Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Video conferencing, the saviour of meetings?

Since the beginning of lockdown everyone is moving to video conferencing ... for meetings, study and religious services to staying in touch with family and friends we can no longer physically gather with or travel to see.

However much of a ‘life saver’ this technology has proved to be during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is still not the same as face to face interactions and can often feel very isolating.  All of our senses are engaged in creating an experience; sight, sound, taste and even smell all play a part.  A laptop, tablet or phone meeting cannot replace the loss of physical contact from a handshake or a hug.  It dampens down the sensory stimuli; it’s much more difficult to pick up on body language, it has a reduced audio capacity so vocal inflections are lost and olfaction is limited to where we are calling from.  The experience is better than nothing, but nowhere near the same as meeting in person.

That being said, moving forward I believe video conferencing is here to stay.  As we tentatively emerge from our current state of global lockdown, due to medical, travel, eco, financial or other reasons, there will always be someone who is ‘not in the room’ for most if not all future meetings and events.

The challenge for Hospitality venues is how can you add value to the video conferencing experience.  How can you connect people to people in a better way than a Zoom call from their spare bedroom? How can you make meetings and event experiences memorable for all the right reasons, whilst still in at least the short term observing social distancing and addressing remote workers and often disparate teams?

Once business starts coming back into your hotels, what shape will it take and what will you need to offer to support and attract it?

Will it be that every meeting and events space will always need the ability to support video conferencing to ensure that remote workers or people who cannot travel can always be included?

Do we need to offer dedicated Video Conferencing suites that offer a more immersive experience for that important call that really cannot be done at home from a home Internet connection, or which needs six people from the local distributed team, socially distanced yet on the same call to a key international client?

Some of how we address this is sensory.

Make the video call feel more personal through creating a more immersive experience.  By offering video conference spaces that are non-reverberant and fitted with high-quality microphones, speakers and cameras, you can help to ensure that callers can pick up on body language and vocal nuances that give real meaning to conversations.

Whilst some of the sound quality is reduced in the internet part of a conference call, much of it is lost due to the relatively low quality of laptop speakers and microphones.  With the correct microphones and digital processing, groups of people on video calls can be heard much more clearly, and background noise can be reduced or even eliminated.  A video call from a standard laptop can have a greatly enhanced audio on a call by using good quality wireless microphones or by installing quality in-room ceiling or desk-mounted microphones and speakers along with the correct interfaces.

Similarly, laptop cameras are relatively fixed and often give us a better idea of our colleague’s interior decor than their body language and demeanour. As with sound quality, cameras can be used in a room to allow for a better image of the caller or a group of callers and will have the additional benefit of being able to zoom in and out on a key presenter or product being demonstrated and discussed.

In addition to sensory improvements, hygiene also needs to be considered.

Did you know that you can use your large screen with your BYOD as a white board?  Although this can operate with or as a touch screen for direct interaction, to prevent having to touch the same surface as others you can annotate on the main screen using your ipad and an app.  Each delegate is able to draw on the screen from the comfort of their own chair and device, reducing the need to move around or cross-contaminate surfaces.  Also all installed CGA touch screens in meeting and function rooms have a ‘screen clean’ function.  This gives a time when the touch screen can be cleaned without changing any settings.

Or will video conferencing for business meetings continue to be done from home and will the Hospitality industry be offering spaces for remote and disparate workers to come together every so many weeks to bond as a team, to get real physical interaction and to socialise, albeit with social distancing?

Rather than ‘dress down Friday’ we might have ‘in-person’ Friday or ‘in the room’ Friday where people come together as a team in one space and the functionality of that space need not be a meeting room but this needs to be a social, bonding and entertainment space, now that work is at home and for some this will be their new escape.

Even so, there will still be some people who will be unable to attend these kinds of ‘gatherings’ which again raises the need for high spec, hygienic video conferencing in your venues.  Maybe video conferencing really is the saviour of meetings after all ...

CGA Integration … Making hospitality sound great!

What is Hospitality?

The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.

Hospitality is all about people, experiences and a smattering of escapism.  It has always been about a change of scenery; somewhere special to show a client that you value their business, or your team that you value their work.  Somewhere to meet with family, friends or colleagues to celebrate, mark milestones and create memories, an escapism from our everyday workplace and surroundings.

As we tentatively emerge from a state of global lockdown, our thoughts turn to how we can establish a ‘new normal’, how we can deliver hospitality once again but in a very different environment.

I don’t believe that the need or desire for hospitality has gone away.  Now more than ever we need to offer that aspirational trip, adventure and experience, although the rules of engagement have now changed.

We all understand the need to be socially distant from others, travel less and maintain best practice hygiene, but now we need to find out how we can deliver hospitality whilst embracing these.

There are many questions to be addressed across the Hospitality Industry as we grapple with the confinements of social distancing, personal protective equipment for staff and intensified levels of hygiene:

How do we reassure guests that our restaurant is a safe place to eat?

How can we make our dining experience memorable for all the right reasons?

How can we make our spa experience as relaxing and as far from the stress of lockdown as possible?

How can our team create a great hygienic stay for our guests?

Fundamentally we have to reassure our guests that it is safe to re-engage with the Hospitality Industry and then we need to deliver an experience that makes their leap of faith worthwhile.  Some of how we address this is sensory.

An event or occurrence which leaves an impression on someone.

For the last few months many of us have been at home.  Historically home has been our safe place,  a place where we are surrounded by our own familiar sounds, smells and views, with our family or friends around us.  As the lockdown has drawn on, this once cherished space may now feel claustrophobic and less appealing than the sanctuary it once was.

Let’s consider dining.  How do we, if restaurants are to reduce consumer density, ensure that each diner does not feel disparate and isolated in the new restaurant environment? Could sound help to ‘soften’ the environment and create a dining experience that is better or different from that at home?

Sitting alone at a restaurant table may or may not appear more attractive as lockdown eases and hospitality venues begin to open up under strict social distancing, but it might become more attractive if we think about the use of space.

Historically ‘hip places’ had a buzz.  Their clientele, staff, music and service all created a noise that created a certain atmosphere and gave an energy to the space, but if all people or family groups now have to be two meters apart, the sound in that space will have significantly changed.  Just by reducing the number of people in a designated area it will leave you with much less sound absorbing mass, resulting in a boomy sounding space.  The slightest noise may reflect to become a meal disturbing sound for other diners. Remember your guests have just emerged from the cocoons of their homes, where the space they occupied was probably smaller and filled only with their own familiar soundscape, so sudden noises from others may well feel unsettling and be unwelcome.

Think about the soundscape in your venue.  Think about what music is playing, as it is much more likely that your staff and customers will hear this now.  Make sure that it is delivered well, as remember, your guests have all been at home with their stereos.  Think about your space.  You might need to fit some sound-absorbing panels to help your space sound less like an aircraft hanger and more like the warm welcoming space that you want to offer your guests at this time, where it is imperative that they feel safe.

Moving focus to your spa, as guests seek escapism and a time to relax, how can you change the soundscape to block out the everyday sounds of mobile phones, traffic and the noise of other people to create a truly aspirational air of calm?  Sound is a key factor in this.  Ensure that you cannot hear any external sound in your space and then gently add music. Music that reflects and enhances the mood of specific treatments, fully immersing the guest in that individual experience.  Sound can so often be overlooked, but during treatments when lights are dimmed and guests often close their eyes, other senses including hearing become heightened, so audio replaces colour and becomes a key factor in generating the most appropriate mood.

Personally I think the move away from hard surfaces, whilst harder to clean, will help with the whole Hospitality experience.  At home, the sound level is generally lower; you are often the one making the noise and there are many more soft finishes in a home environment to absorb and muffle sounds.  To go back to hard surfaces will create a harsh soundscape and will be an acoustic shock for guests and not necessarily a good one.  Warm quality sound will help to create quality Hospitality experiences; use sound to fill the space in your venue.

CGA Integration … Making hospitality sound great!

The changing face of worship; how the Covid -19 pandemic may help to expand church congregations

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a far reaching impact on every aspect of society, and how we worship is no different.  Gathering every Sunday at church to share a service with other members of our congregation may no longer be possible, but this does not mean that communal worship has ceased.  Churches across the land have moved online.  The traditional weekly gathering has been replaced with online services, webstreams and Zoom calls.  Although this has happened through necessity, we must embrace the opportunity that this situation has presented us with and capitalise on the new technological proficiency that we have developed in our local church communities.

Moving forward, as we are permitted to open up our churches and buildings for worship, there will be hesitation from certain members of the parish.  Not everyone will be keen or able to rush back to a shared public space for their regular worship.  As such, there will still be a role for broadcasting weekly online services, to ensure that everyone in the community continues to be provided for.  But this should not be seen as a hindrance.  In fact, in addition to regular parishioners watching online, there is also a new group of people who have found the church during this pandemic.  A group of people who like the accessibility of ‘church at home’ and online services.  Some may well be watching on ‘catch up’ at a different time or even on a different day to the usual Sunday service.  Services online have actually grown the size of regular weekly congregations.

As we gradually move back into our churches, I think we need to develop a ‘new normal’ to include those people who for whatever reason are not with us for our weekly service in person. These may include people in care homes or elderly members of the parish who are no longer confident or able to travel to church.  Couples who do not feel comfortable bringing their baby or young child to church or leaving them in the creche or at Sunday school, who find it less stressful to enjoy the service at home.  Past members of the congregation who have moved away but appreciate the opportunity of familiar Sunday worship with old friends.  New online members who may be geographically distant but who are drawn to your style of worship or those who are local but just enjoy the flexibility of worship ‘on demand.’

Worship leaders need to think about how they can include this new remote congregation in their main services.  Laptop microphones are not good enough to pick up sound from the whole church.  A digital sound processor is needed to connect the existing sound system and microphones being used in the church service to ensure that sound can be clearly transmitted from both the spoken word; readings, prayers and sermons, through to musical worship; communal hymns, choirs and music groups. In addition, a motorised and zoomable digital camera will be needed to effectively record and transmit all aspects of the service for the remote congregation.

This might mean having a camera operator during the Sunday service, ensuring that the right image is shown at the right time or words for hymns are visible on screen.  Camera angles will need to be considered as we think about individuals' privacy as well as young and vulnerable members of the congregation who may attend a service, but who should not be broadcast on a web stream or call to unknown end-users.  These restrictions may dictate the need for prerecorded services rather than a live stream, giving you a chance to review and edit the service and send it out a few hours later.  Thought will also need to be given to communicating how members of the virtual congregation will be notified about and view the services and possibly who the link is sent to to enable a remote connection.

The good news is that a lot of these questions have already been broached during the pandemic and you already have a lot of the tools you need to make this happen.  The same processes which enable the interfacing to the web or Zoom stream which you are already using during lockdown can still be used.

The hardware required to link your sound system and connect your church to the recording stream is an investment and possibly more than had been planned and budgeted for at this time.  If you are not already active in this area, grants are available from church bodies to help you to set up online during this period of social distancing.

By taking the step to invest in a digital sound processor to enable the interfacing to the web or Zoom to effectively stream services will have the added benefit of improving the sound quality within the existing church sound system and through the induction loop, so the sound for all worshippers, wherever they are joining you from, will be the best that it can be.

CGA Integration … Making hospitality sound great!

Monday, 4 May 2020

CGA Integration Working Arrangements during the Covid-19 Pandemic

In these unprecedented times we hope that you, your family and your teams are all safe.  I am pleased to say that all of us here at CGA Integration are currently fit and well.

CGA Integration is still operating during this Covid-19 Pandemic.  We have adapted our working practices to comply with Government requirements and are able to be on site with appropriate PPE and social distancing in place.

We are now working with our customers both to carry out on site installations and to plan how systems might need to be put in place or adapted after the country emerges from lockdown. 

If you have any AV requirements or want to discuss how your current provision may need to be adapted moving forward, please do not hesitate to call or email.

Trusting you are well and looking forward to working with you again when we can.

Chris Gunton

Managing Director
CGA Integration Ltd

CGA Integration … Making hospitality sound great!