Video conferencing is important, yet often complicated. Common questions are ... "What’s the ideal room setup?" or "What should I be using at my company?" It's hard to know what's right!
[If you’re trying to answer that question now, give the free Meeting Setup Recommendation Tool a spin. It'll give you your own customized result.]
One thing I know is that despite the options, simplicity always wins. And with that, there is one common video conferencing setup that I will never, ever recommend.
You should never set up your meeting room with a standalone in-room computer. It's hard to use, easy to mess up, and will slow down the start of every meeting.
Because we have lived with it at Owl Labs for the last 6 months.
In our room, we have had an Intel Nuc connected to a Meeting Owl and a TV monitor. When people consider using this type of setup, the intention is to solve for two things: simplicity and consistency. The first is a plea for fewer systems, fewer wires and fewer subscriptions. The second is a desire to have the same simple set up in all your rooms.
However, it’s actually all a terribly trap. While adding an in-room computer to your setup might seem simple, it actually adds a lot of complexity.
Want to see how? Let’s break down the challenges around using a standalone in-room computer.
What many people forget when adding an in-room computer to a meeting room is that you now need mouse and keyboard to use it and to be useful it should sit on your conference room table at all times.
However, rarely are in-room computers installed to sit on the conference room table. Generally it is mounted behind the monitor in the room, or hidden off to the side in a console.
This means that if the keyboard and mouse are all wired, you need to have cables long enough to reach the in-room computer. Yikes! Many turn to unwired bluetooth solutions to help, but then you have to deal with batteries running out, having chargers near by, and getting people to remember to plug the devices in when they are done with their meetings.
Don’t forget, you also need to connect the TV, video and audio device(s) to the in-room computer. Combine all these challenges and you have multiple possible failure points in the room.
The next challenge is actually starting the meeting. There are two scenarios that play out.
Scenario 1 - Often when someone schedules a meeting, the person will send a calendar invite with a link to join the video call. Then when the meeting organizer gets to the conference room, he needs to access the link on the in-room computer. This likely involves logging into their calendar or the video conferencing platform.
Scenario 2 - Perhaps a group of people are having an impromptu meeting and thus there is no calendar invite. That also means no video conferencing link has been set up yet. Now the meeting organizer needs to login to the video conference platform on the in-room computer to start a video meeting, then get the meeting information, and send it to the remote people. This either requires logging into the company chat platform on the in-room computer or copying the meeting ID from the in-room computer to their personal computer and sending it to the remote person. What a mess.
In both cases, the meeting organizer has just spent 10 minutes of everyone's time trying to remember their passwords and communicating meeting access codes.
Once the meeting is finally set up and both the remote and local attendees can see and hear each other, the meeting organizer has to figure out how to make any necessary content (presentations, spreadsheets, working docs) visible to everyone in the meeting.
If your team uses a file sharing system that is the same as your calendaring system, like Google Calendar and Drive, most likely you’re already logged in due to the previous setup steps. However if this isn’t the case your meeting organizer needs to login to yet another system on the in-room computer.
An alternative work around requires bringing your laptop to the meeting. In this case, the person presenting could join the meeting from their laptop (as well as from the in-room computer) and then she can share the content on her screen to all attendees at the meeting. The biggest risk here is that when two computers are logged into the same meeting in the same room, if the laptop isn’t muted you might get a lovely ear piercing audio screeching for a minute or two.
The last alternative is to have everyone look at the document on their own laptops and to only use the video platform for seeing and hearing each other. This works, but likely increases multitasking as everyone has their computer open and in front of them.
The last thing to be considered is the implications of this kind of setup on security. There are two potential failure modes. First, since you have people logging into public computers in the office, there’s a risk that the person won’t remember to logout when they leave the room. This means their email, calendars, file systems and chat systems are now accessible to the entire company or anyone who comes into the room.
Security is also compromised, because with this setup employees are likely to make their passwords simple and use the same one across systems. This is done with the intention to reduce the difficulty of logging in.
A corporate single sign-on system can resolve some of these issues, but that is definitely not a simple solution!
Imagine a world where you arrive to your conference room and simply hit a button to begin the meeting. Big improvement to the above scenarios, right?
So how'd we do it?
As of this afternoon, we've upgraded our conference room to a Zoom Room. It integrates the in-room computer with our calendar and video conferencing service. Now when we get to the room, we can click one button to start the meeting. We don't need to use mouse or a keyboard or logins. It saves us time, and we aren't distracted at the start of the meeting so we can focus on the conversation.
Now the in-room computer is doing it's job of running the meeting, and we have an interface that makes it useful. If you use Google Calendar or Outlook at your company, Zoom Rooms could be a great fit for you too.
If an integrated solution isn’t possible, you might not want to use an in-room computer at all. Instead set up a TV and have people run meetings from their laptops. Not quite as simple, but at least all the controls you need are right at your finger tips.