Many companies have been busy for the last year creating new products or improving existing ones to support a distributed workforce, virtual collaboration, and socially distanced office space. In the next two newsletters, I will look at some of his inventions that particularly impressed me. This week we will see how technology will change the way we meet.
The Brady Bunch Model
One thing Covid has taught us is that the technology we used to use to accommodate remote participants in meetings, well, it sucked. The audio quality of most legacy conference bridges was terrible, forcing callers to have difficulty hearing or speaking. They couldn’t see what was happening in the room and, lacking visual presence, they were easily forgotten.
Zoom was the great leveler. The growing consensus is that all meetings should now be held as if everyone in them were virtual, which means blurring the distinctions between local and remote space. “The great thing about everyone who works from home is that they created a level playing field. We all looked like the Brady Bunch, ”said Christy Harris, senior vice president of human resources at insurance giant Allstate.
Zoom Video Communications, Inc. has been de-popularizing its video conferencing service to make Expand rooms more ubiquitous, launching a hardware as a service version and increase features for meetings with many remote participants.
Allstate is testing a new Zoom technology in eight of its largest facilities that can select faces in a meeting room and tile them individually so they all have the same amount of screen space. It is also adopting Mural, a product that reproduces in a virtual space the flip charts and sticky notes that are common during group brainstorming sessions.
Allstate is still in the early stages, but the insurer has high hopes. “There is a psychological benefit that comes from knowing that everyone can contribute,” Harris said. People are less likely to miss out on important information due to a poor audio connection, and “diverse voices also improve our products and services,” he said.
Presentations for video conferencing
I have enjoyed using Prezi‘swooping and zooming animated presentation software for years as an alternative to static PowerPoint. At the end of 2019, the company expanded its scale with Prezi Video, a product that enables presenters to integrate animated visuals into visual presentations. Although technically introduced just before the pandemic, Prezi added the Zoom and Microsoft Teams integration last year along with a live edit function. This week, the company introduced an integration that allows users to bring an existing Google Slides platform to the screen next to their face within any video platform.
“We knew that having the presenter in the middle of their content would create a more immersive experience for the audience, making them more likely to engage,” said Prezi CEO Jim Szafranski in an email interview. “Video conferencing has much greater engagement potential than in-person meetings if it gives attendees the tools to respond with visual content.”
Prezi Video eliminates the need to choose between a shared screen and a talking head and retains the creative animation effects of its flagship software. The company says more than 130,000 organizations have adopted it for virtual meetings in less than two years, including more than half of the Fortune 1000.
New camera perspectives
Based in Boston Owl Labs creates an integrated device with a 360-degree camera, microphone, and speaker that sits in the center of a conference room and automatically tunes in to whoever is speaking. Since the COVID launch, the company has included a ceiling-mountable vertical flip feature, improved voice tracking, incorporated a digital whiteboard, and even added options to turn off panoramic view to protect the privacy of students in a classroom. Demand has increased “exponentially” over the past year, a spokeswoman said.
Drive Technologies It is best known for its display technology that powers about 90% of mobile games and half of all virtual and augmented reality products. “Due to the pandemic, we saw a massive need to use virtual collaboration to sustain the architecture and construction industries,” said Matias Cavallin, communications leader at Unity.
The result was Reflex unit, an immersive collaborative environment that enables multiple designers and construction engineers in different locations to walk through a digital twin of an architectural design or construction project and collaboratively make adjustments. Models can be imported directly from popular computer-aided design packages, and participants can see what others are seeing in the meeting.
Meetings won’t go away after COVID, but technology can make them more bearable. Next week I will discuss technology to make the workplace safer and more organized.
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