By Randy Montelius
As workers return to the office, many may be reluctant or unwilling to touch shared surfaces in common areas.
Consider your corporate meeting spaces, for example: In addition to doors, light switches, and blinds, these rooms typically have AV equipment, such as displays, controls, input cables, AV touch panels, or remote controls. AV control systems can be reconfigured to greatly reduce the number of shared surfaces that employees need to touch during a meeting. Here are four approaches to consider …
1. Add an Occupancy Sensor
One of the simplest ways to automate your meeting space is to add an occupancy sensor. When combined with an AV control system, an occupancy sensor can do exactly what its name implies: It can sense the presence of participants, turn on displays, and switch to a default video input. If equipped, the lights can adjust to a preset level and shades can close. At the end of the meeting, the systems can be set to shut down after 15 minutes of no presence in the room.
2. Consider Wireless Presentation Technology
Integrating an occupancy sensor can turn certain systems in a space off and on, but employees might still need to touch other shared components during a meeting, such as cables to connect their laptops to an input or a keyboard that’s part of the PC setup.
Adding wireless presentation functionality can help alleviate this; the technology can be built into many new control systems or is available as an add-on. In a wireless presentation environment, the presentation display is configured to display instructions for connecting wirelessly. Once connected, a four-digit code is displayed, which allows you to share content. This requires the meeting participant to be local and prevents someone from hacking the meeting. (The code changes with each sharing session.)
3. Implement Apps for Room Control
A wireless presentation solution will work well if you can live with the default configuration. But what if you need to call remote participants or select different sources? What if you need to adjust lighting, volume, or camera settings?
A more comprehensive solution is available through the meeting participant’s smartphone. Room control apps for smartphones can provide full access to the AV system. The application replicates the functionality of the room’s touch panel on your personal device. Your device connects wirelessly to the touch panel using Bluetooth signaling. This feature is available on most recently produced 7- and 10-inch touch panels. In many cases, the smartphone app is free to download but a license must be purchased to enable the Bluetooth feature on the touch panel.
4. Think About Voice Control
Another option involves adding Alexa voice control to meeting rooms. While this technology is available, there are many steps involved with deploying it:
- Create an Alexa for Business (AWS) account.
- Deploy and license Alexa devices in your meeting spaces.
- From the Alexa for Business online console, you can then manage and associate devices with rooms, invite and manage users, install Alexa skills, and sync with calendars.
Once the system is equipped and set up, users can speak commands: “Alexa, start the meeting.” Alexa knows which meeting is scheduled for that room and connects to it. Alexa can also enable the correct AV configuration. During the meeting, you might ask Alexa to lower the blinds, turn up the volume, or end the meeting. Or you can walk into an unoccupied meeting room and ask, “Alexa, is this room available?”
As cool as this option sounds, there are some hurdles. Currently, Alexa skills are limited to a handful of conferencing platforms, which includes registered Zoom Rooms but not Microsoft Teams. Employees are also required to learn the commands and phrases that Alexa understands. It isn’t uncommon to see a laminated “cheat sheet” hanging in a meeting space to remind employees of key commands.
The largest hurdle to overcome, however, is privacy. By design, Alexa devices are always listening. Commands are sent to centralized servers outside the organization. This would not be an acceptable setup for organizations that must abide by strictly regulated privacy standards, such as healthcare. Confidential business discussions might also be vulnerable through voice commands. (Imagine discussing expansion of your business in a private meeting and then receiving a flood of email solicitations from business lenders.)
For most organizations, given the choices available, installing an occupancy sensor coupled with wireless presentation technology is a great way to create simple presentation spaces that reduce touch. More sophisticated rooms—those with lighting, shades, cameras, and sound—typically benefit from the additional control that a smartphone and mobile credentials provide.
Have questions about deploying occupancy sensors, wireless presentation technology, mobile applications, or voice control? Send us a note! We can help you select the right option and walk you through the steps to get your technology up and running.
Vice President of Technology Randy Montelius joined CEC in 1982 and has held positions in field operations, service, sales, management, and engineering. Today, he applies his passion for technology as he helps employees solve complex business issues for customers.