Category AV Everywhere

Evaluate Your Disaster Collaboration Plan

COVID-19 has highlighted that many of us were ill-prepared for a prolonged global disaster.  Better accustomed to hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters, we had (fortunately) never experienced a crisis like this in our lifetimes. Now that we have had to learn these lessons the hard way, how can we use this knowledge and experience to ensure we are better prepared in the future?

We can all agree that business continuity is the most important aspect in any crisis.  As the world begins to return to “normal”, we should take advantage of this opportunity to evaluate how we have managed the current challenge and think about how we can better prepare ourselves for the next crisis.

When evaluating how well your systems functioned during the crisis, here are a few questions with which to begin:

With many cloud services’ free offers expiring shortly, are you prepared to pay the bill for continued service?  Will this service improve your disaster response in the future, or can alternatives meet this need?

Now is the time to evaluate your options and anticipate how these will assist you in maintaining business continuity in a second wave of lockdowns, or a more traditional disaster.

While most applications have seen a spike in utilization, are there any applications with suspiciously low usage?

This may be pointing out your workforce has developed their own solutions or workarounds for your systems, causing security and intellectual property concerns.

Who are your most crucial users?  Who should belong to Phase 2 or 3?

Rolling out emergency procedures can be time consuming, and you should prioritize when possible to ensure your business continues to be as capable as possible during interruption. While executives are a natural answer, your front-line client support should not be overlooked. New product development, marketing, and even accounting should be considered for lower priority in your disaster collaboration plan.

Are your offices ready to handle users who have increased their adoption of video services?

Social distancing requirements may require a sustained uptick in video meeting adoption as some team members are in the office while others are at home.  Additionally, some employees may be uncomfortable being in an enclosed space with others.  Evaluate your office to include any conference rooms or huddle spaces that could be equipped with video to keep up with increased demand. It is becoming much cheaper to outfit rooms with basic video conferencing and content sharing technology.  Defined corporate standards should provide easy templates to quickly outfit these spaces.

When evaluating your current response and working to refine future plans, there are a few other areas to consider that also impact business continuity:

 

Redundancy and Resilience

Luckily, the world has been moving to many cloud-based platforms in the past few years: between file storage and sharing, cloud video, and shared productivity apps, we are already in a much better place than we would have been even 10 years ago.  However, there are strings attached to that cloud: licensing, security, and the ability for end user devices to access these technologies are all limiting factors. Some areas to ensure you have covered:

  • Securing video meetings against intruders, with a passcode or other method
  • Your device must be secure – but it must also connect to a secure platform. Are the management platforms, manufacturer portals, and individual device logins secure against attack? (For a more in-depth look, listen to our recent webinar with Crestron on AV and cybersecurity.)

 

Enabling Working from Anywhere

In the past, we have joked about working from our backyard hammock, the beach, or a boat.  For these uncommon occurrences, the low-res webcam built into laptops, or those headphones you got with your phone, are perfectly adequate. The recent scramble to acquire webcams, headsets, and other remote work enablement devices has proven the need for quality hardware.  Luckily, these items will not just sit in dusty boxes – they can be utilized in-office as well, improving the user experience and promoting the adoption of video meetings.

Consider purchasing employees basic hardware, such as those provided in AVI-SPL’s work from home bundles, as a hedge against potential second-wave quarantines and future disasters.  AVI-SPL has expanded its offerings to provide solutions specific to COVID-19 office space needs:

  • Temperature checks with the Aurora Temperature Check Tablet
  • Touchless hand sanitizer stations such as the Liberty Cable NOVI-AHS
  • Additional wireless demand will require a more durable network. Consider adding more WAP’s like the Luxul WS-80
  • Improve the videoconferencing experience with webcams, such as the Logitech C925E and audio solutions such as the Yamaha YVC-330
  • Wireless content sharing to enable social distancing while working in a group, using tools like the Barco ClickShare

 

Manage It Remotely

Are there elements of your collaboration technology environment that you cannot manage remotely? How will you handle a situation where a fire, tornado, or other natural disaster compromises your server or office access?  While we have been relatively lucky lately that we can access our offices when required, this will not always be the case.

If you work in a corporate HQ that oversees and supports a company-wide technology environment, how will your satellite offices cope if HQ is gone? 

Is your company planning on equipping multiple smaller offices, rather than one large office, to gain social distancing space?

Once again, a plan for redundancy and resiliency is needed.  Systems such as AVI-SPL Symphony will allow you to monitor and control remote office technologies while enabling remote troubleshooting and meeting monitoring.  This cloud-based application enables you to run a support desk from home and promotes social distancing: minimizing the number of on-site trips required and the number of staff required in-office. 

 

Utilize Your Trusted Advisor

One of the most important life skills – in AV, UCC, or any situation – is to know when we have reached the limits of our knowledge.  Even experts consult with other experts, and it is always a good practice to check in with others to get a second opinion.

AVI-SPL’s teams are at your convenience for that expert opinion. Beyond your account manager or service manager, AVI-SPL’s talented design teams can develop corporate standards that account for increased social distancing, remove touch elements from your conference rooms, and improve the reliability and scalability of your collaboration environment.  Let us know you need help, and we will provide the service and support you require.

How IT/AV Teams Can Answer Common Remote User Questions

Despite all the rapid changes our clients have made to the way they collaborate, and an over 50% increase in daily calls, AVI-SPL support teams have never wavered.  Standing strong (in their remote workstations) to assist end users as well as their usual AV-support department contacts, our support teams are ensuring everyone is capable of collaborating from wherever they are quarantining. 

I checked in with Michael Coleman, AVI-SPL national help desk manager, to see how his team is handling the challenges of being fully remote while teaching users to also be remote. Many of those users may not have routinely engaged video or collaboration technology. Michael gave me the rundown on how questions from users have changed and the best strategies for companies to ensure all their users are collaborating to their full potential. Common questions include:

  • “Which platform is best for video conferencing? I have Skype, and Cisco, and Teams on my computer – which do I use?”
  • “Which platform is best for webinars?”
  • “How do I get my audio to work?”
  • “How do I handle recordings?”
  • And Michael’s favorite – “How do I do that potato thing?”

It’s clear that end users are trying hard to collaborate, but there are some basic questions and guidelines for your IT and AV departments to address to ensure your users are well educated on video collaboration and your chosen flavor of product. This drives user satisfaction and ensures security of communications and corporate files. Let’s take a look again at those FAQ’s and provide some answers.

“What platform is best for video conferencing? I have Skype, and Cisco, and Teams on my computer – which do I use?

UCC/AV management teams can help users by providing a user guide or other clear messaging, such as:

  • Teams is our preferred collaboration platform. We use this application for chat, file sharing, and availability.
  • Pexip is our preferred video meeting application.

The major collaboration providers have made a suite of resources available for end-user training and adoption.  Place these in an easily accessible location so users can begin with self-help and education.  We have created a listing of these resources on our AVI-SPL website. It’s also a good idea to identify platforms that your users may be asked to join in meetings with other companies – and provide basic help documentation – so they can better understand the differences and your corporate preferences.

User experience has a huge impact on the adoption, satisfaction, and usage of collaboration and video conferencing applications.  On the management side, ensuring meetings can be scheduled with one click in Outlook (or your preferred email application) serves to greatly reduce confusion and improves the user experience.

 

“Which platform is best for webinars”

Your preferred collaboration platform may be your preferred solution for webinars, but if you have an alternate solution, be sure to have additional instructions available for this platform, including when it should be used. As dozens of in-person events have moved to digital formats, it’s important to ensure you have a webinar platform that allows in only who have permission, and that its information can’t be grabbed by those not invited. As for which is best — that’s a question with a number of relative answers. A variety of platforms offer different benefits, drawbacks, and cost structures.

 

“How do I get my audio to work?”

The most common problem we’ve seen recently is users who know how to get started but quickly run into frustrating issues that may cause them to revert back to a phone or other less feature-rich methods that reduce the ability to collaborate, not just work. While some users may not understand the need to dial in with their phone when their computer is connected to a meeting, many users are running into poor audio quality due to equipment that was not designed for daily use.

Ensure your end users are equipped with proper technology to achieve a quality collaboration experience. With the variety of distractions that can exist in the home office when spouses, children, and pets are together all day, the basic webcam and microphone included in a computer, or the headphones included with their cell phone, may not cut it for a full work day on a regular basis. AVI-SPL has a variety of work-from-home bundles that can solve this challenge.

 

“How do I handle recordings?”

The answer to this question depends on the underlying recording solution selected by your organization. Many times, a recording may seem to “disappear” after it is completed, making it a challenge for the recording employee to find the file. Or the file may be too large to share easily. Add instructions to your corporate UCC/AV user guide on how to use recording, when to use recording, and how to access files.

 

“How do I do that potato thing?” / “How do I use a virtual background”

Luckily, these questions are very easily addressed. Zoom offers a tutorial. And AVI-SPL published a video walkthrough for Microsoft Teams. Branded corporate images are a great idea for custom backgrounds. Consider building yours today!

If you have any questions about ways to improve support for your users, contact us now or call your local AVI-SPL office

5 Tips for Resolving Conflict During Remote Work

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Are series on working from home offers helpful ideas and resources. Read all Together We Are posts.

As companies and their staff adjust to remote work, one of the areas they have to focus on is remote management of employees, a topic we’ve covered in previous posts. Today, let’s look at ways managers can address evaluations, performance issues, and conflict when their direct reports are working remotely.

Even when the threat of COVID-19 is past us, millions of employees will continue to work from home, at least part time. That means they have to be managed remotely, which can pose a challenge for managers and those they supervise. Workplace conflicts still happen, even when we aren’t sharing an office. Supervisors must still monitor performance and productivity. Under a remote-work scenario, addressing those issues can appear as significant, even frustrating challenges.

Here are a few tips for successfully managing staff when you have to evaluate performance, address issues, and resolve conflicts among employees.

Communicate: Part of being a manager is letting your team members know what is expected of them. By being transparent, you’re establishing a foundation for required levels of behavior, cooperation, and performance among staff. Those expectations will be your reference points when it’s time to review employee performance, respond to feedback, or sort out conflicts among them.  We’ve said it before on this blog: You have to engage with your staff on a frequent, regular basis. Better to have too much communication than too little when you and others are working remotely. It’s easy to fall out of normal communication routines when you don’t see each other in meetings or common areas. By checking in every day or at least multiple times a week, managers let their staff know what is expected of them, where they’re doing well, and which areas need improvement.

On a related note: Being able to check in every day means you and your staff are available to each other. As we explained in this post for managing remote teams, require team members (including yourself) to keep their status icons updated so that others know when they are available to answer questions or have an on-demand chat.

Document the issues: When you communicate issues with an employee, let the call be a discussion where they understand the nature of your performance standard. Explain to them what the issues are, e.g. “You missed two meetings or a call with the customer.” Then you should set forth the improvements that you expect to see within a reasonable time frame. Be clear about your expectations and where they haven’t been met. Some positions will lend themselves to a clearly data-driven analysis: When supervising call center staff or service technicians, you likely have access to analytics for objective evaluation. Other positions are less visible in that aspect, but you’ll still need to reference defined standards.

Resolving conflicts among workers can be more challenging. If someone has a performance issue or a conflict with another employee, it’s ideal to handle those types of issues in person, where all parties are in the same room. However, that’s not always possible during remote work.  The following tips would apply during in-person gatherings and will help you be successful during video calls when dealing with sensitive personnel matters.

Set out ground rules in advance: Passions can run hot when it comes to workplace disagreements and conflicts. And it can be difficult to referee reactions and behavior over a video call. That’s why you need to establish some ground rules. This can be an email you send before the meeting or a quick one-on-one with each person involved in a dispute. Clarify the order in which the parties, including yourself, will speak and make their case.  Make clear that once someone has said explained their version of events, the other party or parties will be given the opportunity to deliver their side of the story.

Gather the facts first: Prior to having a group meeting about a workplace conflict, meet with each person over video and let them share their story in a private conversation. Then when you get to the joint discussion about it, you will have had time to investigate, get input from others, and understand what’s relevant to the discussion and what still needs to be determined.

See and hear everyone: Some social exchanges can get lost on a video call, and an in-person meeting may be preferable when it comes to resolving conflict. But even when these meetings are held over video, the visual cues are still there and the process is mostly the same as the in-person event. Even with those cues being visible, you want to verbalize more than you normally would so that attendees know they are being heard and understood.

One consistent piece of advice you may have heard when it comes to video conferencing: The video part matters less than the audio. Because without good audio, it doesn’t matter who or what you can see. However, because you want to see body language during an evaluation or conflict resolution so that you can anticipate someone’s need to talk — or you just want to see how they’re reacting — you need both aspects to be high quality.

To capture the in-person experience, take into consideration the number of people who are visible at the same time on a video conferencing system. Unified communications solutions like Microsoft Teams allow you to see and hear multiple people at once, so you’ll be nearly as comfortable and effective during those types of interactions as you would be in the same room. You’ll just need to limit your meeting to the number of people who can be seen at one time.

The challenges of remote work can be compounded when you have to deal with difficult and sometimes uncomfortable work-related situations. But these are the realities of the workplace, whether we’re sharing a physical office or connecting from our homes. I hope the tips above help you see that with a high-quality collaboration solution, and by following good practices, you can effectively deal with these challenges.

 

 

 

 

From Stage to Computer Screen: Learning to Teach Virtually

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Can online learning series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

Sean Carter, the services product manager at AVI-SPL, is also a respected instructor in stage combat and teaches a course at the University of Memphis. In this post, Carter explains how he adapted a class intended for in-person learning into one that could be successfully delivered online.

Most days, my experience as an employee at a company providing collaboration technology is pretty separate from my swashbuckling night persona.  Recent events being what they are, these parts of my life have recently collided in a unique manner.

Working at the world’s largest audiovisual and collaboration technology provider, AVI-SPL, I’ve seen firsthand how we are one of the best resources for our clients with the knowledge and education around technology. I’ve used just about every video conferencing platform invented, helped design solutions for clients to bridge gaps between their offices, and even taught my coworkers how to utilize these technologies. 

With this starting point, one might think that I would have a head start when it comes to teaching a class at the University of Memphis that has recently been moved entirely online.  When it comes to the knowledge of how to use the technology, I do.  When it comes to how to move a performance-based class with 90% of the grade being in-person creating and acting together, I was as lost as any other faculty member. 

Ever wondered how actors in movies and in plays sword fight, jump off buildings, or punch each other in the face without actually getting hurt?  Yeah, that’s what I have the privilege to teach.  Stage combat probably isn’t the first class you would think of as possible in an online format.  But with reality hitting hard, I had half a semester left in a class that is BASED in partner work, in-person communication, and a cooperative creative process.  Plus, we were supposed to start learning sword fighting for stage – old-school Errol Flynn/Basil Rathbone swashbuckling –  which everyone, including myself, was disappointed we wouldn’t be doing together.

The week after the University of Memphis campus officially closed was the week my students were supposed to perform their mid-term exam.  It was a fight scene that they choreographed with their partner put to a script from a play, movie, or TV show.  They could use any style of unarmed fighting or knife fighting we had learned up to that point in class, and I had students doing everything from scenes in Les Miserables, to Batman, to Kill Bill, to plays they wrote themselves and hoped to produce.  We found that they couldn’t be performed and, seemingly, the work and they put hours into both in and out of class would go to waste.

I knew that my class at this point was going to be as much a collaborative effort between myself and my students as much as it would be between themselves.  So, we did what we could and set up a call to talk it out.  I wanted to make sure my students still learned something of value through the semester and my curriculum didn’t degenerate into busy work.  After making sure everyone had the technical capabilities to do class over video, and making sure that they could take the time out of caring for family we moved forward with…virtual sword fighting!

My students found everything from broom sticks, to Swiffers, to pool noodles and we had a swashbuckling class over Zoom (check out the picture – my students were very excited).  I cleared my living room and through the sheer willingness to adapt, learn something new, and have a little fun, we have been able to effectively have a very excellent class thus far.  I can teach, talk to, and see all my students at once as I explain moves, combinations, technique, and safety practices.  We can have meaningful and engaging discussions and continue an education that will flow right into the next time we get to meet in person again.

Overall, we found that with a little extra effort, some imagination, and a willingness to learn and change on all sides, we were able to continue what we started in a meaningful way.  So to everyone out there whether you are a teacher or not, realize that you can’t take the years of experience and excellence and expect that to translate into a different medium in 45 days.  But what we can do, collectively, is decide to stop reacting and start acting.  Stop saying the situation stinks and do something about it in the little bubble you can control.  Make the best of what you do and who you do it with and rock it – do it with 10 times more than you would in person because it’s needed now more than ever.