Since the beginning of lockdown everyone is moving to video conferencing … for meetings, study and religious services to staying in touch with family and friends we can no longer physically gather with or travel to see.
However much of a ‘life saver’ this technology has proved to be during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is still not the same as face to face interactions and can often feel very isolating. All of our senses are engaged in creating an experience; sight, sound, taste and even smell all play a part. A laptop, tablet or phone meeting cannot replace the loss of physical contact from a handshake or a hug. It dampens down the sensory stimuli; it’s much more difficult to pick up on body language, it has a reduced audio capacity so vocal inflections are lost and olfaction is limited to where we are calling from. The experience is better than nothing, but nowhere near the same as meeting in person.
That being said, moving forward I believe video conferencing is here to stay. As we tentatively emerge from our current state of global lockdown, due to medical, travel, eco, financial or other reasons, there will always be someone who is ‘not in the room’ for most if not all future meetings and events.
The challenge for Hospitality venues is how can you add value to the video conferencing experience. How can you connect people to people in a better way than a Zoom call from their spare bedroom? How can you make meetings and event experiences memorable for all the right reasons, whilst still in at least the short term observing social distancing and addressing remote workers and often disparate teams?
Once business starts coming back into your hotels, what shape will it take and what will you need to offer to support and attract it?
Will it be that every meeting and events space will always need the ability to support video conferencing to ensure that remote workers or people who cannot travel can always be included?
Do we need to offer dedicated Video Conferencing suites that offer a more immersive experience for that important call that really cannot be done at home from a home Internet connection, or which needs six people from the local distributed team, socially distanced yet on the same call to a key international client?
Some of how we address this is sensory.
Make the video call feel more personal through creating a more immersive experience. By offering video conference spaces that are non-reverberant and fitted with high-quality microphones, speakers and cameras, you can help to ensure that callers can pick up on body language and vocal nuances that give real meaning to conversations.
Whilst some of the sound quality is reduced in the internet part of a conference call, much of it is lost due to the relatively low quality of laptop speakers and microphones. With the correct microphones and digital processing, groups of people on video calls can be heard much more clearly, and background noise can be reduced or even eliminated. A video call from a standard laptop can have a greatly enhanced audio on a call by using good quality wireless microphones or by installing quality in-room ceiling or desk-mounted microphones and speakers along with the correct interfaces.
Similarly, laptop cameras are relatively fixed and often give us a better idea of our colleague’s interior decor than their body language and demeanour. As with sound quality, cameras can be used in a room to allow for a better image of the caller or a group of callers and will have the additional benefit of being able to zoom in and out on a key presenter or product being demonstrated and discussed.
In addition to sensory improvements, hygiene also needs to be considered.
Did you know that you can use your large screen with your BYOD as a white board? Although this can operate with or as a touch screen for direct interaction, to prevent having to touch the same surface as others you can annotate on the main screen using your ipad and an app. Each delegate is able to draw on the screen from the comfort of their own chair and device, reducing the need to move around or cross-contaminate surfaces. Also all installed CGA touch screens in meeting and function rooms have a ‘screen clean’ function. This gives a time when the touch screen can be cleaned without changing any settings.
Or will video conferencing for business meetings continue to be done from home and will the Hospitality industry be offering spaces for remote and disparate workers to come together every so many weeks to bond as a team, to get real physical interaction and to socialise, albeit with social distancing?
Rather than ‘dress down Friday’ we might have ‘in-person’ Friday or ‘in the room’ Friday where people come together as a team in one space and the functionality of that space need not be a meeting room but this needs to be a social, bonding and entertainment space, now that work is at home and for some this will be their new escape.
Even so, there will still be some people who will be unable to attend these kinds of ‘gatherings’ which again raises the need for high spec, hygienic video conferencing in your venues. Maybe video conferencing really is the saviour of meetings after all …