Posts tagged workplace collaboration

AVI-SPL Experts Share Their Favorite Tools for Collaboration

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 ever 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.

Favorite Tools for Collaboration

At AVI-SPL, we know the value of digital workplace transformation, and we practice what we preach.  We’re grateful for the ability of many of our employees to work remotely and stay engaged, especially during this difficult time.  Our teams and employees use a variety of different tools and methods to keep up with their projects and collaborate with their team members – many of whom may be across the country or elsewhere around the world.

We recently surveyed a handful of our staff for insight into their favorite collaboration tools. Here are their responses, which I hope you’ll find enlightening:

Michael Rombouts, project manager, San Francisco

I generally find a lot of success with Microsoft Smartsheet. It’s nice since it’s basically a live spreadsheet that multiple users can interact with simultaneously. It isn’t polished, but it doesn’t really have to be since it’s mostly for internal communication and task lists. The fact that it’s live means the team doesn’t get caught up in logic loops of “what version are you looking at?” and/or “that’s not what my document says.”

I love Microsoft OneNote for my stream-of-consciousness note taking. While it doesn’t provide something for me to directly share, it is awesome to catch everything, as you can add docs to it and snips of drawings. Think of it as a digital old-school whiteboard.

My compatriots swear by Trello. It is useful for the integration team and boots on the ground. It’s easy to use and a great way to quickly share brief information among technicians, engineers, and commissioning agents.

Lastly, Microsoft Teams, is how I communicate daily within my team for informal communication. While there are several tools that are available for chat, file sharing, or conducting video conferences, Microsoft Teams is simply more intuitive to use. If I need engineering clarification, I could send an email and add to the digital pollution of an inbox, or I can use the chat feature and get an answer quickly. It is as effective as looking over a cubicle and asking my neighbor a question. I use it to conduct page-turn meetings with engineering and technicians, sharing drawings and SOWs. The meetings are seamless, there’s not a busy signal –as when I connect via telephone — and the call quality is stellar. I probably have three or four Teams meetings a day, with no hiccups. 

Doug Seaman, account manager, Omaha:

I love the ability to video chat.  As much as face-to-face contact is the best for sales, video chat is the next best alternative right now.  Personally, I call clients using both Microsoft Teams and Zoom.  A friendly face and the ability to chat brings a level of normalcy to our lives and allows us to get done just as much as we would in an in-person meeting. With background-blurring or background-masking abilities, I can maintain a professional appearance.

Rich Daugherty, solutions architect, Chicago:

When collaborating on a project within Microsoft Teams, I like that certain Office applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint can be edited within Teams. This ensures that the shared file is the most updated version, so colleagues working on the same project will have access to the latest and greatest version.  We can even edit together in a group call, so everyone is on board with the final product and fewer revisions need to be sent out later.

Thomas Luczywo, programmer, Calgary:

In my case, a good sound-isolating wireless headset, such as my Plantronics headset, is a key tool.  It allows me to collaborate with team members with solid quality, and it’s much better than speaking into a laptop and listening to my laptop speakers alone.  This experience immerses me into conversations and helps me to focus so I have a better quality experience with them and also with clients.  The headset can also isolate out environmental sounds (such as traffic or common noises experienced when working from home or at a client’s site) so that I can better focus on my programming projects.  Better focus is the key to being more successful in our industry.

Get expert advice on choosing your collaboration tools

The AVI-SPL team is here to help you find the collaboration tools that will keep you 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.

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.

Coronavirus Highlights Value of Remote Work

With the recent news of the coronavirus dominating world headlines, this is a good opportunity to evaluate your company’s emergency plans. We’ve already seen the effects of the virus, also known as COVID-19, on the global markets. On Thurs, Feb. 27, the Dow fell almost 1,200 points, its highest one-day point drop in history. Much of that is being attributed to the effect of the virus on supply and demand. As a result, some of the largest companies in the world are restricting their employees’ business travel while also allocating more resources for virtual work

At around the 3:40 mark of this TechCrunch podcast, the speakers discuss Zoom and its ascent in price from the low $70s just a month ago to reaching over $120 in early trading on Friday, Feb. 28. That notable rise is occurring as video conferencing has become not just attractive but necessary. The TechCrunch discussion notes a number of major conferences – including Facebook’s F8 – that have been cancelled out of caution against the coronavirus.

Whether the cause is a virus, natural disaster, or some other disruptive event: How you will handle interruptions and minimize a negative impact to your business?

Uninterrupted Workforce Collaboration

Branch office locations need to function even if a main office is closed, and employees need a reliable, agile collaboration environment to enable them to work from home without missing a step.  AVI-SPL’s digital workplace solutions can ensure your workplace has the collaboration tools to handle any challenge and keep your talent and operations connected even amidst a crisis like the one we’re currently facing. 

By deploying a solution such as Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex Teams, your workforce can continue to communicate regardless of distance or time zone.  These platforms also provide video conferencing to enhance the collaboration experience.  Popular cloud-based solutions like Zoom and Pexip can be easily integrated with these collaboration platforms.

A Better User Experience of Collaboration Technology

Some offices may have to close because of an event like the coronavirus.  But that circumstance only underscores the need to support those offices that are still open for business. AVI-SPL Symphony enables you to keep your operations functioning and your workforce productive – even when some of them can’t be at the office.

You can remotely monitor and control all collaboration technology from any of your locations. By leveraging Symphony, either as a managed service or Symphony as a Service, organizations can manage their meeting scheduling and launching. They can also monitor their meeting health status while it’s in progress by monitoring connection status and giving staff the information they need to provide in-meeting support without being in the room. You will know what rooms and devices are ready for use and can make fixes before the participants are impacted.

Be Prepared – And Reap the Benefits at the Same Time

Digital workplace collaboration can’t just be part of a contingency plan in the face of rare – we hope — emergencies. This is the way we work today, and it’s a big reason why companies can so easily expand into locations and markets and attract the talent that drives their success.

How can you ensure that your investment in collaboration is having the desired impact? The key is having the data. AVI-SPL Symphony provides tactical and strategic business intelligence through analytics as customized insight through Build Your Own Reports. You can then make informed decisions about room construction/repurposing, technology refreshes, and addressing issues like technology adoption.

Not only will you gain more insight into your environment, but AVI-SPL digital workplace solution deployments will help your organization save time and money.  In 2018, Forrester Consulting’s “Total Economic Impact of AVI-SPL’s Digital Workplace Solutions” found a meeting productivity increase worth $11.9M over three years for a large enterprise organization, and savings of 122,500 hours per year due to meetings that start on time.  In an uncertain economic environment, these savings will help your organization maintain its agility to meet the ever-changing climate.   

While we all hope that no emergencies ever impact our offices, events like the coronavirus bring into sharp relief the value of collaboration technology. Build your digital workplace, and your company will have more than a set of just-in-case tools; it will be equipped to compete in today’s business environment by empowering your people to share the ideas and create the value that leads to growth.

How to Calculate the Value of Your Digital Workplace Solutions

Just about any significant expenditure you make in business needs to be justified with an estimated return on investment (ROI). Because AVI-SPL provides the digital services that are designed to improve how your business operates, we’ve created a calculator that you can use to figure out the financial value of digital workplace solutions.

Our new productivity calculator will factor in your company’s information and show the benefits of solutions that improve the employee experience and productivity in the workplace.

Forrester Consulting’s “Total Economic Impact of AVI-SPL’s Digital Workplace Solutions” shows the kind of value you can get from improving your collaboration solutions and outsourcing their support to AVI-SPL. Based on a three-year model, the study showed a meeting productivity increase worth $11.9 million. Other findings from the report, which aggregated four different AVI-SPL customers into a composite company, found:

  • 14.3% net reduction in total cost of ownership of digital meeting solutions 
  • 20% increase in meeting-room utilization
  • $1.5M in savings on management and support costs

To estimate your savings, go to this landing page to access the calculator. Once you’ve downloaded the spreadsheet, you can enter information like:

  • The number of meeting rooms in your company
  • How many rooms will be equipped with video conferencing systems
  • Hourly cost of your full-time employees
  • Cost per square foot of meeting spaces

Take a few minutes to gather the info needed and a few seconds to enter it into the spreadsheet. Our calculator will then determine the value delivered by higher meeting-room utilization, improved staff productivity, and AVI-SPL’s managed services. And you’ll have the ROI numbers that clear the path for digital workplace transformation that improves the culture, productivity and efficiency of your business.

Download the AVI-SPL Digital Workplace Solutions ROI Calculator >

Creating Better Workplace Meetings With Crestron Flex

In a fast-paced, productivity-focused workplace, time is at a premium for everyone. Meetings have to start fast, run as expected, and support the way participants want to collaborate. Less time worrying about how to use technology means more time to maximize productivity and create new ideas that benefit the business. 

Because not every meeting has the same number of people or same general purpose, smart workplaces will feature a variety of spaces: huddle rooms, open areas, personal desks, executive boardrooms, and traditional conference rooms designed for small, medium, and large groups. 

These spaces are typically aligned with purposes suited to their size: the quick brainstorming huddle, the strategic presentation, the training session, the group presentation. Though different in size and purpose, most share similar technology systems. The types of collaboration technology in these spaces often include preferred UCC platforms (think Microsoft Teams Rooms), wireless connectivity from BYOD, ready-to-go video conferencing, and interactive displays. 

Regardless of your particular industry — whether it’s higher education or any number of corporate sectors like energy, finance, legal and transportation —  you can make use of the variety of collaboration spaces for quick huddles, training sessions, and strategic-minded presentations. Common to these organizations is their reliance on speed and agility. To reach business outcomes and outdo the competition, they must give their talent the tools they need to quickly come up with ideas and strategies that they take to market. By establishing technology standards for each of these spaces, you create a consistent, a high-quality experience that encourages collaboration and optimizes your workforce’s effectiveness. 

Crestron solutions set the standard for collaboration across industries and applications. In particular, Crestron Flex is a pace setter for key activities like quick-start meetings, video conferencing, collaboration, and content sharing. There’s a Crestron Flex solution for any size and type of conference space – including private and custom spaces and rooms designed for groups of various sizes. Wherever they gather, even from remote locations, meeting attendees have the same easy ability to work together. 

Users can connect their personal devices into their Crestron Flex device and start working with one another from their preferred UC platform. Crestron Flex natively supports whichever popular platform you choose, so once you connect your laptop via USB, you’re ready to collaborate. 

I encourage you to look at the Crestron Flex series of products so you can get an idea of how they’ll play in your workplace. For companies like yours, you’ll have a meeting-room solution that’s affordable and supports the way your teams produce the outcomes that drive your success in the marketplace. These solutions include:

  • Crestron Flex B-Series Smart Soundbar
  • Crestron Flex C-Series Integrator Kits
  • Crestron Flex M-Series Tabletop AV Conferencing
  • Crestron Flex P-Series Desktop Phone

You can learn more about each of these solutions at the Crestron Flex page.

Want a demo of Crestron Flex so you can see firsthand what it can do? Contact us at AVI-SPL and we’ll answer your questions and show you how Crestron Flex transforms your meeting experience so you get the business outcomes that spark success.