The future of work is here, and it's digital, empathetic, diverse, and adaptable. Preparing to lead the workplace of the future, however, means more than adjusting beliefs and attitudes. In a digital environment, you also have to make virtual collaboration simple, seamless, and intuitive for on-site and remote workers and vendors.

Digitization doesn't mean you can rely on email, Slack, and webchats to build a team. Those tools can help you communicate, but they don't give space for commitment, accountability, or conflict resolution, which are critical functions of a team. For that, you need to engage in virtual face-to-face meetings that provide visual cues and strengthen human relationships.

Part of building the future of work, therefore, is as simple as creating a state-of-the-art conference room system with effective audio visual setup. That doesn't mean you have to infuse your boardroom with robots and glitzy conference room technologies. You just have to make space that facilitates interaction and collaboration in a positive work culture.What do you need to build a state of the art conference room?

Consider these eight ways to boost productivity through conference room av design:

1. Upgrade your connections

All the state-of-the-art conference room technology that your budget can buy won't bail you out of a blinking internet connection. Dropped calls, pixelated video, and choppy audio will fail to impress clients, will frustrate vendors, and will waste employees' time. Fortunately, weak Wi-Fi or overloaded bandwidth are problems easy to anticipate and prevent.Talk to your IT department or outsourced managed services provider about how to improve your network to secure enterprise-grade reliability and speed. A good IT provider won't just rip out your old hardware and replace it with the latest thing. Instead, that provider will carefully assess your current systems' weaknesses against your anticipated needs in order to make budget-friendly recommendations for your new connections.

2. Choose the right mix of microphones and speakers

Sound is the most connective human experience. That's why any good sound engineer can tell you that audio quality is more critical to retaining viewers than video quality. People will endure a pixelated video, but as soon as the sound gets distorted, they're done. If you're livestreaming a conference, that may mean viewers literally turn you off, but if you're hosting an on-site meeting, it might mean they check out mentally and creatively while still being present in the room. Either way, poor sound quality leads to a non-functional environment.

You can avoid this problem by purchasing the right mix of quality microphones and speakers. To determine what audio equipment you need, consider your room's decor and purpose. Curtains, carpet, and chairs can affect sound quality. Is your room is built and furnished to absorb sound waves? Shoot for better quality equipment. If everyone is sitting at a table in a small room, then a single, omni-directional mic is probably fine. For a larger space with people walking around, you'll want to embed mics and speakers in the ceiling as part of your conference room av design. Look into noise-canceling technology and a mic with beamforming technology, too, since these options can prove beneficial depending on the setting.

3. Invest in a quality display screen

Quality display screen mounted at or around eye level when standing

Just because sound trumps video in a head-to-head match doesn't mean you can skimp on your conference room display when buying your conference room av equipment. Much of conferencing's value derives from participants' ability to spot visual cues, feel connected to their colleagues, and share presentations and work screens. That requires a screen that nearly disappears between participants.The right display screen for you will depend on the size of your space and your other conference room equipment. For a small room, a 42"-50" screen will probably suffice. An ordinary size boardroom may require one or two displays from 60"-94" or possibly a small 1x3 or 2x2 video wall. In an auditorium, you'll likely need something much larger, maybe a video wall or high end laser projector. Make sure the screen offers a 4K display and high-quality sound, too. When setting up the room, you'll want to mount the screen at or around eye level when standing.

4. Set up and use an interactive whiteboard

An interactive whiteboard is part and parcel of American common life now. The digital natives in your company will have been using interactive whiteboards since they learned sight words during circle time in first grade. In business meetings, these devices come in particularly handy when you are brainstorming, creating workflows, or drawing up assessments. Interactive whiteboards are critical for effective meetings involving off-site personnel because you can write directly on the board using many colors, annotating over documents or websites.

Google Jamboard includes a stylus & marker for collaborating in the cloud. (img source: https://gsuite.google.com)

Companies that sell conference room audio visual systems provide many different kinds of interactive whiteboards. Take the Google Jamboard for example. This 55" digital whiteboard includes a stylus and marker for collaborating in the cloud, and because the Jamboard is compatible with Google, bringing up a Google Doc is easy. The Microsoft Surface Hub operates much the same way as the Jamboard, but it's built around the Microsoft Office suite of tools. The Cisco Webex Board contains a feature that lets employees collaborate using any smartboard in the office. The Nureva Wall takes an entirely different approach to interactive whiteboarding. Instead hanging a large 55 or 70” display on the wall, the Nureva solution turns any wall into a multi-touch collaboration hub ranging from 7’ to 60’ in width. Discover which interactive whiteboard works best for your conference room and your office setup and invest in it

5. Ensure you have timely and sensitive av repair and support

Your conference room av setup will need regular support and maintenance. Can your in-house IT department handle that? If not, should you add staff members to the team specifically for conference room av support? Or should you expand your contract with a managed services provider? The right answer for you will depend on your company's approach to information technology repair and service.Remember that your standard computer technology team may not include expertise in audio visual conference room equipment. You'll want a specialist who can do installation, maintenance, repairs, upgrades, and training. As with most technology support, it's never wise to assume that an on-demand approach will work. Your office requires a dedicated, knowledgeable team to keep your audiovisual equipment operating smoothly and efficiently.

6. Make scheduling the conference room easy

Your admin staff wants to be sure the right people get the right rooms and the right times. You can help with that by making it easy to schedule the conference room with something better than sign-up sheets, Google Docs, and email. Many software packages let employees schedule the meeting room right from their personal devices.

Scheduling panels mounted outside of your meeting rooms can also make booking meetings simple. By allowing anyone in your organization to see if a room is available or in use, you minimize frustrations associated with employees double booking a room or not being able to find a convenient place to meet. Scheduling panels also display upcoming meetings and open time slots, allowing users to book a meeting on the spot. Find a scheduling panel system that integrates with your organization’s calendar application, allowing users to reserve a room when they create a meeting invite.

7. Train employees in how to use your technology even if it's billed as user friendly

One of the biggest concerns we hear from new clients is that the technology and systems in their meeting rooms are not user-friendly – generally because they are outdated. Because no one in the workplace knows how to use the conference room audio video systems, it does not get used.

Creston Room Scheduling (img source: creston.com)

The good news – most current technology is very user-friendly. You just need an upgrade! We recommend Crestron Room and AMX Room, both control systems with touch panels, which allow users to control everything from conference room video solutions to lights and displays with a simple touch. Also, make sure the systems and technologies you are using play well together – some solutions work best when paired with others, so consult with your conference room AV integrator to minimize future technology glitches. Your integrator will program your new systems with simplicity and usability in mind, ensuring they are virtually foolproof.

While your meeting room technology should be as user-friendly as possible, it is still important to teach your employees how to use the tools you put in place. Train them on how to join a conference call, for instance, and give them hands-on experience with touchscreen solutions. Show them how to work the master touch panel. Offer both large-group and one-on-one sessions, and let people actually touch and use the equipment under supervision before the big day arrives. An hour invested in training now could save you from a ruined meeting later.

The more comfortable and competent your team members feel with the tools you have in place, the more likely they will be to use them – thus ultimately making the dreaded meeting room experience more effective and enjoyable.

8. Enhance content sharing with a Wireless Presentation System

Content from a laptop, tablet, or phone is typically the centerpiece of any meeting whether you connect work teams in a video conference or hold a meeting amongst people located in the building. If designed correctly, most meeting rooms will accommodate either a single or a few HDMI cable connections for your laptop, typically with a flip-top built into the table or at least a plate on the wall.

While the hard cable connection should be a staple of any meeting room, it often poses limitations and challenges. First, only one person at a time can show their screen. Then there is the awkward distraction of passing the cable around to allow someone else to share or of having to switch seats with someone because you are sitting too far from the flip top for the cable to reach. Further, HDMI cables only natively connect to your laptop. If you want to connect a tablet or phone, you’ve got to have a special adapter on hand.

We’ve all become so used to connecting our phones to Bluetooth to hear music or make phone calls, why not expect to do the same to share content? That’s where the wireless presentation system comes in. Wireless presentation systems such as Solstice and Airmedia simplify linking content to the screen. These systems allow everyone in the room to connect their laptop, phone, or tablet using either a downloaded app or the native screen sharing capabilities already built into Windows, MAC, Android, and iOS devices.

Beyond simply removing the limitations, clutter, and distractions caused by passing cables around and looking for adapters, wireless presentation systems can offer a host of enhanced features. For instance, everyone in the room can connect and share their screen, multiple screens can be seen at once, and team members in other locations can also connect and share. Plus, when the room is not in use, the wireless presentation systems can display informational and emergency messages on the screen if necessary.