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Businesses rethink conference room upgrades amid coronavirus

Conference room upgrades are largely on hold for now. Tech buyers say the coronavirus outbreak will change their priorities once employees return to the office.

The coronavirus outbreak is poised to change how businesses approach outfitting conference rooms for video collaboration.

For now, organizations are putting plans to buy new meeting room gear on hold. Conference room upgrades are no longer a priority given that employees in many parts of the world will be working from home for the foreseeable future.

Tech buyers said they would revisit meeting room projects once workers return to the office. Except, their priorities won't be the same as before.

Some may have to buy more advanced equipment, so workers can make better use of the video conferencing apps they adopted at home during the outbreak. The products people have used the most include Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex and Zoom.

Others may spend less on meeting room gear to devote more resources to supporting employees that want the flexibility to continue working remotely

Phillip Lyle, assistant vice president of enterprise and research infrastructure at Chapman University, expects less demand from his users for conference room upgrades once everyone returns to the office.

Previously, staff members would take advantage of conference room gear to avoid the hassle of connecting to video meetings on their personal computers, Lyle said. But employees are now becoming much more comfortable using Microsoft Teams on their own. That should decrease demand for video conferencing in meeting rooms, he said. 

When coronavirus fears subside, Lyle expects he'll need to support the habits users developed while working remotely. For example, users may prefer to bring their laptops into a conference room rather than interact with a video room kit.

"I suspect it's going to drive some longer-term behaviors in how we work as a university," he said.

Coronavirus a once in a lifetime event

Life has very few events that create a "before and after," said Casey Hammer, director of IT for JLG Architects, based in Minneapolis. The coronavirus outbreak is "just one of those things."

Hammer had been planning to buy new Microsoft Teams room kits for his company's conference rooms this year. He still expects to do so, but not until the coronavirus outbreak settles down. 

"It's a waste of money right now if nobody is using it," Hammer said. 

JustAnswer, a San Francisco-based online help service, is still mostly using off-the-shelf webcams in its conference rooms. But the current situation has provided at-home employees with more experience using video on Microsoft Teams, said Joshua Tretakoff, head of business development at the company.

When the crisis subsides, users may be looking for a better meeting room experience than cheap webcams can provide. "And that means an upgrade on the equipment," Tretakoff said. It's too early, though, to say how that will look.

Despite shifting some meeting room projects to the back burner, the coronavirus has been a boon to video conferencing vendors. 

Millions of additional people are now using meeting apps like Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex and Zoom. And leading hardware makers like Logitech and Poly are selling out of webcams and headsets. 

Plus, the outbreak has caused many healthcare providers and universities to invest in video conferencing gear to support telemedicine and remote learning, respectively.

According to a report by Transparency Market Research, the global video conferencing market will nearly double in size by 2027. The firm predicts vendor receipts will grow to $11.6 billion by that year, up from $6.1 billion in 2019.

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