The term “audio visual integration” is used quite a bit by organizations (including IVCi!) to describe the work that they do. The term is well known within the “industry” and customers may even use the term to describe a potential project, but what does it really mean?

When thinking about the term, one has to look at the application of the technology within a particular business or organization. What are you attempting to accomplish within the room? It might be as simple as wanting to have a display that you can hook your laptop up to and present slides. Or maybe it’s a bit more involved where video conferencing, presentations, cable TV, Blu-ray players, and overall lighting and shading control are desired. With that level of complexity, it’s time to think integration.

The truth of the matter is that there is not one company that makes of all of these different technologies. If there was, it might be as simple as connecting all of them together and creating the final room. But, since different vendors are providing the technology, the challenge comes down to a couple areas:

  • How to get all of these technologies to work together
  • How to enable seamless control of all devices from a single interface

The answer to both is audio visual integration! The process of integration involves creating the connections between these devices (usually through a series of switchers or matrix devices) and then programming software that connects the devices and enables that seamless switching.

Creating an audio visual integrated room is a meld of art and science. The art is in the design of the room itself; the lighting, furniture, and the selection of the right technologies that will eventually come together. The science comes in with the building of those technology connections and making each device work together as if they were one. – Tim Hennen, SVP Audio Visual Integration Services at IVCi

Beyond the technology, it’s important to understand what these types of environments truly do. They provide a specific set of technologies, with specific customizations, to meet unique customer and business needs.  It’s about creating an environment conducive for collaboration and addressing the business needs at hand.

So when you look to find the right integrator for you project consider two things:

  • Do they have the technological expertise to meet the needs of the project
  • Do they take the time to really understand the application of the room and how it will impact users and the business

If the answer to both is yes, then that integrator is poised to give you exactly what you need.

And, when the room is complete, a few buttons can trigger complex interactions between video conferencing systems, laptop computers, shade control and much more. To the end-user the experience is seamless; but to the integrator, the process to get there was quite involved.

Unified communications and visual collaboration solutions have made it easier than ever to work from home.  Remote employees can connect with their boss, collaborate and brainstorm with peers, and drive innovation from the comfort of their couch. However, a recent Forbes article raised and important question.

Can working at home hurt your career?

It’s a possibility, according to a recent issue of MIT Sloan Management Review which notes that remote employees may receive lower performance reviews, smaller raises and fewer promotions than colleagues who go to the office each day; even if they work just as hard, if not harder.  

This is a result of what Kimberly Elsbach and Daniel Cable call “passive face time” or, simply being observed at work. It doesn’t matter what task an employee is completing, he could be writing an email to his wife or friend, and still get credit for being present in the office. What’s more important for career success though is the “extracurricular face time” which involves being seen at work outside of normal business hours or going above and beyond expectations. 

Even though remote workers typically log hours of “extracurricular time” it can go unnoticed by supervisors or peers.  Additionally, remote workers miss the crucial “water cooler chat” bonding time with the management team and other colleagues. Employees in the office are able to say hello and discuss weekend plans with upper management when passing them in the hall while remote employees rarely come in contact them.

So, how can remote employees overcome these barriers?

Elsbach and Cable suggest being immediately available at home, getting peers to talk you up and regular status reports.  However, UC and video solutions can significantly enable and enhance remote employees’ abilities for “virtual” face time. Instead of making regular phone calls and email reports, use instant messaging for quick updates and video calls for more lengthy status updates. 

Instant messaging allows for real-time, casual interactions that show an employee is hard at work.  However, remote workers must be cognizant of presence information that is available on these applications. Frequent or long periods of an idle status could give the impression that you are not around.  If you need to step away from your computer for lunch, a meeting, or any other reason make sure to change your status to “out to lunch,” “in a meeting” or “busy.”

Use video whenever possible to establish face time with managers and colleagues. Video helps build a relationship as face-to-face communication helps establish trust and can increase the likelihood of others putting in a good word to the management team.  

To help achieve extracurricular time, try emailing your boss early in the morning or late in the day noting that you have a few things to discuss when she arrives in the office.  Just make sure you are available when she is ready to touch base.  

Remote employees certainly have their work cut out for them; but, with a conscious effort they can overcome potential barriers that could affect their career.  While they may have to work a little harder to get recognition; the rest of us have to work a little harder getting ready and commuting into the office so it evens out!

Professional sports develop a sense of community and create unspoken bonds – or conflicts – between fans and their rivals. Teams vie for the chance to be called the best in the league each year and collect a precious ring. Whether it’s football, hockey, baseball or basketball, telepresence is integrating itself into professional sports as different leagues, team offices and athletes are increasingly using it. Here are a few ways the technology can benefit professional sports teams and leagues.

Manage the Team
Many professional sports teams are owned by a group of investors rather than a single entity. The group of owners must frequently meet to discuss various aspects of the team such as players, coaching staff, ticket promotions and more. Even individual owners need to keep in close contact with general managers and other staff about team performance and operations. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get everyone together since most team owners have other jobs and responsibilities. As a result, teams are turning to telepresence to “wow fans while helping teams streamline operations” according to a Cisco newsroom article.

General Managers can use the technology to interview players and coaching staff, like any other corporation, to see if they would be potential fit for the team. Additionally, general managers can connect with each other to negotiate the potential trade of athletes, draft picks and more. This allows deals to be reached much faster which can be critical when the trade deadline approaches at the end of the season.

Interact with Fans
Telepresence also allows professional sports teams and athletes to better interact with fans. Back in 2010, fans from 19 different countries and five continents interviewed David Beckham during a webcast hosted by Yahoo. Fans were able to ask questions and watch Beckham’s response over a video for a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Additionally, at the 2009 NHL All-Star game in Montreal, Cisco telepresence systems were set up in the arena allowing fans to chat with players and alumni in the greenroom. Facilitating interaction between fans and their favorite players not only enhances the fan experience but creates more loyal fans which can drive revenue for teams.

Disciplinary Hearings
In high-impact sports, like football and hockey, athletes can lose their cool and make a dirty play in the heat of the moment. An elbow to the head, a hit from behind or the use of unnecessary force against the opposing team is not only against the rules but can be extremely dangerous, if not life-threatening. In these instances disciplinary hearing are often needed as league officials take the safety of players very seriously.

Video can be used by league officials to conduct the hearing and interview the offending player. Then, after reviewing and determining if supplementary discipline is necessary, fines or suspensions can be issued to players, coaches and even team owners over telepresence. This is a great alternative to flying players to league headquarters for hearings; especially for smaller offenses.

The past week I had the pleasure of living down the street from the golf course where the Barclays tournament is being hosted. It was a traffic nightmare as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and about 250 other players embarked on my town. Streets were blocked off and I was barricaded in to a so-called “gated community” complete with police checkpoints that required a valid form of ID to enter.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I truly appreciate their concern for our safety and preventing our neighborhood from turning into a parking lot; but this made my commute to work a little difficult to say the least.  Not only did I have to drive 15 minutes out of the way because my normal route was closed; I had to deal with the increased traffic, mass confusion of people and pedestrians everywhere.

After dealing with same madness as I made my way home, the thought of getting up and doing it all over again was nauseating. Then I realized how stupid I was to venture out to the office in the first place as I would work the rest of the week from home because I had the technology.

One of the most frustrating parts of working remotely is not being able to tell if people are available for a quick chat. When you’re in the office, you can peek your head around the corner to see if they’re free; but at home, you’re out of luck.  Or maybe not. Thanks to presence information in our nifty instant messaging application, I can tell if my boss is busy, stepped away for a few minutes or is at his desk anxiously awaiting my call. I was able to quickly touch base on certain projects and have brainstorming sessions on blog topics just as easily as if I was in the office.  It was great!

Later in the week I had a meeting with a couple people from our team. We usually meet in one of the conference rooms but I asked if we could switch to video so I wouldn’t have to trek into the office.  After they agreed, I set up a video meeting straight from Microsoft Outlook which, I would like to add, was easier than trying to reserve a conference room.  The meeting went perfectly, everyone was able to connect and we finished in record time; probably because it’s not as easy to get off topic.

As I went for a jog this morning, much easier since my commute consists of walking down the hall to my office, I realized just how awesome, amazing and lifesaving unified communications solutions are. It’s Friday already and the weekend is almost here.  Over the past three days, I haven’t even felt like I was working from home because I was able to do everything I was able to do at the office.  If I missed human interaction, all I had to do was video one of my coworkers or walk down the street and say hello to the state troopers, park police and code enforcement.  Needless to say, I’ll be happy when this is all over; but, it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be.

If collaboration was so easy, everyone would be doing it and great ideas would grow like flowers on a sunny spring day. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple and great ideas are not guaranteed; no matter how collaboration tools an organization has in place. In an HBR article, Nilofer Merchant lists “Eight Dangers of Collaboration” which are really roadblocks that need to be overcome.

This leads to two truths that must be accepted in order to successfully collaborate. 

  1. Ambiguity is inherent
  2. Conflict is inevitable. 

In most instances where collaboration is needed there is no right answer; multiple plausible options and a few great options will exist. The challenge is combining different characteristics of these options to create a solution.  As a result, there is an inherent ambiguity that is associated with collaboration that must be accepted. 

Collaboration involves “complex problems that are beyond the function of one domain or expertise;” meaning team members must be comfortable not having all the answers. This can be difficult for driven individual who like black and white answer, enjoy being the “expert” and vehemently argue their point of view in order to garner support. However, accepting the fact that ideas from a variety of participants will contribute to a comprehensive solution allows team members to open their minds. As a result, they are able to see different sides to the project they would not have distinguished on their own.   

On the other hand, team members should not be afraid to be the expert from time to time. A high-performance team will consist of members with multiple background and areas of expertise; therefore, each individual must be an expert or a leader at one point during the collaboration. Otherwise, why are they even on the team? Successful collaboration hinges on different leaders and experts stepping up to offer ideas; but, relinquishing control to another expert when the time comes.

The inherent ambiguity and multitude of options are going to lead to conflicting opinions. Debate among opposing idea and possible solutions is what makes collaboration successful; if everyone just agreed, important aspects could be missed.  It is important to note, however, that debate and argue are two very separate things. Arguing is closed-minded and based on an “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality while debating is open-minded and based on a “devil’s advocate” mentality. One is productive, the other is destructive.

Constantly challenging assumptions is what drives innovation and debating different points of view is necessary for multi-faceted problems. However, there is a balance between challenging assumptions and going down the wrong path. Opposing views for the sake of opposing views can quickly become unproductive. Teams must be able to recognize when a consensus has been reached and leaders must be able to redirect the topic if collaboration has run awry.

Accepting ambiguity and conflict allows for the limitless collaboration that sparks innovation and creates competitive advantages. Resisting ambiguity and conflict leads to stagnant collaboration that can leave an organization vulnerable.