Kanebridge News
Share Button

Hybrid Work Meetings Are Hell. Tech Is Trying to Fix Them.

Colleagues in the conference room. Others in the living room. Hybrid work made meetings even worse. Now Microsoft, Google, Zoom and others are trying to fix it,

By Joanna Stern
Thu, Jun 16, 2022Grey Clock 4 min

To the people I just had a very important meeting with:

I tried to take you all seriously. I really did. Except since I’m at home, watching you all crowded into a conference room, the effect was more like toy figures sitting around Polly Pocket’s kitchen table. I spent most of the time imagining picking you up with tweezers then zipping you into my change purse.

Please don’t call HR.

Best,

Me

Welcome to the hell of the hybrid meeting. Throw in the related side effects—office-people often ignoring the video-call people and that guy who always forgets to mute—and you’re left longing for the simpler times of toilet-paper shortages, double-masking and all-day Zoom.

The solution? Ask Elon Musk and it’s butts-in-seats for all. Employees of SpaceX and Tesla are expected to spend at least 40 hours in company offices. Yet the hybrid model has emerged as the leading choice for many companies, with 42% of people with remote-capable jobs working partly at home and 39% working entirely from home, according to a February 2022 Gallup poll.

The more likely solution? Tech features that help us adapt to this new new normal—just like they helped us adapt to the old new normal. Microsoft, Google, Zoom and others have some of their finest working to fix the greatest problem of our time: How we meet to talk about work stuff.

The solutions below won’t fix everything. But there are big developments coming, along with creative—and some free—options you can start trying with your colleagues right now.

Solution 1: BYO Laptop

The primary rule of hybrid meetings: Create equity among attendees—or, you know, don’t make your people go all Hunger Games. How to do that? With laptops, of course.

“Making laptops a required tool for all participants in a hybrid meeting helps level the playing field,” Angela Henderson, a meetings expert at Decisions, a startup that makes meeting management software, told me.

If people in the conference room turn on their laptop webcams, the people at home can see everybody’s face framed individually like during Covid times. This is better than some impersonal, drone-like conference-room view, especially when people in that room are talking. Microsoft, Google and other companies have started encouraging their employees to do this.

Of course, all those laptops on the same video call in the same room will create more ear-piercing feedback than a Kiss concert sound check. Avoid that by joining the call from your conference room’s audio/video system, then get everyone on laptops to mute their mics and kill their speaker volume before signing into the meeting.

If you use Microsoft Teams or Google Meet, you can log into the meeting from the conference room using a companion setting. (Google’s version is Companion Mode, Microsoft’s is Companion Device Experience.) Both automatically cut off your laptop’s mic and speakers while allowing you to turn on your webcam and access other virtual tools, including screen sharing, group chats and hand raising.

To make things feel more fair, Teams can line up people at home on the conference-room screen at eye level with a setting called Front Row.

Solution 2: Camera-Crazed Conference Rooms

The trouble with using your laptop’s webcam in the conference room is you don’t know where to look. At the webcam? At your colleague across the table, which gives everyone at home a nice view of your nostrils? At the wall?

“Conference rooms need to be rethought as hybrid spaces,” Greg Baribault, group program manager on Microsoft Teams, told me. And new systems combine updated conference-room camera technology with software from the most popular video-calling platforms, including Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams.

For example, Microsoft Teams works with other camera systems, such as Logitech’s Rally Bar. Instead of that drone-like view, the systems use artificial intelligence to isolate the people speaking and show them on screen as if they were individual participants in the meeting. No laptop webcam needed.

Zoom’s Smart Gallery works similarly. On supported cameras, it can create individual video feeds of each person in the room, and will even pan as people move. Yep, Google’s Meet works with similar conference-room offerings, too.

Now, if I’m the CEO, I’m thinking: “Uh uh. Nope. Have you seen this record inflation?” Yet the cost of conference-room A/V equipment is coming down.

Five years ago it could “cost you $20,000 to $50,000 and take three days” to redo a conference room with equipment, Logitech Chief Executive Bracken Darrell told me. Now it takes less than an hour to set up these newer, sub-$5,000 cameras, he said.

Solution 3: Metaverse Meetings

Or maybe, just maybe, the solution is completely virtual conference rooms. You know, we sit around virtual tables, our virtual legless avatars sipping virtual coffees.

Yes, I’ve attended metaverse meetings. I’ve put on a Meta Quest 2 headset and launched Meta’s Horizon Workrooms app, only to find my editor as an avatar resembling Milhouse from “The Simpsons,” cursing the tech. And I still have no idea what’s up with the virtual deer head on the wall!

Meeting in VR right now is a mess of uncomfortable headsets, flaky apps and real-world physical obstacles. But there is potential. Once we got the tech issues straightened out in that meeting with my editor, we had a lively and engaging conversation where it felt like I was really sitting across from him. (Too bad I’ll have to bribe him with non-virtual sushi to ever do it again.)

When hopping into a metaverse meeting is as easy as hopping into a Zoom call or Google Meet today, and my ears don’t feel like they have been crushed under the weight of a nerd helmet, then, sure, have your avatar call my avatar!

But in the real-verse, I have found the most promising solution of all: “There’s no better way to combat issues with hybrid meetings than to just not have as many of them to begin with,” Ms. Henderson said.

Precisely! So everyone step away from the laptop and ask yourselves: Could this meeting I’m about to schedule be an email? A Slack? A phone call? A text? Or a GIF of an angry Milhouse from “The Simpsons”?

 

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: June 15, 2022.

MOST POPULAR

Interior designer Thomas Hamel on where it goes wrong in so many homes.

Following the devastation of recent flooding, experts are urging government intervention to drive the cessation of building in areas at risk.

Related Stories

30 metres of water frontage across a 1733sqm block.

By Kanebridge News
Fri, Jun 24, 2022 < 1 min

With views up the coastline to the NSW central coast comes this magnificent double oceanfront block — a rare setting for the ultimate family holiday retreat.

Boasting level lawns that spill down to 30-metre of ocean frontage, the 1733sqm plot plays host to a three-level 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom, 2-car garage home in one of Whale Beach’s most tightly held cul-de-sacs.

A contemporary masterclass in style, the home showcases free-flowing spaces with glass-wrapped interiors in a layout that accommodates family and friends.

Within the main living spaces comes a state-of-the-art kitchen with Calacatta marble and stainless-steel benchtops accompanied by a full suite of Gaggenau appliances and a separate walk-in cool room.

Other living zones found on the ground level include a games room and sun-drenched terrace with its own Miele appointed kitchen.

Outside sees a 15-metre resort style pool to soak up the sun and watery views, while the poolside studio is fully self-contained and perfect for extra weekend guests.

Accommodation is comprised of three luxurious ensuite bedrooms — of which several open directly to the terraces. The master bedroom has access to the home office, large walk-in-robe and cellar or store room.

Further luxurious additions to the home include a gym, jacuzzi, pizza oven, BBQ and Ecosmart fireplace.

The listing is with LJ Hooker Palm Beach’s David Edwards 0415 440 044 with the POA. palmbeach.ljhooker.com.au

It comes as falling volumes and declining prices reflected a weakness likely to continue in the established homes market.

By Kanebridge News
Wed, Jun 22, 2022 < 1 min

The nation’s housing sales fell by $8 billion in the three months to March when compared to the previous quarter according to data provider CoreLogic’s quarterly Pain & Gain report.

It comes as falling volumes and declining prices reflected a weakness likely to continue in the established homes market.

The fall in nominal profits from $38 billion in December echoed the decline in loss-making sales to $261 million from $355 million. Declines in housing values only kicked in after the March quarter, with the extent of loss-making sales predicted to increase.

CoreLogic’s analysis of 106,000 establish home sales in the March quarter showed the proportion of profit-making sales fell to 92.7% from the December quarter’s 94% peak figure.

The March quarter saw the first time profitable housing sales fell in a year and a half — unit profitability declining faster than houses.

The pandemic was the last cause of such a decline, in the three months to August 2020.

The major markets of Sydney and Melbourne are the cities most at risk due to higher interest rates, and therefore made the biggest contribution to loss-making sales over the quarter — the rate of unprofitable sales in both cities rising to 4.8%.

 Hobart was the city with the highest proportion of profit-making sales for the 15th straight quarter. Just 1 per cent of the Tasmanian capital’s sales made a loss in the March quarter, down from 1.6 per cent in December. 

Further the report fleshes out the different pace of growth between houses and apartments that has made units more affordable into the March quarter. Between the onset of Covid-19 in March 20202 and this year’s March quarter, combined capital city house values rose 25.8% compared to units at 10.6%.

As part of the NSW government’s budget, changes have been made to the tax.

By Kanebridge News
Tue, Jun 21, 2022 2 min

NSW first home buyers will be given the choice to pay stamp duty or an annual land tax under a major reform by the Perrottet government in a test to move away from transfer duties.

In Dominic Perrottet’s first budget as the NSW premier, he has proposed an overhaul of property and housing taxes.

Under the new $730 million property tax plan — that sits at the core of the NSW Budget — first home buyers will have the option of paying the upfront cost of stamp duty, or an annual property tax payment of $400 plus 0.3% of the land value of the property. It will be available on homes valued at less than $1.5 million.

Ahead of the budget, Mr Perrottet said the initiative is aimed at aiding first-home buyers get into the market.

“We want to lower the barriers to owning a home for first home buyers seeking a place of their own,” Mr Perrottet said. “In the past two decades, the share of first home buyers under 35 years of age has declined from 67 per cent to 61 per cent.”

The scheme put forward by the Liberal state government is the second of its kind in the country, with the ACT halfway through a 20-year transition away from stamp duty. There, once a buyer accepts the land tax option it is permanently removed from the stamp duty system.

The NSW model will differ from the ACT scheme in that homes can revert to stamp duty once they are sold to a new owner.

Legislation for the new plan will be introduced into parliament in the second half of the yar, with eligible first home buyers to apply to opt into the program from January 16 in 2023. Any home buyers who purchase in between the laws being passed and the program coming into effect will be able to have their stamp duty payments refunded.