In the last two years, as a consequence of the social changes imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a great change in the use of meeting rooms and videoconferencing systems.
Before the current situation, in the last decade, most videoconferencing systems were based on manufacturer equipment with their own integration systems such as “CISCO unified communications”, in which there was a trend towards a convergence of different communication systems: Telephone, videoconferencing, sharing and collaborative work, etc. Thus, the integration of conference web systems in group such as Webex, Zoom or Teams, for example, were complementary options and were mainly based on videoconference rooms for four or more people.
However, due to the situation, a large number of workers are not inclined to return to their traditional workplace but to remain mainly working remotely. This fact has changed the way in which videoconferencing and group work systems are implemented in companies: what used to be large videoconference rooms have mostly become rooms for up to three people in which a certain social safety distance can be maintained.
In terms of equipment and way of use, equipment designed mainly to interoperate with group web systems such as those mentioned above has been imposed. The integration with remote systems that in many cases do not have sound systems of excellent quality, means that meeting rooms dedicated to videoconferencing must be acoustically better prepared still, without neglecting other aspects.
In the design of the conference room the main objective should be to create as pleasant, relaxing and comfortable environment for work as possible. It will be necessary to take advantage of the use of soft colors and as neutral as possible, with textured surfaces that avoid, whenever is possible, parallel lines of small dimensions such as those found in certain types of acoustic panels, which although they can be used on the wall dedicated to the monitor, they should never be used in the backgrounds that the video camera will capture due to the problems they will cause in the transmission of the signal.
Likewise, glass walls should be avoided as much as possible due to the acoustic reflections they produce and the little privacy they offer to meetings (for example, in certain companies they are not accepted for conferences of middle and higher management). In cases where, due to design circumstances, glass walls cannot be avoided, every effort should be made to avoid that they can be parallel to each other and the acoustic absorption of the rest of the surfaces will be reinforced as much as possible to balance acoustic reflections. To this end, the vertical absorbent ceiling panels are very useful to improve the acoustics of the rooms.
In the design of the room whose main use is videoconferencing, it must be thought that the camera not only captures the person who intervenes in it, but also captures the background behind it. That is why general backgrounds with repetitive textures, elements that may have movement (windows, curtains that move with the air conditioning, glass walls through which work areas are seen…), doors and designs with parallel lines should be avoided, as mentioned above. Also, although at first it may seem like a good idea, you should avoid including a blackboard as the background of the room since its high brightness will confuse the camera, making the speakers not see correctly.
Proper choice of furniture
The surface of the work table must be of a neutral, clear and non-reflective color; a very effective option is light natural wood colors. In medium-sized and large rooms, a good design of the work table is important that allows the system camera to capture an ideal image, at the same time that it facilitates all participants to be at an adequate distance from the microphones. Trapezoidal tables are very useful and provide good results for communication.
As already mentioned, the main function of the room is to capture the image, so the lighting must be taken care of in order to achieve a high quality image. To do this, every effort should be made to maintain very diffuse lighting with “Daylight” colorimetry and with a 60/40 power distribution for ceiling and wall lighting. In addition, lighting from the walls should always be indirect, trying to achieve a balance that eliminates shadows and color distortion, and efforts should also be made to eliminate out-of-control light sources such as skylights, windows, etc.
The different intensities between perimeter, background and frontal lighting must ensure the capture of images with volume of the people in focus.
The surfaces of the room, from the ceiling to the floor, as well as the insulation of the room, must be considered, both to avoid the entrance of noise from outside and to prevent information leaks. There are tables of acoustic characteristics that define the parameters that should be met to have an optimal room, although simple checks can be carried out very easily that give an idea of the acoustic quality of the room:
- Upon entering the room you should notice an “uncomfortable” silence. Our brain is used to continuously received stimuli (noise) throughout the day, the moment we enter a room where that noise disappears it will seem uncomfortable at first.
- The clap test, which consists of moving around the room and clapping in different directions. If the clap always sounds the same, without echoes or unusual acoustic effects, the room can be considered to be acoustically acceptable.
- The third test consists of reproducing a conversation on the sound system of the room at a level that is already considered annoying and trying to discern the words reproduced from the outside. It should not be able to do.
If these three basic tests are satisfactory, the room can be considered as correct to the go-ahead.
However, it is appropriate to carry out a real acoustic test by a specialist who performs both insulation and reverberation measurements, intelligibility, etc.