Hybrid Work Meetings Are Hell. Tech Is Trying to Fix Them.
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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, 2022 10:35amGrey 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.



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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

By DEMETRIA GALLEGOS
Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).

Postmortem

People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.

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