Two workers video chat with colleagues
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Zoom engineers are still working on making hybrid work less awkward

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter, where we share the latest tips, tools and insights to help you stay informed about the modern tech office. Today: Zoom is making hybrid meetings less awkward, higher-paid jobs are going remote, and a record number of people are quitting jobs.

—Amber Burton, reporter (twitter | email)

A gallery view of hybrid work

The return to the office has looked different for many, but the one thing that has remained the same is the awkward experience of hybrid meetings. There’s nothing like dialing into a video call with half the people at home in their own individual video boxes and everyone else present in the office huddled into one frame with spotty audio.

Admittedly, we at Protocol have tried it all. We've done video calls where everyone in a shared conference room dials in and mutes themselves from their own separate computers. We’ve tried having everyone in the office join the meeting from their own desk. And, of course, we’ve fallen into the trap of the semi-circle around the distant conference room camera. I can tell you, watching this configuration from the comfort of my home office wasn’t ideal. It’s pretty hard to tell who’s talking when the camera appears to be 12 feet away from your colleagues.

Zoom is one of the many office tech companies trying to solve the problem of the hybrid meeting. But the challenge to create technology that mirrors the experience of joining a meeting from home turns out to be harder than you might think.

Last month, Zoom launched its Smart Gallery feature within its Zoom Rooms offering. The gist is that the feature uses hardware and AI technology to place individuals together in a real, live conference room into their own individual video boxes. The feature is touted by Zoom as a win for making hybrid office meetings more equitable. For those considering new workplace tech this year, here’s a look at how it works:

  • At its most basic level, Smart Gallery creates individual video feeds for attendees in a physical conference room. This allows for remote attendees to better see and hear those attending from the office.
  • Whenever someone enters or leaves the physical meeting room, their individual video feed box appears or disappears.
  • For those in the office, this works best when seated in a semi-circle around the designated camera optimized for Zoom Rooms.
  • And yes, you will need a compatible Zoom Room appliance and a license to use the software.

While the concept might seem simple, it turns out there’s a lot to consider when creating a similar video experience in the office. Jeff Smith, head of Zoom Rooms at Zoom, spoke with Protocol about how his team has worked to create a better experience and the biggest challenges along the way. Audio has proven to be one of the trickier components in innovating hybrid conference calls.

  • “On the audio side, you have to have a really robust system where you can capture everybody in the room where both low talkers and loud talkers, that whole diversity of speech, comes through very clearly. And that's what we've been working on for years and years and years in Zoom Rooms,” he said.
  • Right now Smart Gallery captures group audio of those attending Zoom meetings from a shared physical meeting room. The next step that they’re continuing to work on is more precisely identifying the active speaker among the people in the room, said Smith. That's something that’s not always easy if a room has just one microphone. Currently, the technology adapts to whatever compatible hardware the users have.
  • The Zoom Room team of engineers is also tackling how to innovate without requiring its users to buy a bunch of new tech or totally reconfigure physical conference rooms. “[We’re] looking at, how do we solve these problems with the same set of hardware that we've used in the past, and so not requiring customers to go in, rip and replace a bunch of tech and reconfigure their rooms… We want to have technology that allows people to behave how they want to behave when they're in a group setting,” he told Protocol.

Why might you consider this for your office? Zoom's primary advantage is ease of deployment, Smith said. At the end of the day, “being able to go into the office, interact with people naturally, have a meeting in a meeting space, but be inclusive of people that are not there is more critical than it's ever been. Because there's less certainty that the people that I need to interact with are going to be in that physical space at the same time.”

Higher-paying remote jobs to come in 2022

Over 25% of high-paying jobs are expected to be remote by the end of this year, according to a recent study by career site Ladders. The expansion in fully remote roles is an 18% jump from the end of 2021. Remote growth is concentrated mostly in tech-focused roles like engineering and product management, according to the report — more signs that remote work is here to stay in the tech industry. As employees continue to seek more flexibility in their jobs, companies are becoming more willing to oblige.

Read the full story here.

Today’s Tips & Tools

This week Instagram announced that it will give users more feed options, including a reverse chronological one. Fun fact: you can make your Twitter feed reverse chronological, too. Just click the “star” at the top of your Twitter page and hit “see latest Tweets instead.” The company started out with this feed, but pivoted to an algorithmic feed in 2016. You might prefer the chronological feed to follow lively Twitter commentary in real time.

— Lizzy Lawrence, reporter (twitter | email)


59 million Americans work outside the traditional employer benefit system - and more and more are moving away from that model as the gig economy grows. People, during the pandemic, are taking a step back and thinking about the traditional job setting and asking: ‘Is this what I want to do?’

Learn more

Can’t quit quitting

We can't quit talking about quitting. Especially since the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its latest report on job openings Tuesday. The outlook was fairly bleak for employers striving to hold onto their employees. The U.S. matched a record high number of quits in the month of November, the latest data on record. Here are some of the highlights and trends from the recent report.

  • The quit rate increased 3% in November 2021, a series high totalling 4.5 million, according to the BLS.
  • While the tech industry was not exempt from the trend, the largest increases in quits were in the accommodation and food services industries and health care and social assistance industries. Also, the increase in quits was geographically located in the Northeast, South and Midwest regions.
  • At the same time, hiring in the U.S. slowed in November, adding 210,000 jobs, according to the month’s jobs report. This was a decrease from the month of October. Some are linking the slowdown to the rise in the omicron variant in the U.S.

Making moves

Construction tech company Mosaic appointed Andrea Wilson as its first chief people officer. Prior to joining the company, Wilson was chief people officer at Outcast, a marketing firm known for its work in tech.

Ed tech company KnowFully Learning Group appointed Jenny Brown as its first chief people officer. Brown was formerly chief people officer at Paradigm Education Solutions.

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