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As a result of the Coronavirus and the resulting COVID-19, most of us are working from home. Some of us have been working from home for years so we are well equipped to continue. However, others are just now setting up systems at home to function at a higher level. Here are a few suggestions for you to optimize your home office and get the right tools to perform at the highest levels.

We are all rushing to remain connected. The first tool of choice is a web meeting and conferencing tool. Some web meeting tools are better than others. Normally, an employee is forced to use whatever web meeting tools that your employer provides. However, customer-facing workers will need to be able to use whatever web meeting tools their customers use. In my laptop, I already have the plug-ins for perhaps 6-8 web meeting tools. These include the following; but the list is very long and there are many choices beyond what this list represents:

  • WebEx (Cisco)
  • GotoMeeting
  • Teams (Microsoft)
  • Skype for Business (Microsoft)
  • Zoom
  • Hangouts (Google)
  • Connect (Adobe)
  • Chime (Amazon)
  • AnyMeeting

The primary use case for these platforms is videoconferencing of staff meetings. Every user must be connected to the internet and have suitable data rates and latency performance to properly use these conferencing tools.

These tools are used for a variety of meetings, such as:

  • traditional staff meetings
  • web seminars
  • webcasts
  • collaboration
  • training

As you select your video conferencing software, you will want to pay close attention to what the software can do. To get the most from your web meeting tool, make sure to select a package that has features that you need. Some common features that businesses often need include:

  • Meeting Initiation. This is the capability to start a meeting as opposed to just being a meeting participant. This is very important if you’ll be hosting the online video conferences yourself.
  • Screen Share. If you want meeting participants to be able to look at what’s displaying on your computer during the web conference, you’ll need this feature.
  • Recording. The ability to be able to record your live web conference can be useful for members who can’t make your meeting. It can also serve as a record of what took place.
  • Audio.If some of your team members don’t have a webcam, you’ll want them to at least be able to take part through audio.
  • Slideshow. A slideshow can be a great way to organize the information you present during your web meeting. Consider using a slideshow template for a more professional presentations (see section below).
  • Private Chat.Private chat is the ability for several team members to communicate privately during the main meeting. This can be useful for answering questions. 
  • Video Conferencing. This feature allows video meeting participants to enable their webcams so that they can see each other during the meeting.
  • Technical Support. If this is your first time hosting a live video conference via the web, make sure the package that you select has good technical support available to help you overcome any hurdles.
  • Cost. Last, but not least, you will want to choose video web conferencing software that fits in your budget. The list below includes web meeting tools for a variety of budget needs including free software.

While you may not need all of these capabilities in your conferencing software, chances are that your business will need at least some of them. Be sure to pick a tool that offers what you need (and do not forget to consider your future needs).

Some of the larger companies are considering a different strategy. They use these same stand alone platforms today. However, they are now exploring future scenarios using a myriad of different tools, loosely coupled together with APIs, to operate transparently as one unified solution. Even though they are disparate solutions, perhaps even on different platforms, the goal is to operate them all in harmony. So, some of these disparate tools reside on different private and public clouds with advanced security are applied. This greatly complicates the seamless integration idea since linking APIs across different clouds is typically problematic for transparent operations and can be plagued with latency issues.

These disparate tools might include:

  • Slack
  • GitHub
  • Email
  • Box or Dropbox
  • ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning)
  • CRM (Customer Resource Management)
  • SalesForce

The richness of using these separate tools comes with lots of issues and complications. So, getting a basic solution that works in a trustworthy manner is paramount. As we work more and more online, these web meeting tools will improve and evolve. New solutions will be developed too. So, expect a great deal of change as we move forward, hopefully all positive change.

To use these tools, the best advice is to buy a quality headset. Too many employees try to use the built-in microphone and speakers. This causes a great deal of problems in meetings. A quality mic that can isolate, block, or minimize ambient background noise, family dog barking, kids playing nearby and loudly, and other home sounds is critical.

Consider your background and adjust your camera to show your face. We do not need to see the entire room. Some tools like Microsoft Teams have a feature to defuse the background, which is excellent to remove distracting images or clutter in a messy room.

The room lighting is important too. Your audience needs to see you. So, consider extraneous light like windows that may need blinds or drapes to block overloading the camera. Have a lamp to illuminate your face not only helps the camera work better, but let’s your colleagues see you better too.

Acoustic and echos in a room may cause the the audio codec to work much harder than it needs too. So, choose a room for conferencing that has carpets and drapes to deaden acoustic reflections and is not overly live with hard wooden surfaces that amplify sound reflections.

A door to close to prevent kids and pets from interfering with your business meeting is also a powerful aid to success. However, with all the isolation we are all experiencing discovering ways to balance work / life means that the lines between the two blur, so maybe it is okay to share the camera with a curious Golden Retriever or Border Collie.

————————–MJM ————————–

About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.

He is a business and technology consultant. A recent contract was with Wirepas from Tampere, Finland as the Director of Business Development. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).

Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). 

He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.

He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario.  For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. 

He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.