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How to give remote users a seat at the meeting table: Part 1 – Meeting Room Audio

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How to give remote users a seat at the meeting table:

Part 1 – Meeting Room Audio

In 2023 companies are actively pushing staff to return to the office. Even Zoom! But there will always be a need for remote participants to join video conference meetings. Customers are the obvious example. And there will invariably be colleagues who are unable or choose not to come to the office every day. 

Many organisations have recognised that existing meeting rooms are not adequately equipped and that they need more workspaces with appropriate AV installations to suit the use/s of those spaces. However, almost without exception, companies are not actively talking to us about the remote user experience. But it really matters and new technology and a professional AV Integrator can help you bring remote users into the room. 

In this two-part blog we look at the considerations you need to make and the technology and solutions available to help you provide better meeting equity. To skip to part 2 of this blog, click here.

Meeting Room Audio first – hearing and being heard from afar

When the term audio visual is mentioned people tend to think more about the visual aspect than audio. Remote users can cope with sub-standard video but will quickly disengage if the audio is bad. The importance of meeting room audio is clearly demonstrated by this excellent exemplar video by microphone manufacturer Lewitt.

Room acoustics

Before you invest in any AV equipment you need to assess the room/s you need to equip. Glass, hard surfaces and open ceilings are on trend for office interior design, but they are the enemy of good audio. The “medium crappy audio” at 1:50 in the video above is a typical experience for a remote meeting participant dialling in to such a room. And it does not matter how much you spend on the best AV kit; the meeting experience will still be poor.

Simple things like rugs, soft seating and furnishings really help, but in some cases, it may be worth investing in an acoustic survey. The results of the survey will help you decide what remedial action to take. And the good news is that today there are some elegant treatments available, as shown below by the acoustic lamp shades installed in Motorway’s boardroom.

MVS offers acoustic surveys and treatments as part of its overall AV service.

How modern meeting room audio technology helps remote meeting hear and be heard:

In a traditional meeting in a physical meeting room there have always been challenges that affect participants being able to hear what is being discussed. Many speakers like to roam. Some people speak very quietly. Distractions such as people leaving and entering the room, the tapping of laptop keyboards or noise outside of the room. All these things are exacerbated for meeting participants joining remotely. The good news is that meeting room audio technology is out there to address these common issues. 

Beamforming

This helps microphones focus on the person speaking and where they are in the room. And if they move around (and we all know people that like to roam!), their voice is picked up by the nearest mic to ensure they are always clearly heard.

High-quality microphones also feature internal digital signal processing (DSP) to distinguish our voices from remote voices and background noise. Microphones with built-in DSP improve the overall conferencing experience.

Dynamic / Dedicated / Muted coverage areas:  

Meeting rooms are often dynamic spaces.  People are entering and leaving; audience members may be talking among themselves.  In contemporary offices, the meeting space may be open to the rest of the work area, and the random noise of talking or general activity in adjacent areas can drift into the meeting space.  While this noise might be barely perceptible to people in the room, it can be distracting and intrusive for remote participants if it is picked up by the microphones.  

In this brief video by Shure, you will see how microphone technology can be used in different scenarios:

Don’t forget to make sure the remote meeting participant can also be heard 

As a remote user it is great to be able to hear, but to be able to fully contribute you need to be heard. So, you need to have superior quality loudspeakers installed to suit your meeting rooms. But that will not make much difference if you are talking into an old laptop mic. So do not forget to equip your remote workers with a high-quality headset and / or home office microphone. 

And to improve the engagement of in-room participants with remote workers there has been a recent shift in the standard way of working and for a standard meeting room setup there is now a preference for “Front-of-House” speakers by the display over ceiling speakers in most cases. The reason for this shift is that by aligning video and sound from the same direction, the far-end participant sees more eye contact from teh room and feels more like another voice in the room, rather than a disembodied voice-of-god bearing down from ceiling speakers.

So, we have highlighted some technology that make the remote meeting participant’s audio experience better, but where do you start? 

Considerations for your audio project 

As demonstrated by the Lewitt video, if your meeting room audio is poor your remote users can quickly become disengaged. Good audio is non-negotiable. However, whilst we are focusing on the forgotten remote participant, this also applies to the in-room participants. There is some awesome technology out there, and even all-in-one videobars have features such as Noise-Cancelling AI and Acoustic Fencing, but out-of-the-box is not always suitable for a meeting room.  

Size, shape, construction and the use/s of your meeting spaces all have a bearing on which mics and loudspeakers you purchase, how many you need and where to install them – table, walls or ceiling.  

To ensure that your meeting rooms have the right audio set up requires the skills and knowledge of people for whom this is their day job. So, we always recommend employing the services of an expert AV Integrator. 

Speak to an expert  

MVS Audio Visual is a commercial AV Integrator with a passion for anything audio visual. If you need our expertise to help with an issue you are facing with your current AV set up, or with a new AV project we would love to help.  

Contact us today

Continue on to read part 2 of this blog.

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