differently. I would ask questions about who needs to attend the meetings remotely, and what their involvement in the meeting is. What kinds of content are being shared and who is doing the sharing? Will the room be used for other activities such as streaming or recording? Only then would I start designing a setup that would support the team’s desired workflow. Next, I would shortlist hardware and software combos which support the identified needs. Finally, I would have the users trial my suggestions and pick the tools they like using most to ensure ROI.
Enterprises depend on effective real-time collaboration in conference rooms that deliver reliable, high-quality audio, video and content sharing. Audio/visual technologies supporting collaboration should not be an afterthought to a pleasing architectural aesthetic, but must be primary to the design and implementation of the collaboration space. Important considerations include the shape and orientation of the table and seating to the video displays, with special attention to sizing displays for clear, detailed viewing of the type of content typically encountered. And for video conferencing cameras, insuring line of sight to all participants while placing the camera close to the display that participants will be viewing. Lighting is often overlooked and typical recessed spots or direct fluorescents will not be flattering. At a minimum indirect lighting fixtures will provide more even lighting and more specialized video fixtures will further improve the experience.
The all-important audio experience is greatly influenced by two factors: room acoustics and microphone placement. Carpet and acoustic ceilings help, but huddle rooms often suffer from reflection issues causing "shower stall" sound and echo problems heard by far end participants. Some interior sound absorption panels can make a big difference and increase the flexibility of microphone placement, which normally would need to be very close to each participant in highly reflective environments. In the room, loudspeakers built into a TV may be adequate, but can be improved upon with external speakers or even soundbars. Watch out for audio latency in TVs that can introduce echo problems. A dedicated sound system may be the best solution.
Consideration must also be given to connectivity. Flexibility to support BYODs can result in the need for lots of cables. Standardizing on modern connections supported by your choice of collaboration tools simplifies what can be a confusion of cables and controls. Most video systems today support HDMI inputs and they are available on most PCs and mobile devices, some with a simple adaptor. Other collaboration devices may use USB for audio and/or video supporting soft clients like Skype, Vidyo or Spark running on the users device connected to a room camera, microphone and display.
Wireless solutions may also be applicable, such as presentation devices or displays supporting Airplay, ChromeCast, or manufacturer specific tools like Cisco Proximity. However, they may require custom apps or connecting to a device specific WiFi. From both a user and support perspective, simpler is better. Finally, when good collaboration spaces are paired with effective Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC&C) monitoring and analytics tools, administrators/support teams can be proactive rather than reactive in monitoring/managing adoption to make better technology decisions going forward.
Setting up a conference room can take different forms depending on the room and budget available but also the expected use. From a very general perspective, for a small room and basic version, I would consider the following:
A standard set of tables and chairs (prefer light chairs with wheels to avoid extra noise).
Ideally set the tables in a “V” shape (U is good, V is better). A standard room usually features a projector and screen and nobody wants to sit in an awkward position just to be able to see the screen.
As regards communications, in this kind of configuration, a relatively standard speaker system should be enough to cover the room. Ideally, the latter would sit on an individual table, at the center of the V and with microphone extensions covering each side of the room (prefer wireless microphones to reduce the cable overload and limitations to the mobility of these). As communications are evolving and going beyond just telephone conferences, it is important to ensure having a system which can easily be used with the likes of Skype, Google, etc… .
When it comes to bigger rooms - even just an executive boardroom - the configuration will have to be improved. Regardless of the initial setup (one large table, multiple ones, etc… ) ensuring that each individual is covered and has easy access to both sound and images will be crucial.
In that case, we look at a 360° coverage. Beyond having a main screen, it is important to think about making life easier for the people. That starts with having smaller screens on the side walls so that people do not have to break a neck looking at the one main screen from the side (and can actually face these smaller screens) and have an easier time seeing the actual content displayed.
The same goes for the sound. It is time to ramp up the home cinema (or ideally have speakers all around the room to project the sound evenly) and ensure each individual has access to a microphone. In this kind of configuration the wireless dimension is a little less important. They could be embedded in the desks but I would prefer a version where these would act as a design piece, not cluttering the desks, by hanging from the roof above each position, like a lightbulb.
A last take, beyond the equipment, one major item to facilitate communications and make calls or video-conferences efficient is a moderator. There needs to be a tool defined for people to raise their hand and be granted the opportunity to speak, one by one, in order to avoid that meetings turn into a fish market contest.
Unified Communications Social Media Strategist
One of the many funny cartoons about business life showed a man in a tiny little hotel room with him on the telephone calling, “Hey Room Service, please send up more room.” It is a comic relief about the challenges of all too often small hotel rooms but also about the many ill-designed video conferencing rooms.
I have seen probably a hundred teleconference rooms over thirty years. Some were small, some auditorium size and one that was like the bridge of on Star Trek which also cost over one million dollars in London and had a twin in New York City. I have also been involved in many extraordinary video conferencing implementations. Here are a few recommendations in planning video conferencing:
Don’t start with technology, start with people and the room. The people part is about providing easy access to and most importantly, “driver training for better electronic/online meetings. As Hal Josephson a teleconference pioneer said, “if you are boring face-to-face, you will still be boring via conferencing.” In fact, technology will only make it worse.
The room part to me is very important as what I have seen far too often is people have a meeting room and they think turn it into a teleconference room without blinking an eye. This is a terrible mistake. Think through the room first, before you think about the technology. Teleconference rooms need to be quiet, very quiet and making an existing room quiet is often very hard. The room should not have any outside windows, redesign the HVAC air flows (yes people on the distant end can hear the “hair dryer” on your end). Redo the lighting, lighting controls, wall coverings, room paint color, door noise and other factors. I could go on but this is enough to get you to think about the issue of “not just more room but a better room.”
Are you tasked with outfitting conference rooms and aren’t sure what you’ll need? We’ve got some experts on hand that can help, too. Reach out to us with the details of your project, and we’ll get someone on the phone to help you.