With constraints on international business travel – and even normal office working – the ability to work remotely while maintaining standards and achieving objectives is crucial.

After COVID-19 hit us globally, organizations have no choice but to adapt to a hybrid work model going forward. Many senior managers have found themselves shifting their operations and processes online in a matter of weeks, something that would have otherwise taken a few months if not for the pandemic.

Even prior to the pandemic, organisations have been searching for innovative ways to unlock engagement and collaboration among employees, partners, educators, students and customers while improving user experience.

With working from home now being the norm, hybrid work arrangements – where remote and physical participants have to innovate, learn and collaborate digitally – have become a necessity. The need for virtual collaboration to be just as productive and effective as physical meetings and classes has become critical.

As enterprises look to the next normal of the pandemic future, investing in the right technology is critical for collaboration and learning to translate into increased productivity and value. While there will always be a need for face-to-face interactions, organisations now have the ability to support a hybrid working environment in which around half of their workforce connect remotely. 

How can conferencing technology facilitate a new way of collaborating and learning across borders? DigiconAsia finds out from Olivier Croly, APAC Senior Vice President at Barco.

Olivier Croly, APAC Senior Vice President, Barco

The need for virtual collaboration to be just as productive and effective as physical meetings and classes has become very critical. As organizations look to the post-pandemic ‘next normal’, what should they be looking out for in their choice of technology to improve collaboration and engagement in the workplace or classroom?

Croly: Quick and easy collaboration proved essential in the current environment, and intuitive communications technologies are key to enabling this capability.

Organisations and education institutions are taking on more of a hybrid model, and will need to make collaboration and communications activities more effective. Those hosting large meetings from office conference rooms, for example, are looking at how they can wirelessly connect peripheral camera and microphone equipment to their screens in order to stream rich, audio-visual content to participants in various locations.

To identify more permanent solutions to reflect the current realities of the workplace and the classroom, IT departments should consider meeting room technologies that are compatible with their existing solutions to create more seamless user experiences. Tools that are simple and intuitive can also be deployed quickly without extensive training.

Building a workforce around a hybrid approach, balancing a mix of physical and virtual interaction, provides the flexibility to increase and decrease resourcing according to organisational requirements. Businesses can react swiftly to market shifts and grow workforces and customise digital capacity with minimal investment or disruption. Educators can also maintain continuity in learning delivery and use functionalities such as polls, pop quizzes and group breakout sessions to keep students engaged.

One key limitation most users find in existing online communication, collaboration and learning platforms is that they cannot effectively read facial expressions or body language. How could technology bridge these gaps?  

Croly: In today’s virtual meetings, distractions such as transmission delay and lack of eye contact can limit the ability of attendees to effectively read facial expressions like they would in face-to-face interactions. This also limits presenters and trainers’ ability to accurately gauge reactions to the material that is being shared with participants.

Virtual conferencing and collaboration technologies have evolved beyond video meetings to include capabilities, such as breakout groups, moderation tools, audio and screen display control, and digital whiteboard features, that enable all participants to feel engaged.

Integrating meeting solutions with other audio visual (AV) infrastructure introduces enhanced functionality to boost engagement and interaction. A meeting room setup that offers a 360-degree view of the classroom allows trainers to access multiple displays for participants to view important

items in a room as well as the presenter to deliver a hands-on experience in a virtual setting. For example, an instructor can share a view of cells through an electronic microscope with the class during a virtual collaboration.

Virtual classroom solution such as Barco weConnect, allow educators to monitor all of the activity going on in the classroom and conduct polling and quizzes to assess if participants are grasping the material. Data is overlaid on each student, and in real-time, the trainer receives data and analytics, which can allow him or her to interact or call out to each participant.

What are some key steps organizations should take to improve and/or deliver seamless meeting solutions with close to zero disruptions in the ‘new normal’ hybrid work environment? Could you give us a few examples?

Croly: Organisations should create meeting rooms and huddle spaces that can seamlessly connect on-site and remote workers.

An important step in this process is adopting a meeting solution that is compatible with the existing AV setup and can accommodate several unified communications (UC) solutions. Embracing a bring your own meeting (BYOM) system where employees and external collaborators can use their preferred video conferencing software, empowers people to focus on the meeting, and not the technology.

This solution also needs to be highly secure to address concerns including eavesdropping, data theft, and privacy loss.

For example, the Menin city council in Belgium adopted Barco’s wireless conferencing solution to enable council members to quickly meet and make decisions from home as COVID-19 evolved with intuitive tools.

Businesses are also thinking about how and where they invest in office space, as well as where virtual interaction can be better integrated. Instead of operating a major headquarters, with thousands of employees, many companies are considering smaller ‘hubs’ that are connected with virtual tools. This model would be more efficient for multinational companies and strike a balance between physical and remote working in a way that suits not just the bottom line, but employees too.