From work-from-home to back-to-office, it’s been a confusing path. In 2021, it was mainly hurry-up-and-wait. Now, it’s happening at full speed. The AV needs for office workers is still a bit confusing. When WFH (work from home) kicked in, employers were focused on business and communications continuity. The goal was to get at-home technology that was “good enough” to not break the workflow of the team. That was then. What’s happening now? Let’s get up to speed on trends and solutions.
Over the last two years, where and how people work has changed for obvious reasons. What’s happening now is that the dynamics have flipped somewhat: many managers of office environments are tasked with trying to the recreate their employees’ home technology/connectivity experiences in the company offices. They’re simultaneously trying to re-invent a better and more collaborative experience that gets the team more in sync and more productive. It’s a complicated task, but the good news is that there are new AV best practices emerging, and plenty of AV gear options to make it all work.
Working from home in a controlled environment vs. a conference room to accommodate in-person employees collaborating with work from home employees.
In the current surge of back-to-office, hybrid work is key. In other words, people work as teams on-site at times, and sometimes they work from home or from the road or somewhere else. Team meetings can involve any combination of those in-person and remote workers. Seems simple enough. While it’s easy to schedule meetings with combinations of in-person and remote attendees, engineering the in-office environment is still evolving and can be a challenge.
A few of the bigger trends we’re seeing are around general office design, not just AV solutions. Many corporate and even smaller companies are rethinking open floorplans with little privacy vs. more private and spacious cubical environments. The open trend started around 20 years ago, but more recently, and before COVID-19, companies were starting to add more privacy with flexible spaces such as huddle rooms, more tech-rich conference and video conferencing rooms. With the current rush back to the office, the cubicle-heavy design is coming back for many reasons from safety to changes in real estate/space. With open or cubicle environments, office workers need technology tools to compensate for the noise. They also need different types of meeting/conference/collaboration rooms than what was popular 3-5 years ago.
Working from home, most workers got used to a very private, quiet environment that they could control. Back in the office, they’re now struggling with getting that nice bubble where they can concentrate, and meet with remote people with crystal clear sound on both ends. Can managers and tech providers accommodate them? More than you think. There are now many audio gear options for employees at their own desks in the office that cancel out ambient noise pretty effectively, allow more discreet mic’ing, and generally compensate for the chaotic “cubicle” effect of open offices. At SoundPro, we carry full lines of gear that tap into the latest technology for wired and wireless mics as well as noise cancelling headphones from industry leaders such as Audio-Technica, AKG, Sennheiser, and Shure that are designing solutions for a better collaboration experience. As a bonus, these solutions are small and portable, and can often move with the worker no matter what environment they’re working in.
Open concept office space with little to no privacy for calls vs. a
huddle space that allows for privacy and collaboration.
Company on-site meeting rooms, conference rooms, video conferencing/collaboration rooms are also evolving. Traditional “conference rooms” may get smaller and more plentiful on the company campus. At the same time, the small “huddle room” popularized 5-10 years ago could get a bit larger, and even more technology-rich. Focusing on collaboration and a combination of in-person and virtual participants is key.
- For large conference rooms, the long, rectangular room may start to look a little different. More flexible set-ups – literally shape-shifting, to be both more “democratic” in terms of seating, and ready for different kinds and sizes of meetings will become more popular.
- You may not see just one big video screen at one end of the conference room. The use of more portable screens will increase – either projection screens or LCD panels or LED screens.
- We should continue to see the move to boundary mics (or beam-forming mics) in conference room environments. These new generation mics do not sit on the conference table or on the headsets of participants. Typically installed in the ceiling, they enable excellent audio without needing a microphone for each person and/or presenter in the room. They use software to essentially create mic’ing zones for everyone in the room.
- The “huddle room” was on the rise before the pandemic. They were typically very small, for 2-4 people. More like small work pods, that might accommodate a couple of hoteling staff members visiting for the day. We think these types of rooms will morph into meeting/collaboration spaces for regular staff who need an alternative to their desk but don’t need a full conference room.
Many of these trends bode well for AV contractors who want to help their customers retool and improve their office environments. SoundPro’s strength in this area is proven, with a long track record in the industry, along with our deep relationships with the top AVL gear manufacturers. We’re here to help you empower your customers as they navigate the ever-changing landscape of AV. If you have customers ready to reinvent their company offices spaces, give your SoundPro account manager a call today – no project is too large or too small.