Last year when businesses were forced to close their doors and send staff home to try and find a space to work, it wasn’t looking good for the humble meeting room. Before the pandemic, an un-booked meeting room was rare as hens teeth. I’ve been to meetings where they had to get a table at the restaurant or pub next door because they couldn’t find a free meeting room to host me.

From April 2020 and for about a year after that, all that equipment remained unused and, in many cases, just got switched off to save on resources.

All throughout the lockdowns though, businesses in their thousands started on a journey they either never planned or were nowhere near ready for. They had to find a way to ensure staff could carry on working when they couldn’t get to the technology in the office. For some, this meant migrating from legacy telephony to something that was in the cloud and always accessible, no matter where staff were.

The same is true of the meeting space. Since they couldn’t be in the meeting room and couldn’t meet anyone face to face, they needed to transform meetings themselves into video calls. They needed to be able to welcome anyone from any location, at any time and on any device. They needed to be able to share content, whether it was their screen, a document or a presentation. Suddenly, the meeting space became everywhere. And the platform they met on became Microsoft Teams.

Well now as doors start to open again, and staff slowly start to move to hybrid working. What is hybrid working you ask? It’s the shift from working permanently in the office or at home and doing a bit of both.

One really big positive that came out of all of this bad, is that businesses know for certain that staff can be productive when they aren’t in the office. They will find the time and the space to get their work done. So the net result is that a lot of businesses are no long er requiring staff to work from an office. And not only that, but they are also taking a long hard look at the office itself and trying to make it work for them in ways they never imagined. Many have started reducing the number of desks and limiting the staff to only a few office visits a month. And only for a good reason.

So now that they can only be in the office a few times a month, they want to make the most of it. They might want to meet with colleagues face to face, and maybe bring in a customer online, so they need a meeting room. But hang on a second, the business moved on from legacy telephony and their old meeting platform and on to Teams. They can pick up the dusty remote and start mashing keys, but it’s likely not going to work for them.

A lot of businesses thought of this as they were migrating and started planning to transform the spaces they had to work with Teams. They started with the spaces that had legacy kit, but also started looking around the offices for spaces that had nothing before. They wanted to ensure people that wanted to be in the office could be as productive as possible and give them a place to meet.

Enter Microsoft Teams Rooms

Microsoft Teams Rooms (MTR) is a collection of components that can transform any space into a Microsoft Teams meeting space. MTR as it’s known is available from several well-known vendors and there are packages or bundles to suit any space and requirement you might have.

MTR consists of

  • The “compute”, which could be Windows or Android based, and runs a special room based version of the Microsoft Teams client
  • Often a tabletop touch console which displays the calendar of upcoming booked meetings, as well as the call and meeting controls
  • One or more cameras – cameras can range from static 1080 or 4K webcams to all-in-one audio video soundbars, to cameras with either manual or automated pan, tilt and zoom to get the best shot of the speakers or room participants. You can also get multi-camera solutions that can stitch together multiple shots of the room and participants into a single video feed back into the meeting.
  • Audio, which includes microphones and speakers. Microphones and speakers are available in all-in-one soundbars at the front of the room, on the table or in the ceiling. Choosing the right audio is critical if you want to make sure your attendees can hear and are heard no matter where they are in the room.

The MTR user experience is all about simplicity and ease of use. Why grab a remote and start dialing an IP address when you can hit one “join” button to bring everyone in. The meeting itself is supposed to be productive. Not an exercise in frustration.

How to choose the right room solution for your business

Choosing a solution for your meeting space is about building up a profile for each space and then finding some common ground to separate them into perhaps 3 or 4 categories. These categories can be loosely based on room size and number of seated participants, but you also need to consider the use case.

Use case?, You say. Yes. A meeting space is for meetings, that’s obvious. But it could also be for collaboration, ideation and even creation. Of course flip charts and dry erase boards can come into it. And there is great technology called the Magic Whiteboard or Content Camera that can even include content from these offline or “analogue” media in a Teams meeting. Check out this cheesy video featuring yours truly if you want to see it in action.

But you can also add touch screens into a room either as part of or alongside a Microsoft Teams Room. A standard touch enabled front of room screen gives you the ability to participate in a Teams whiteboard session with colleagues anywhere. Or you can add a Surface Hub and move from relatively simple whiteboarding to full on collaboration on anything from a web page, to a document or a design. Adding a Surface Hub to a Microsoft Teams Room in addition to the front of room screens can give you the best of all worlds. Have video of far end participants on one screen, content such as a PowerPoint on another and use the Surface Hub for that collaboration and whiteboarding.

Helping you make informed decisions

The above is just the start, but it’s a good start. There are more things to consider when considering the right room solutions, technology and even vendor.

All vendors are in the ecosystem for very good reasons, not least of which because they put their devices in the ring to get tested and certified by Microsoft. Every vendor has their own “secret sauce” though when it comes to their offering. Some have just a couple of choices in their range and everything else is really custom. Others have a device for literally every space you can think of and more besides. Quality is paramount of course. But there’s also things like reputation and reliability, support if something goes wrong and even management solutions to help you look after your new estate.

Finding a partner that knows ALL of the solutions well enough to give you the good, the bad and the ugly about each solution is key. If you want to buy a box, go to a box store and hope you can piece it all together. If you want a solution, go to a solution provider that can help you with everything from figuring out the right choices, to equipment installation, fit and finish, adoption and user training and even ongoing support.

That’s all for now.

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Wesley Budd

Strategic Partner Manager - Microsoft & MTR Vendors