Microsoft Teams: How to build a world class Teams room

Reece Webb explores the specialist skills needed to install Microsoft Teams Rooms and discovers why there’s no I in Teams.

The world of working has undergone a fundamental shift. From the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, companies in EMEA were thrown into a mad scramble to adapt to working from home, reduced office capacity and, as the pandemic went on, hybrid working.

Companies turned to platforms such as Teams and Zoom to adapt to the new workflow and as time went by, platforms such as Microsoft Teams have come to form a nucleus at the heart of most businesses. For many companies, the choice was stark: Adapt to VC and hybrid working or perish.

Despite this, rumours of the death of the office have proven to be premature and a return to work, most likely in a reduced capacity with hybrid working, has driven a dramatic shift in the way companies meet and the way that employees interact.

Enter the collaborative space and Microsoft Teams Rooms (MTR): these typically smaller, flexible meeting spaces are offering integrators a new revenue stream if they have the know-how and the confidence to dive into this space.

But what constitutes a Microsoft Teams room? The answer: a purpose-built calling and meeting room system that delivers Microsoft Teams as a video-conferencing/collaboration experience with audio and video, on Teams-certified hardware from Microsoft and Microsoft partners. 

Don Lambresa, owner, Project Audio Visual explains: “Microsoft wants that experience to be full on. They realise hybrid workspace, culture, inclusivity and ‘collaborative ideation’ is important, they want people to feel like they’re there rather than just a square on the screen.

“Microsoft wants that experience to be as good as possible; that constitutes having the right design with the room and with the kit that you’re using. We have to think about furniture placement, what the acoustics are like and much more. It’s essential to know what is important to the end user. Is it framing the whole room to see everybody? Or is it just the framing of the participants? It’s all about the experience. Teams Rooms are only a part of the whole Microsoft Teams ecosystem and what it terms the ‘Pillars of the Hybrid Workspace’.”

Getting into the world of MTR isn’t as easy as just specifying a handful of VC products in a room. Many manufacturers offer products that are certified by Microsoft to integrate effectively with Microsoft Teams. Teams itself is not a static product, but an ever-changing offering that is supported by many new and upcoming features which may be difficult or impossible to integrate with non-certified products.

“[Microsoft] realise hybrid workspace, culture, inclusivity and ‘collaborative ideation’ is important, they want people to feel like they’re there rather than just a square on the screen.” – Don Lambresa, Project Audio Visual 

Lambresa adds: “It goes past the hardware. We like to specify everything within a room that is Teams certified. Microsoft tells you what devices are certified for specific environments. If we use a microphone or a DSP that isn’t certified, then the acoustic echo cancelling may not get passed to that piece of hardware, it stays with Teams and they’re fighting each other. It might be a great piece of hardware, but you now have a device that doesn’t work properly.

“Future software releases are important. Anything that Microsoft does, we’ll make sure that they have considered certified hardware within those releases so there’s so much to consider when you’re putting these rooms together. Previously, you could walk into a room and create a setup with lots of different kit, but now it needs to be certified by Teams. From there, there are other considerations to make such as whether Teams is running on Windows or Android.”

There is a substantial learning curve when it comes to MTR integration, and although there is no requirement for an integrator to be a partner (at the time of writing), Microsoft offers access to an abundance of resources, including roadmaps, training sessions and an ever-expanding list of Teams-certified products. While there is certainly no regulation at present to become an MTR installer, the ball is definitely in the integrator’s court when they have access to Microsoft recommendations to create and improve these setups.

Lambresa explained: “Microsoft has documentation and offers a lot of training. We’re on the partner portal with Microsoft so we have access to learning modules and there is documentation that lays out the requirements of Teams Rooms. From a physical perspective, they will give you examples of different kinds of rooms (mobile and adaptable spaces, small huddle spaces, medium and large spaces etc.) when you start getting to the larger, town hall stuff which is a more bespoke design, Microsoft says that customers need to speak to the right AV integrator to advise on that. That’s where other pieces of the puzzle come into consideration.

“Microsoft gives guidance and there’s nothing set in stone. Microsoft is implementing a partner plan where you will have to have certain criteria from an AV or IT integrator perspective in terms of learning, as well as any exams that are relevant to the administration of Microsoft Teams. As long as integrators stick to certified devices and make sure that the devices are going to fulfil the remit of the client, then there is scope for improvisation. There are more and more companies being brought on with certified devices.”

Teams Rooms straddle the line between AV and IT spaces, and where there is crossover, clients could look to both AV and IT integrators to fill their needs. Despite conventional wisdom suggesting that IT integrators would naturally excel at the integration of Teams rooms, there is still a strong niche for AV integrators to fill in this space.

Lambresa clarifies, “This is where previously, there was a crossover into AV and IT, now there’s a lot of convergence. I don’t think that clients or the end user know where to go for an MTR. Some people will look at it and think that they need to go to an AV integrator as it is a kind of meeting room. Others will look at and think ‘Well it’s Microsoft, we’ll go to an IT integrator’. We have some big IT integrators who come to us and ask us to speak to their clients when it comes to Teams Rooms.”

Like it or not, the way we work is changing and Teams is a platform that is constantly evolving. With the prospect of new features on the horizon, a new way of hybrid working potentially here to stay and emerging, potentially disruptive technologies, what could the future of Teams be?

“These guys are releasing things at the speed of light,” says Lambresa. “Every time you think you’re up to date, something new comes out. Now it’s fluid workspaces, changing the layout on dual screens to populate both with remote participants to make their images bigger. You can even split the content on them when previously, it was geared towards a single screen. Even things like intelligent speakers could come on, which are able to tell you who’s speaking in the room and add their name to the transcript which can be picked up post meeting. The Teams Room, from an AV perspective, is being embraced into the ecosystem and that’s where the ethos is around the hybrid workspace and what Microsoft want to do with Teams.”

MTR Integrator survival guide

  1. Understand the client’s remit– A client can give you a remit, but you need to consider the spaces and what the client wants to achieve in those Involve your client throughout the process and find out what their precise needs are and what they aim to get out of the space.
  1. Kit positioning – Make sure that the correct kit is specified and positioned properly within the space. Consider anything around the kit such as how the user will sound and look on screen. Are the acoustics and lightingsufficient?
  1. Think of the network – Does the client have the networking infrastructure in place? What needs do they have for security and manageability moving forward?
  1. Manageability – Supporting and managing a Teams Room into the future is a crucial point. Consider what licensing will be most beneficial for the client and third party licensing which may be needed.
  1. Firmware – Considerations should be given to how firmware is updated, whether it’s manual, automatic and where it’s done from. Some firmware can be updated automatically if set up properly. 

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