The last few months have, for obvious reasons, seen a major change in how most of us communicate at work, with a particular boom in demand for audio-visual tools and videoconferencing solutions in order to keep businesses running as productivity as possible through these uncertain times.

But as the world gradually opens up again, it’s clear that many of the changes in how we keep in touch aren’t going away any time soon.

Adapting to this new normal will be about much more than ensuring employees have access to the audio-visual (AV) tools they need to keep in touch with colleagues and customers wherever they are. To be successful in this more agile environment, businesses need to think carefully about the fundamentals of how they communicate and how meetings can be adapted to remote and mixed working environments.

The growing need for remote communications

One of the biggest trends in the business world right now is the emergence of remote and agile working as a standard way of operating. This has been coming for several years now, but the recently enforced lockdowns have gone a long way towards dispelling many of the remaining doubts that firms may have had over this.

For instance, concerns that workers who are at home, without supervision, would be less productive have proven to be largely unfounded. Meanwhile, widespread use of videoconferencing services – backed up by high-speed internet access – have shown that people can keep in touch and avoid issues such as poor-quality connections.

This has led to a growing enthusiasm among employees to continue working remotely even when it is not a mandate. For instance, one study by O2 found three-quarters of companies (74%) are planning to permanently shift to remote working, with this set to save workers time and money by removing the need for commutes and other business trips.

The power of non-verbal cues

However, when people aren’t physically present to talk to each other, the way we communicate will need to change. Businesses will, therefore, need to rethink how they keep in touch – especially when it comes to the non-verbal ways in which we communicate.

It’s long been accepted that only a small portion of how we communicate comes from the words we use. For instance, one figure suggests 55% of the impact of what we say comes from non-verbal communications. Facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, posture and touch all contribute to getting our message across, so it’s vital that businesses are able to maintain as much of this as possible when people are meeting remotely.

But it’s not just in conveying meaning where non-verbal communications matter. How we respond to what’s being said and the way we participate in conversations also extend beyond our words. For instance, small movements of the head and face will indicate we’re listening and taking information on board, while we subconsciously make subtle signs that tell the speaker when we have something to say, allowing them to pause and let us step in. 

Without these signs, speakers don’t have vital feedback about how they’re being received, and it can be difficult for group discussions to proceed, which leads to people either talking over each other, or not contributing for fear of seeming rude by interrupting.

Making sure you have the right tools

When we are communicating remotely, being able to retain as much of these non-verbal cues as possible is vital. This means not only having high-definition videoconferencing tools that give all participants a clear visual of each other, but also other collaboration technologies that ensure this can be kept up at all times.

For example, if a person is giving a presentation using screen share, this often means their video screen is reduced to a tiny box in the corner, while some services minimise non-speaking participants entirely, which can make life difficult when speaking to a group.

Therefore, AV services should think about how to tackle these issues. For example, meeting rooms can be equipped with multiple screens or interactive whiteboards to ensure any collaboration or presentation activities can be completed while still allowing those presenting or attending remotely to be seen.

This will be especially important for firms with several offices, or who have operations all around the world. With business travel set to be significantly curtailed in this new environment, making the remote conferencing process as easy and clear as possible will be essential to the success of any firm.

All businesses, from the largest multinational enterprises to the smallest companies with fewer than ten employees, will therefore need to adapt to more agile working and greater use of AV technologies, whether they are communicating with customers, suppliers or colleagues. 

AV solutions need to be easy to set up and use, and be equally at home on large screens in boardrooms or other meeting spaces and smaller laptops or even mobile devices. Such services also need to be reliable and stable enough to work anywhere, at any time, and not introduce any new risks into a firm’s operations. Get this right and companies will be well equipped to cope with the new, more agile way of working.

Reshaping the workspace - The future of AV in the office