Practical workplace tech: How to set up the ideal video conference room

Building a responsive workplace isn’t easy. With so many options available, it’s important to experiment and iterate with new tech to get it right. In our new blog series, Practical Workplace Tech, we’ll share some of the solutions we’ve developed at Envoy, what we’ve learned works (and doesn’t), and provide practical guidance to bring these solutions to life in your workplace.

Let’s face it: high-quality video conferencing is critical for every modern workplace–and getting the tech to work (properly) can be a pain. Whether you have remote employees connecting with local colleagues, the sales team discussing deals with clients around the globe, or you’re simply sharing content on screens during on-site meetings, a bad video conferencing setup can waste valuable time and make you look unprofessional. But, on the flip side, a good video conferencing setup can transform every meeting in your space.

As the Head of Workplace Technology at Envoy, I’m constantly iterating on how to create the best meeting experience for both local and remote participants. Here’s what we’ve learned works best.

Provide a consistent experience

Every meeting room at Envoy, with the exception of phone booths and small meeting pods, is set up as a video conferencing room. This means that employees don’t have to worry if they’ve booked a room with a screen and a phone; they’re all set up to handle any meeting. The only factor they need to consider is the room’s size.  

Simplify the controls

We’re huge fans of Zoom (for a number of reasons) but one of Zoom’s main strengths is the ease with which employees can control a room: start and stop meetings, adjust cameras, etc. Each room has an iPad controller on the table with an intuitive interface to operate.

We also made a conscious decision to remove other interactive elements–there are no mice, keyboards, or remotes in the rooms. This helps ensure that the rooms stay plug-and-play (only used for their primary purpose) and removes potential confusion around troubleshooting steps. It’s really clear; restart Zoom or contact our team.

Leave room for your spaces to stand out

You might be picturing dozens of identical, cookie-cutter meeting rooms all over our office; when in fact, it’s just the opposite. Some of our rooms have tall tables with bar stools, and many of our smaller rooms use soft seating (couches and comfortable chairs) instead of traditional conference tables.

We offer this variety because we’ve learned that employees appreciate a more informal setting for 1-on-1 conversational meetings. But, because we adhere to the first two principles above, these rooms are still just as effective for a sales call or a remote meeting.

Check rooms daily

Our room setup is pretty great, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a constant battle to ensure it stays that way. Human behavior is hard to predict. People sometimes unplug the iPad controller so they can charge their phone, and computer gremlins seem to have a special preference for video conferencing.

Human-powered persistence, in combination with automated alerts, ensures a reliable experience for our employees. I have a habit of sweeping the office while I’m drinking my morning coffee to catch the things machines can’t see.

Our setup: The basics

  • Computer: Mac mini – We’re a Mac shop so using Macs for our Zoom rooms allow us to deploy and configure them easily with Jamf Pro MDM. We suggest you mount these on the wall behind the TV.
  • TV: Samsung commercial displays. Most of our rooms use PM55H (55”) models. We use commercial displays for a few reasons:
  1. They’re designed for long-hour operation, unlike consumer TVs.
  2. They’re designed to wall mount out of the box, with slim bezels and easy installation without modification.
  3. The software and setup menus offer settings that are much more targeted for commercial purposes, like a “Terminal & Station” display mode that optimizes for text.
  • Control: iPad mini with a Heckler conference room tablet mount.
  • Room information display: Outside each room, we mount an iPad mini in a Heckler Tablet Wall Mount. We run an ethernet cable through the wall and power the iPad using a Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) adapter so we don’t have to hire an electrician to install. As for the software we use to manage meeting rooms, we use an internal solution (more exciting news on that in the coming months!).
  • A few Zoom configuration pro tips:
    • Enable remote camera control by default. This allows a remote participant to zoom and pan the camera in the room without requesting permission. We found that, for Zoom, it’s reasonable to enable this by default.
    • Set a custom screen background that is simple but showcases your brand. If you can, work with your design team to create a background image that fits a 1080p screen.
    • Enable the ‘operating hours’ schedule so your screens turn off at night.
  • Other important things:
    • Pulse-Eight HDMI-CEC adapter. This little device allows Zoom to turn your TV on and off automatically according to schedule.
    • We hardwire all of our Mac minis to Ethernet. Yes, wireless is the way of the future… but if you can keep embedded devices like these wired up, you should.

Video and audio configurations

Video and audio: Standard conference room table configuration

  • Camera: Panacast 180° USB camera. Three individual camera lenses stitch together to provide one image of the entire room. This means that people sitting right next to the TV still can be seen in the video.
  • Audio: Revolabs FLX UC 500. In most small meeting rooms, this device provides great microphone and speaker in a single box.

Video and audio: Soft seating configuration

  • Camera: Panacast or Logitech MeetUp.
  • Audio: Hanging microphones and speakers in the ceiling.
    • All of our rooms have drop ceilings, so installation is easy. 
    • Speakers: Bose EdgeMax EM180. One of these, placed close to the corner of a room, is enough to cover a 6–8 person room.
    • Microphones:
      • For smaller rooms (3–4 people): Audix M3 hanging mic centered in the room.
      • For larger rooms (4–8 people): Shure MXA910. This is actually five microphones in a single device, which can beamform to accommodate the shape and arrangement of your room. This is by far the best audio quality we’ve been able to find.

Cable management

This is often overlooked, but it can have a big impact on the professionalism and aesthetic of your room. You don’t have to pay to route wires and cabling through walls to create a great-looking setup. We use these tools frequently:

  • Panduit Cable Raceways – These plastic raceways hide cables and stick on your wall for easy installation. They can be painted to match your wall, or we’ve even applied wallpaper to make them blend in on our walls with coverings. With clever placement of furniture and Panduit, your users may not even notice it’s there.
  • SafCord carpet cover – When you need to run a cable over the carpet to a table or piece of furniture, cover it up with this velcro cover that you can move around easily. 

Remember–it’s all about the user

In the end, the best way to create your optimal meeting room is to listen to your users, understand their needs, and find the solutions that work for them.

We’ve had great success with the tech I’ve laid out above, but your employees might need something different. Don’t be afraid to try new things and switch out components as your company grows and your needs evolve. Achieving meeting room perfection is an ongoing challenge. What’s one new thing you can try in your workplace that will improve the experience for your employees, visitors, and candidates?

For more thoughts on creating a better workplace, check out my article about building the office of the future and stay tuned for more posts from our Practical Workplace Tech series.

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