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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: How to Optimize the Smart Office

11 products to make your conference rooms smarter and easier to use

Video technology is making it easier to collaborate and connect with remote workers or vendors outside of your area.

As the world becomes increasingly digital, communication technology is helping the enterprise bridge gaps between teams and vendors.

Having the right conference room equipment can help boost collaboration between different offices or streamline processes and improve productivity for telecommuters. But video conferencing technology can also be tricky to use and may not be reliable, potentially hindering communication.

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"When it comes to conference calls and meetings today, email, web chat, and phone can lack the visual cues and personal touch needed to improve interactions between teams and even customer or client satisfaction," said Elana Anderson, chief marketing officer at Vidyo. "While the digital transformation of these services has greatly improved efficiency, that efficiency may have come at the cost of human relationships -- which is still a vital component of successful businesses today."

SEE: Telecommuting policy (Tech Pro Research)

The latest smart video technology, which focuses on real-time collaboration and decreased set-up pain, can help meetings run smoothly while saving the company money. A November report estimated that outdated conferencing platforms cost companies $34 billion a year. Businesses could also save upwards of $33,000 a year on business travel by opting for video conferencing.

Here are 11 products that can streamline video conferencing and boost collaboration on calls.

1. Google Jamboard

Every conference room needs something to view content on, and there are several smart options to choose from. First up: Google's Jamboard, which was announced in December 2016.

The Jamboard is a 55-inch digital whiteboard with a stylus and digital eraser for cloud-based collaboration. Along with wi-fi connectivity, an HD camera, and built-in speakers, the Jamboard has best-in-class touch response time, according to Google.

The board works with G Suite, so users can pull up Google Docs or Sheets as part of their meeting and work on them together, in real time.

2. Samsung Flip

Similar to the Jamboard, the Samsung Flip is a digital whiteboard where users can make notes and annotate charts with a smart stylus. The device has an embedded search feature to efficiently locate past projects, as well.

The main difference between the Flip and similar devices, according to TechRepublic's Conner Forrest, is the Flip's ability to connect to other devices. Either through a USB connection or wirelessly, users can see Flip content on their laptop or smartphone and share content from their personal device to the board.

The Samsung Flip also has increased security features to protect meeting data from unauthorised users.

3. Cisco Spark Board

Another in the vein of the digital whiteboard, the Cisco Spark Board allows for collaboration via conferencing and brainstorming in the cloud. Like the Flip, the Spark Board has data encryption, but its wireless connection options help it stand out.

Through a series of connected devices, users are able to walk up to any Spark board in an office and share their work with one click. A user's devices are paired with all boards using the Cisco Spark platform and ultrasound wireless pairing technology, potentially saving time in setting up meetings and impromptu brainstorm sessions.

4. Microsoft Surface Hub

The Microsoft Surface Hub is an all-in-one solution that supports video conferencing and digital whiteboard capabilities.

"Microsoft looks to replace old technologies like the conference phone hub, web cameras, and archaic overhead projectors -- all technologies that have over time become the source of mockery and derision for their less than effective application," wrote TechRepublic's Mark Kaelin when the Surface Hub was announced in 2015.

The Hub supports several apps, including Skype for Business and Office apps, so users can pull up content to discuss and work on during a meeting.

5. LG OLED TV

Showcased at CES 2017, the LG OLED TV is ultrathin, measuring only one-tenth of an inch thick. Available in 65-inch and 77-inch models, the TV attaches directly to the wall using magnetic brackets.

Described as a "taste of the future" by TechRepublic's Jason Hiner, it could become a future staple of conference rooms. The accompanying sound bar features HDMI ports and connectivity options for video conferencing.

6. Meeting Owl

There are multiple conferencing tools outside of connected boards that can help streamline meetings. One such product is The Meeting Owl, an owl-shaped 360-degree video camera.

The Owl sits at the center of a meeting, pivoting to each person as they speak. Seeing each individual, as opposed to a fixed screen of the full group, can help the meeting feel more conversational for people calling in. Body language and facial expressions also become clearer, allowing for a more personal experience.

7. JOAN

There are multiple options for streamlining conference room scheduling, including the e-paper display tool JOAN.

The screen hangs outside of each meeting room and shows who has it booked, or if the room is available. JOAN can keep everyone on the same page, helping teams avoid last-minute hustles to find a spot for a call, which could also mean fewer meeting delays.

8. Alexa for Business

This enterprise-oriented voice assistant has several skills that can help meetings run smoothly. Alexa can find an open conference room and control equipment in the room, including starting calls for participants. By leaving some of the time-consuming and tricky setup tasks to Alexa for Business, professionals can have less stress about the mechanics of video conference calls and focus more on the content.

9. Crestron Mercury

The Crestron Mercury is an all-in-one tabletop solution that works with any web collaboration platform or calling application. Through the device, all team members can participate regardless of what conferencing application they're using, the company said.

The Mercury can track room usage, book rooms for meetings, and also features built-in AirMedia for wireless presentations.

10. HuddleCam HD

For smaller businesses or larger ones looking to turn a room into an impromptu meeting space, a wireless, portable camera like the HuddleCam HD could help people connect. Recommended by Jonathan Treibick, CEO of SpeechBooth.com, as a cheap but effective tool to turn any room into a conference room, the device acts as a camera, mic, and speaker for when a larger setup isn't available or necessary.

11. Smart Film

Smart windows that can be adjusted to block out light can help prevent the sun from shining on a screen during a meeting or keep meetings more private. Smart Film from Glass Apps is an adhesive product that can adjust the opacity of glass, whether they're interior panels or exterior windows. When a meeting room is not in use, the film can be turned off.

Also see

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Image: Google