Hybrid technology meetings

Fernando Sanz

Area Manager Spain and Portugal at SMART Technologies, Inc.
1. Why are hybrid meetings on the rise?
 
It’s based on an indisputable fact: working spaces and technology evolve quickly, offering users a multitude of new opportunities for convening and collaborating, without the need to be physically present in a meeting room.

In a recent study published in “Wired” magazine, Ryan Anderson, the Strategy Director at Herman Miller – the largest office furniture manufacturer in the US – stated that the use of offices accounts for 25% of meetings held, clearly showing a change in business culture.
Today, technology allows us to contribute and collaborate without being physically in the same place as the people we work with. Furthermore, it is important to include everyone involved in the decision-making process. Thus, flexibility, substantial travel-cost savings, and the considerable increase in productivity are the main catalysts for change.
 
2. What does this new type of meeting mean for companies?
 
Something as simple and as important as allowing total flexibility and enabling greater productivity. Quite a few of years back, we read in the media that both in Spain and in many other countries in the world, the number of mobile phones per inhabitant was greater than the number of inhabitants.

The press also recently reported on a study published by the National Observatory for Telecommunications and the Information Society (ONTSI), which confirms that the number of smartphones represents nearly 60% of the mobile telephones on the market. Without a doubt, this demonstrates the growing interest in users mobility.
This is why companies today consider the benefits of using unified communications platforms (such as Skype for Business) or products for multipoint collaboration (such as kapp iQ) that enables working across mobile devices just like in the office.
It’s not a matter of where or how, but when.
 
 3. A virtual experience can seem colder than face-to-face interaction. How do we bridge that distance? 

It’s true that looking at a screen is not the same as looking fixedly into the eyes of another person, but I personally believe that they are complementary and not incompatible.
For example, in my company, as in many others, we have multiple meetings every week and, like most professionals, sometimes we meet to tackle specific topics and other times, it’s with people we don’t know, either to sell, collaborate, or work on projects together. What doesn’t make sense to me is for everyone to have to go to one specific place each and every time a team meeting needs to take place. This has an impact on costs, time invested in travelling from one place to another, getting started, etc. Physical meetings are not always necessary. At times a virtual meeting can suffice, given agendas, time, and costs.

In my view, the most important thing is to work collaboratively to solve specific problems or to collaborate in a team environment to develop ideas and projects. Meetings are convened to complete tasks, assign work or projects, discuss ideas, and/or strategies or make specific decisions. They aren’t for the sake of the meeting alone.

To summarise, meetings are convened to be more productive in terms of quality and quantity, not just to pass the time. That is where technology is essential. The ability to see, hear, share, and work simultaneously on content is what makes businesses more efficient and thus much more competitive.

"The technology offers the user the potential to enhance his or her performance."

4. What is the maximum number of participants that can take part in a meeting? 
 
It depends on the meeting’s purpose. There are very powerful and very inexpensive platforms, such as Skype for Business, which, for €1.50 per user per month, you can have up to 1000 participants, regardless of the device you use or whether or not you have the software.
 
5. Is it necessary for a person to have advanced knowledge in order to use these technologies or are they accessible to everyone?
 
That’s the best part: they are so simple that anyone can use them.
I can’t speak for all of the brands, but if we look for example at what we spoke about before (Skype for Business and kapp iQ), both are intuitive products that are easy to use with very short learning curves.

Skype for Business is a sophisticated unified communications platform (think of it as an evolved version of video conferencing) that offers a combination of chat, HD video, audio, content, and much more. But the best part is that the user doesn’t need to worry about anything. Skype for Business works using a simple app and its Meeting Room Systems version, such as the ones available at NH Hotel Group in many places around Europe, is even easier to use. The system has presence detectors that make everything start once the user enters the room. Once it’s turned on, a large blue button on the screen that starts the meeting becomes visible. And you’re all set. Literally ten seconds to start. Using this system, attendees in different parts of the world can see and hear everything that is happening in the room as well as see, interact, and contribute to the content being presented.

In the second case, kapp iQ, it’s a collaborative surface where everyone can see, write, or save the content from any device (mobile or desktop). This content gets stored in an app, so you don’t have to fill up your device with images of the slides. With kapp iQ, the user can take home all of the notes in a way that’s easy and organised.
Let’s be realistic. We don’t have unlimited free time to get all of the training required to use every new tool. If the technology isn’t easy to use, users probably won’t start using the tool on a regular basis.
 
6. What types of meetings benefit the most from these technologies? What type of company are they recommended for?
 

It doesn’t matter what type of meeting it is. Any type of meeting can use this technology: from a sales team going over results or setting goals to a brainstorming session, or even a creative team working on a new project.

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