How AI will transform our meeting spaces and culture

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When you ask people what technological development will have the most significant impact on future workspaces, artificial intelligence (AI) usually wins hands down. But at the same time, few really understand the practical changes that we’ll see in our day-to-day working lives due to AI, or the benefits that AI could bring to organisations.

To try and understand what an AI-driven future will look like, a good place to start is where people spend a huge amount of time in their working day: the meeting room. We’re already seeing technologies transforming communication and collaboration between employees in meeting spaces, and given the pace of change in this space, it’s the meeting room that we’re likely to see AI make its first real foray into the workplace.

Tailor the user experience

Some companies are already using voice-activated controls to manage meeting room technology, such as to launch and control presentations – but this is just the start. Machine learning has far greater potential to transform the meeting rooms of the future, and this change will happen sooner than you think. 

Machine learning will soon detect employees’ presence and behaviour in the meeting room and react to it, enhancing the meeting room experience specifically for individual user requirements. At this year’s Build Conference for example, Microsoft unveiled an AI device that does just this, by using facial recognition technology to scan the meeting room and identify its participants. 

Once meeting room participants are detected, AI devices then have potential to connect with other meeting room devices such as screens, computer terminals, temperature controls and lighting, over the IoT network, to turn lights on and off or adjust temperature controls as people enter or leave the room. The technology could change the configuration of computer terminals and screen sharing devices, based on the people using them. For example, having a meeting room set up automatically with the relevant presentation, logos and graphics for each client that enters the room, will be as functional for clients as it is impressive. Office managers will also be relieved of their administrative duties in setting up the meeting room, and the hosts of the meeting will be freed up to focus on leading.

Virtual assistance 

Virtual assistance is another key feature of AI technology. The AI virtual assistant that Microsoft recently showcased uses microphones to capture and transcribe everything that is said in a meeting in real-time. The voice recognition and transcription works with any language and offers subtitles, which could potentially make standalone translation devices obsolete. 

AI can also handle simple but time-consuming administrative roles in meetings and assign key tasks to participants after the meeting, sending them follow-up reminders and sharing calendar invites based on what was discussed. The time saving elements provided by such virtual assistance will allow staff to focus on the more stimulating aspects of their work, and help to minimise office stress brought on by work overload.

Office facilities managers could benefit from AI technology, as they gain an improved understanding of how meeting room technology is being deployed by staff, by gathering insights and analytics from AI technology about how each room is being used. With all devices interconnected over the network, it will become easier for facilities managers to understand the behaviour of people in a meeting room and what functions they are using. The maintenance and resolution of tech issues will become far more predictive, or even be eradicated altogether. AI can therefore keep the cost of maintaining meeting rooms down, and by turning off lights and air conditioning units when meeting rooms are vacant, AI will help to reduce office costs by minimising meeting room energy usage.

Improved working environments

The current view that AI is an all-changing, seismic event and something to be feared is misplaced. In reality, AI technology will manifest in incremental but important improvements to our day-to-day working lives.  Meeting rooms will be a microcosm of this change, and Barco’s recent research highlights that meeting room participants should benefit from the improvements brought on by AI technology.

Barco’ recent study Science of Success: How to keep people engaged during meetings, surveyed 2,250 senior business professionals about their experiences of meetings at work, and found that three in 10 business professionals believe most of their meetings are pointless, and over two thirds were regularly irritated by technology issues during meetings. When technology worked correctly however, nearly three quarters of meeting room participants were more engaged.   

Another Barco study, The Meeting Stress Test, found that 93 percent of workers experience stress as a result of bad meetings at work. This led to time being wasted, deadlines being missed and, for 12 percent of participants, meeting room stress contributing to lost promotions and business.    

AI can improve meeting room environments by making meetings more productive, engaging and stress-free, largely due to the time saving elements offered by virtual assistance and automated meeting room technology. Using speech recognition to provide subtitles in meetings helps to foster better cross-office collaboration and make meetings run more efficiently. International meetings will no longer be slowed down by third parties translating, and employees will get to interact in real-time with foreign colleagues or clients. Properly installed AI meeting room technology, which uses machine learning to monitor itself for technical faults, also has the potential to increase employee engagement as frustrations to do with meeting room technology malfunctions are minimised.

These benefits provided to staff by AI showcase how machine learning technology can augment, and not displace, office workers’ output. Whilst AI technology may sound too futuristic – or potentially expensive – the benefits to workplace efficiency and productivity it could bring will be immeasurable. As AI technology improves, the ROI for a business will become harder to ignore, and it will be a matter of time before companies need to install AI technology to survive, and thrive, in a modern business climate.

Lieven Bertier, Director GTM Strategy & Services Meeting Experience at Barco 

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