Category AVI-SPL

Leverage Video Meetings to Lead Your Team Remotely Through Disruption

For organizations of all types — schools, businesses, government agencies — and millions around the world, the COVID-19 outbreak has seriously disrupted the way we work. Even if your company or institution had already embraced video collaboration among team members, you may not have used it to the extent you have to now. 

AVI-SPL wants to help by giving you the guidance you need to stay connected with each other and be as productive as you can during this difficult time.

That’s why we’ve launched our Together We Can initiative, in which we share tips, advice, and resources for reinforcing our connections, building new communities, and maintaining business continuity. This blog is the hub for much of that content, and the most recent resources are at the top of this list:

Bookmark the Together We Can page so that you will always have the latest tools, tips, and outside-the-box ideas for keeping your teams engaged and productive.

Leaders always juggle a myriad of responsibilities, priorities, and challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified these commitments almost beyond comprehension. Protecting the bottom line. Driving revenue. Security. Maintaining culture. The well-being and safety of employees. Transitioning overnight to remote work models. The list goes on. Thankfully, the modern workplace was ready to embrace full-time remote work.

Use video conferencing to manage disruption and maintain productivity

As the business climate changes on what seems to be a daily basis, leaders at every level face continuous decisions, each as critical as the next. The natural inclination for many is to retreat into the work itself. But this is the exact moment when employees need to see and hear from leaders. And this is the moment when leaders can show up, speak up, and help employees navigate this challenging time.

There is good news amidst all of these challenges. We have video conferencing. While the days of water-cooler chats, in-person town halls, the impromptu office drop-by, and casual lunch meetings are gone for the near future, virtual communication has never been easier, even for businesses that weren’t initially set up for remote work. Leaders can continue to have face time with their teams, whether in large virtual town hall scenarios, all-hands video meetings, or more personal one-to-one touchpoints over Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Webex, and other applications.

Communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more

The cadence and method of communicating and collaborating with employees are important. It needs to be more than a one-and-done task. Establish specific work-from-home routines and distribution platforms for executives. Set expectations for weekly communications from senior leaders and cascade daily communication responsibilities down through your organization and across cross-functional teams. It’s also important to carve out regular one-on-one virtual meeting time with your employees to check in and see how they are doing. Doing that from home has never been easier thanks to simple yet robust meeting and team collaboration tools.

Tailor your message for your remote workforce

Executives and senior leaders should share your organization’s strategy for navigating through these changes, as best you can. Emphasize priorities and how you’re going to meet those priorities. Be clear, confident, and realistic. And be real and transparent; employees need to feel like you have things under control.

By reaching out frequently and using video as a way to connect, your leadership and visibility can lead to a more engaged workforce who is better able to handle the new working conditions while also balancing the stressors of the “new norm.” Now is one of the most important leadership moments of your career.

Your team needs to see you. They need to see each other. Video conference calls, emails, and texts are great ways to communicate under normal circumstances. These formats can now supplement virtual communications to reinforce key messages during this time of crisis.

But the sense of togetherness and humanity is vital, and video conferencing with platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Hangouts makes this possible. It’s the closest thing we have to a sense of normalcy – a face-to-face way to collaborate, brainstorm, coordinate, give and receive feedback – and also to smile, laugh, and even commiserate and share frustration. We can get your team set up and running. This resource guide has a library of tips and an online shop of tools essential in the new work from home paradigm,

Lead by example

The more your employees see you adapting to the remote model and utilizing video platforms to meet, communicate, and get work done in different ways, the more likely they are to do the same. Even if you or some of your employees are still in the office, start adopting video technology as your primary meeting platform to increase confidence, usage, and experience. Be sure to use your laptop camera or webcam so your team can see and connect with you during virtual meetings.

How you show up matters – use the right online tools and devices

When everything seems like chaos around you, it’s easy to let appearances slip. But it’s still critical to portray a sense of professionalism and calm and position yourself to look your best. Your team needs to see that sense of normalcy from you. Are you set up to do this? Headsets, proper lighting, professional attire, and limited background noise all help keep video meetings productive.

Make sure your employees are set up for success too – do they have what they need to be effective and efficient from their home office with tools like desktop monitors, noise-canceling microphones, and speakers? This is not just an investment for now, these are all items that can be used when everyone is finally back in the office and able to travel again. We’ve set up this online shop with shortcuts to the best work from home tools.

Humanizing the virtual world

Of course, we’re all living and working under new circumstances, and it’s okay for employees to get a glimpse of your “life behind the curtain.” It makes you more human and relatable. So if the dog barks, there’s a burst of laughter from another room, or your video suddenly crashes, make light of it and move on. In fact, sharing work-from-home “bloopers” can become a great ice breaker when kicking off your meeting.

With visible leaders communicating face-to-face every step of the way, organizations can get through this time, and carry these best practices forward. Together we can. And together we will.  

 

How to Manage Your Remote Teams

For organizations of all types — schools, businesses, government agencies — and millions around the world, the COVID-19 outbreak has seriously disrupted the way we work. Even if your company or institution had already embraced video collaboration among team members, you may not have used it to the extent you have to now. 

AVI-SPL wants to help by giving you the guidance you need to stay connected with each other and be as productive as you can during this difficult time.

That’s why we’ve launched our Together We Can initiative, in which we share tips, advice, and resources for reinforcing our connections, building new communities, and maintaining business continuity. This blog is the hub for much of that content, and the most recent resources are at the top of this list:

I strongly encourage you to bookmark the Together We Can page so that you will always have the latest tools, tips, and outside-the-box ideas for keeping your teams engaged and productive.

How to Manage Remote Teams

With so many of us still working from home full time for at least the next few weeks, we talked to Daniel Rogers, AVI-SPL VP of global channels, for his advice on how he manages remote employees. Here’s what he has to offer to help with your challenges at this time:Daniel Rogers, VP of global channels, AVI-SPL

The ability to collaborate in real time when working remotely allows for a feeling of being connected with your coworkers, partners, and customers. This is vitally important. Remote workers need to feel connected to their company and their coworkers, and tools for instant messaging and video (e.g. Microsoft Teams) are key in helping achieve this.

I personally manage a global team based in three different continents, and the use of video and collaboration services makes me feel aligned and connected with all my team members, as well as with our customers and partners. The ability to share and present content in real time makes for valuable and more meaningful internal and external meetings.

In our team, we operate a mutual open-door policy, where the green light denotes you are available to answer a question or share a thought — as you would when you walk to someone’s desk to speak with them if you were working in the office. I also encourage everyone on the team, no matter their geographic location, to connect with each other as well as myself in order for them to feel that connection and still have those virtual water-cooler conversations.

In some cases I could speak to a member of the team every day if the situation or opportunity needs that level of focus: e.g. when working on a major project or RFP. This is not a micro-management process; it is simply utilization of the tools to collaborate and work in real time as you would if you were in a physical office environment.

We have a scheduled weekly team call on video, where all members from around the world join and share their weekly updates on projects, opportunities, etc. It’s also where I share an update from the company/management level. I am confident the team gets a great deal out of these sessions as this is an opportunity to share updates that are relevant to all members.

We also have monthly 1:1 sessions and quarterly business review sessions, all of which are scheduled and planned for the full year ahead.

It is different managing people who work remotely as it takes a certain discipline to work away from an office environment. Everyone must treat it with the same level of discipline and professionalism you would exhibit if you were in the office, where you practice good time management and present a professional appearance and working environment. Maintain the same levels of professional conduct as you would in any meeting. Once you have established routines, standards, and trust, then managing people becomes straightforward. Great productivity and results can be achieved.

Get expert advice on managing your remote teams

AVI-SPL is here to help you find the collaboration tools that will keep your team connected and productive. These efforts are paramount during the coronavirus, but they will be just as important as we get back to our workplaces and incorporate a liberating way of working into our daily routines. As businesses, schools, and government agencies get back into the swing of running at full capacity, you want your organization to have the resources that make that process as efficient and effective as possible.

Our mission is to provide the tools, experience, and support you need to connect teams between the offices and remote locations. Because when your talented individuals work together, you can reach your business outcomes. If you need assistance launching or upgrading your digital workplace collaboration tools, contact us now or find your local AVI-SPL office.

Online Learning Best Practices for Students

While teachers are scrambling to get remote classes up and running in the wake of coronavirus, your students are facing work-at-home challenges too. Once your staff is prepared to teach classes online, you can help your students be ready for online learning as well.

Pass on these best practices to teachers to share with their students. Use our social buttons at the end of the article to easily share these distance learning best practices for students via social or email.

Find a quiet place for online classes

Try to find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted. Ensure you have good lighting and wear headphones to help you focus on the online session.

Share your virtual class schedule

Speaking of quiet areas, work out a schedule with your family or roommates for class time. Young children may be home from school, and many parents are working remotely from the house too. Limit distractions as much as possible by planning your class time with everyone at home.

You may be sharing internet bandwidth as well. Let your housemates know when you need to attend class online. Ask others to limit streaming apps and large downloads while you’re attending class. It’s a tough ask while we’re all working and studying from home — we know!

Test your system

When you’re invited to an online session, the email usually includes a link to test your computer, tablet, or phone to ensure the video conferencing solution will work. Don’t forget to check your device the day before class, so you’ll have time to address any technical issues. It’s helpful to ensure you can log on to sessions using a mobile data connection, in case your Internet service is slow or interrupted.

Also, most video conferencing systems have chat and Q&A options. Ask your class leader ahead of time which option to use to submit questions and comments. Look for more information from your school or watch instructional videos like this one from Zoom.

Also, if you use any online accessibility tools for visual or hearing impairments, test that those work with your online class platform too. Ask your teacher to set up a test session if needed.

Complete assignments and download materials before class

Get familiar with the material and complete any assigned reading so you can follow along during the lesson and ask questions. Let your teacher know if you had any issues accessing materials.

Mute your cell phone during class

Turn off your ringer and vibrate function to avoid the temptation to pick up your mobile phone. Remember to pause all text and app notifications to limit distractions. Better yet, turn your phone off unless you’re using it to attend class.

Mute the mic on your device

Mute your device microphone when not speaking during a video conferencing class. Muting the mic will limit the noise others will hear. Make sure you know how to mute your microphone before class begins.

Remember it’s a real class

Keep in mind this is a real class, and you will be graded. Pay attention to the lectures, and do your assignments. Finally, deadlines are still deadlines. Complete your work on time and respect your fellow students’ and educators’ time during online classes.

Check out these additional Top Tips For Student Success in Online Courses shared by Nova Southeastern University.

The AVI-SPL team is ready to help you

We hope your students put these online learning best practices to effective use. The AVI-SPL team is here to help if you need assistance setting up your distance learning technology. Contact us now or call your local AVI-SPL office.

Online Learning Best Practices for Educators

At AVI-SPL, we understand that the coronavirus outbreak is stressing your online learning systems, administrators, educators, and students. The educational system changed in a heartbeat. We’re here to help you fulfill your goal of delivering quality education to all students in these uncertain times.

Some educators may teach occasional online classes, while others are completely unfamiliar with teaching remotely. You can help make the transition to full-time remote teaching and learning easier by sharing our online learning best practices with your teachers. You’ll find our social share buttons at the end of the article.

Get to know your distance learning tech

It’s helpful to do a trial session before you deliver a live online class. Your organization may use a Learning Management System (LMS) or video conferencing platform to provide virtual classes. To get to know your system, rehearse a short session and record it. That way, you’ll be familiar with the tools you’ll need to deliver your class.

Test how to switch from the camera to sharing tools like screen sharing and interactive whiteboards. Here are some resources to get started with common platforms:

Get comfortable teaching higher ed classes online

If you’re new to teaching online classes, take time to get comfortable in front of the camera. Rehearse a short session and record it. Watching the recording can help you gauge the best distance to stand from the camera. Aim to get a “medium close-up” shot that shows you from the waist up.

You’ll also be able to tell if you have adequate lighting. You may need to move around the room, close shades, or bring an extra lamp into the space. Avoid standing in front of windows with bright light behind you, or you’ll show up in silhouette. If you’re at home, be mindful of what’s showing in the video behind you. Move any personal items such as family photos that you prefer not to share.

Consider that the camera represents your remote students. Make occasional eye contact with your students by looking at the camera while you’re speaking.

Keep remote college students engaged with video

Keep remote students engaged by breaking up distance learning sessions by sharing video. If your organization does not have enough video to use, check into free resources.  In response to coronavirus, TEDEd has launched TEDx@home, a daily newsletter that offers lessons for all ages, including university-level lessons with video. TedEd also provides online videos grouped into themes, like this video package on visualizing data.

Don’t forget YouTube can be a video resource too. A few channels with educational content to check out include National Geographic and NASA.

Ensure online lessons are accessible

Students with impaired vision or hearing may have tools that make working online easier for them. You can also help by designing online class materials that are accessible to everyone.

  • Verify that attendees can hear the sound in any videos that you play online. If closed captions are available, turn them on.
  • If you’re using PowerPoint slides, use the accessibility checker under the Review menu on the ribbon.
  • Provide handouts in formats that are compatible with screen readers. Microsoft Word files with text should not be a problem. Machines can read PDFs if they are created with accessibility in mind. Adobe offers a tool to create PDFs and verify accessibility.

Connect with students before, during, and after class

To help your students stay connected and prepared for class, send out session topics the week prior. Include information on how to log on to class sessions. Ensure students know where and how to get class materials like downloads and videos. Provide passwords to access materials if needed.

For live classes, remind students how to submit questions during the conference.  Take time to answer your students to help keep them engaged with your online class. During the class, have an assistant or student volunteer keep an eye on chat and Q&A windows if possible. That way, you can focus on delivering the lecture without missing any questions.

After class, follow up with an email asking for feedback on the session. Ask if everyone was able to connect to the video conference and follow along. Since students can’t see you in person, hold virtual office hours too. Try a tool like Calendly to allow students to make their own appointments during available time slots.

We hope your teachers find these distance learning best practices useful in delivering quality online education. Also, if you need to build or upgrade your online learning technology, your organization may qualify to shop for solutions using our national procurement contacts. Watch the video for more info.

AVI-SPL is here to help

If you have questions, we’re here to help. For assistance with upgrading up your distance learning technology, contact us now or call your local AVI-SPL office.

Microsoft Teams and Surface Hub 2S: Collaboration Tools for Today and Tomorrow

Today, nearly five million people in the U.S. are working remotely. Well before the coronavirus disrupted work as we know it, we were being told that remote work was an essential part of doing our jobs and that remote workers would dominate the workforce. The proliferation of remote work articles popping up in the wake of COVID-19 have made this an even more salient feature of our work lives. Millions of people around the world have had to adjust to a new way of working — a way that requires them to be at home but perform as if they were in the office. 

One of the tools getting high-profile coverage is Microsoft Teams. Whether I’m in the office or working from home, I use Teams many times a day. It’s how colleagues chat me up with ideas and suggestions. It’s how I share editable documents that a specific work group can view and edit. It’s where I can scroll through a conversation to refresh my memory about where we left off a certain project or deliverable. And it’s where I attend video meetings with colleagues to brainstorm, share ideas, and get work done in real time. Let’s look in greater detail at how Microsoft Teams helps me — and can help you — work from home and anywhere else.

How to Work Remotely With Microsoft Teams

For the past couple of weeks, Microsoft Teams has taken on more prominence and importance as my colleagues and I work outside the office. Working remotely doesn’t have much meaning or benefit unless we’re being productive. And Microsoft Teams is supporting that productivity. Since so much of the work we produce is the result of collaboration, it’s easy to see why Microsoft calls Teams its “hub for teamwork.” You could click a link and see the kind of features and capabilities it offers. But for me — I hope for you as well — the best way to share what Microsoft Teams can do is to speak from experience.

Like you, I work on a lot of projects that involve collaboration with a wide range of colleagues. Within Microsoft Teams, I can create (or be added to) a group that is named for a particular project. For example, we formed one project to gather content for our forthcoming podcast. Within these dedicated virtual spaces, we can add files that anyone can edit and download. We also added a section for conversation topics. To those topics we can attach our names and notes so that we know who has responsibility for recruiting guests and scheduling their appearances. It’s a great way for me to remind myself what I’ve done, still have to do, and my deadline. 

Another great reminder is the Posts tab, which includes the typed chats we’ve had about a topic. I frequently reference these conversations if I need to refresh my memory about what was discussed so that I know to work on a task or follow up with someone about theirs. This persistent chat is visual proof of our brainstorming, questions we’ve asked and answered, and announcements we’ve made to each other.

And speaking of visuals: It’s easy to jump into a video call with anyone in my contact list, which includes everyone in the company and anyone that I add. Once in a call, I’m two clicks away from recording the session, an essential tool when I’m interviewing a partner for one of AVI-SPL’s white papers. For most of these meetings, at least one attendee needs to share their content in the Teams window for all to see and understand. Another great feature: how easy it is schedule a Teams meeting from Outlook. I can schedule meetings from within the Microsoft Teams window, but I’m a creature of habit and I’m used to using the Outlook calendar. Whichever way you prefer, know that Teams accommodates your work style.

It’s worth noting that I’ve used only a fraction of Microsoft Teams’ capabilities. There’s plenty of apps that you may find helpful to support your work style or needs, including Stream, Wiki, OneNote, and a host of other built-in Office 365 applications.

I know I’ve given only a taste of what Microsoft Teams can do. Talk to one of AVI-SPL’s experts and you can ask about a host of other features like third-party solutions, the ability to integrate workflows, and the Teams developer platform that works with your business apps. If you choose, we can also take a deep dive with you into important benefits like security, manageability, and compliance, along with the room devices from our manufacturer partners that bring Microsoft Teams into the meeting space. With all I’ve shared, I’d be remiss to not include this overview of its key features:

  • Works across desktop, mobile, browser and a wide range of devices
  • A digital whiteboard (which I’ve never used til I started writing this post. It was a breeze to start.)
  • AI capabilities
  • Interoperability with other video systems
  • The features that ensure a quality audio and video experience
  • Actionable IT analytics

There’s much more to cover, but here’s the takeaway that I hope resonates with you: whatever industry you’re in, Microsoft Teams can improve your operations and processes when it comes to work and collaboration.

How to Be Productive in the Office With Surface Hub 2S

As we get back into the flow of on-site meetings and collaboration sessions, we’ll want to be in the same conference rooms and huddle spaces to connect with people who are in those areas or working from other locations. I don’t have the personal experience with Surface Hub 2S that I have with Microsoft Teams, but I’ve seen the demos — enough to know that it’s the kind of tool that you want in your office when it’s time for groups in and out of the workplace to get together on a shared, high-resolution canvas. And it’s not just any digital canvas, but one that has all the power of the Windows 10 operating system and has the great Microsoft Teams software built in. Going back to what I said earlier about the value of familiarity and comfort in the way we work: This is another way that Microsoft is delivering that kind of experience.

Surface Hub 2S is an interactive device that acts as a meeting platform, digital whiteboard, and so much more. Bring it into a conference room, huddle room or open area and you’ve created a space for teamwork. That includes the ability to use Microsoft Teams to collaborate with remote workers, replicating the great experience you’re used to from your PC. It also includes video conferencing so you can see your teammates while working on shared content in real time. Here are just a handful of the features that make the Surface Hub 2S so valuable:Surface Hub 2S image

  • 4K camera and 4K screen
  • Wireless content sharing
  • Microsoft Whiteboard
  • Window 10 OS
  • 50-inch display size
  • Cart or wall-mount installation

The Surface Hub 2S is the tool you’ll want to have to bring your remote teams together, work from anywhere in the office, and have an easy, fluid collaboration experience among the talent that drives your company’s success.

Talk to AVI-SPL’s Advocates About Microsoft Teams and Surface Hub 2S

If you’re new to Microsoft Teams or Surface Hub 2S, or you’re new to remote collaboration, there are experts at AVI-SPL who are ready to answer your questions and give you guidance. Whatever questions you have, ask them, as our representatives can discuss:

  • Product demos
  • How to migrate from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams
  • Planning and designing an enterprise-wide Teams launch (including network assessment, device strategy and migration planning)
  • Microsoft Teams meeting-room configuration with certified devices (Crestron, Poly, Yealink, Logitech, and others)
  • Training and adoption services
  • Room system and device management
  • How Microsoft Teams can help your specific industry
  • Integrating the Surface Hub 2S into areas across your enterprise

It can seem like a lot to take in, but keep in mind that all of these features and benefits are meant to serve your clear goals: better team collaboration and a better way of organizing you and your teams’ work. I would venture that a lot of us are looking forward to the day we can get back into the office and have that in-person experience. But for those of us who are set up to collaborate from home, we know how easy it is to be just as productive and contribute just as much from wherever we choose to set up our personal devices. Our current circumstances will pass; what will remain is the freedom, flexibility, and support that tools like Microsoft Teams and Surface Hub 2S bring to our work lives.