May 22 2020

New Videoconferencing Tech Eases Burdens on Companies

A far cry from the bulky equipment of just 19 years ago, the latest tech is easy to use and delivers picture-perfect experiences.

The Clearwing Group’s employees work behind the scenes at music f­estivals, national concert tours and other live events across America, building stages and creating audiovisual spectacles that feature swirling lights, d­igital sound and live video.

But support for these large-scale productions takes good planning and close coordination among Clearwing’s employees, who are spread across three offices. To improve communication, the company’s IT staff recently installed Logitech Tap videoconferencing equipment in its meeting rooms.

The technology — used in combination with Google Meet, a cloud-based videoconferencing service for businesses — makes it easy for teams to hold meetings between its Milwaukee headquarters and Phoenix and Denver offices, says Patrick Doran, Clearwing’s IT manager. Remote workers can join in from anywhere.

“There’s something more with face-to-face communications,” he says. “It’s dramatically improved everyone’s camaraderie and communication level and understanding because they can actually interact, and it’s not just a voice on the phone.”

Video Meetings That Are Easy to Set Up

While videoconferencing in meeting rooms is not new, many businesses are shifting away from complex setups to a new generation of more affordable technology that’s simple to install and use, according to Tim Banting, principal analyst in workspace services for research firm Omdia.

Having good, user-friendly videoconferencing hardware matters because technical difficulties can frustrate employees, particularly if people struggle to establish connections or can’t see or hear each other very well.

New conferencing solutions include all-in-one devices with built-in cameras, microphones and speakers that attach to flat-panel displays. To improve video and audio quality and ease of use, vendors offer cameras that automatically frame participants into view, speakers that reduce background noise and tabletop touch-screen devices that allow employees to start meetings with one click, Banting says.

The equipment supports cloud-based videoconferencing services such as BlueJeans, Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

“Modern huddle room technology is designed to make it easy for employees to use and is a far cry from the expensive boardroom equipment of 10 years ago or the awkward conferencing equipment that we used to ask facilities departments to set up for us,” Banting says.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Watch how meetings drive business continuity in the new normal.

Tech that Provides Flexibility for Workers

Robin, a company that makes workplace experience software for meeting room scheduling and space management, advocates to its customers the concept of activity-based working, in which employees are given the flexibility to choose among a variety of workspaces.

The 115-employee startup practices what it preaches and has designed an open, flexible work environment at its Boston headquarters that includes designated quiet zones, desks for conference calls and a variety of meeting rooms with distinct ­videoconferencing systems.

Robin has equipped about 10 meeting rooms with Logitech and Huddly videoconferencing gear, which is easy to install and use. The company deployed Huddly GO and IQ cameras and 32-inch HDTVs for two small meeting rooms geared for two to four people.

For rooms with designed for four to six people, it deployed the Logitech MeetUp all-in-one devices and 50-inch TVs. In its largest conference rooms, the company deployed Logitech Rally kits and 70-inch TVs.

The Rally kits allow users to add extra speakers and microphones in the larger rooms to improve sound. The company also built two rolling videoconferencing carts using Logitech MeetUp for those who want to hold meetings in open spaces in the office.

“We like the plug-and-play aspect of the hardware,” says Brendan O’Neil, the company’s go-to-market lead.

Workers use Google Meet, powered by Chromebox computers, for the small rooms and rolling carts. They use Zoom videoconferencing software, running on Windows-based PCs, in the medium and large conference rooms. Robin also deployed Logitech Tap touch controllers in those larger rooms, allowing employees to easily launch ­videoconferences. Robin uses the videoconferencing equipment daily for client meetings and to include remote workers.

“It’s paramount that we can walk into a room and trust things will work,” O’Neil says. “And it’s rock-solid. We trust it.”

Get the Most with Modern Features

In Orange, Calif., SC Fuels, which markets fuel and petroleum products to thousands of customers, is equipping offices with new videoconferencing equipment as part of a larger effort to improve communications.

When Grant Leathers joined as CIO in 2019, he discovered that its 26 offices in California and Texas used a patchwork of 15- to 20-year-old traditional phone systems that didn’t offer modern amenities such as advanced call routing and reporting.

In November 2019, he upgraded the company’s 900 employees to RingCentral’s cloud-based collaboration system, which provides employees with phone and chat services, plus the ability to hold conference calls and videoconferences and to share their screens.

Earlier this year, Leathers equipped eight meeting rooms at headquarters with Poly Studio all-in-one videoconferencing systems, with integrated cameras, speakers and microphones. He also standardized on new 65-inch and 85-inch LG TVs.

SC Fuels uses RingCentral Meetings software for videoconferencing. The setup includes a Dell OptiPlex Micro Form Factor PC that connects to the network and mounts to the back of the TVs.

To start a videoconference, employees in conference rooms click on an Apple iPad device, which is connected to the network through Wi-Fi. Remote workers join in by using the RingCentral Meetings software on their computers or by clicking on a link in an Outlook email invite. “People use it every day now across our business units,” Leathers says.

Videoconferencing has made a huge difference in meetings, he continues.

“We are decentralized,” he says. “When people can see you and you can easily share information, it makes meetings more productive, interactive and engaging.”

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Learn how to keep your organization's meetings secure.

Make Meetings Simple to Use

Clearwing, which also sells and repairs audiovisual gear and owns a trucking business that transports equipment for national tours, initially deployed high-end videoconferencing equipment in its conference rooms seven years ago to reduce travel costs.

Executives had traveled frequently to each other’s offices for in-person corporate meetings, but that was not financially sustainable.

“We added videoconferencing and pretty much cut out in-person meetings,” Doran says. “The travel we do now is situation-specific.”

However, Clearwing’s legacy videoconferencing system was complex to use. So last year, when the software license for the legacy system was up for renewal, Clearwing explored other options.

Workers fell in love with the ease of use of the Logitech equipment and its simple integration with Google Meet. Clearwing uses Google G Suite, so workers can use Google Calendar to ­easily schedule meetings, Doran says.

Last fall, Doran and his team installed Logitech equipment in five conference rooms across the company’s three offices for the same cost of the software renewal of the old system.

For two small meeting rooms, Clearwing purchased Logitech MeetUp devices — an all-in-one system with integrated camera, speaker and microphone.

For three larger meeting rooms, the company bought a Logitech Rally videoconferencing kit, which features a separate camera, speaker and microphones. Each room includes a Logitech Tap touch controller, a 10.1-inch touch-screen display that allows users to quickly find scheduled meetings.

With a single tap of the display, employees can start videoconferences using Google Meet.

The system includes a Chromebox, which connects the camera, speaker and microphones with the Logitech Tap. The company also uses projector screens as well as 55-inch and 80-inch LCDs.

Today, employees tare using videoconferencing more than ever, Doran says: “It’s straightforward and simple to use, and as a result, we are seeing greater adoption.”