Interior design for videoconferencing

With fuel costs skyrocketing, this might be a good time to consider videoconferencing gear. But when an agency purchases, say, a Cisco Systems high-definition TelePresence videoconferencing system, how should the meeting rooms be redesigned to accommodate their new function? Could an agency commit a remodeling faux pas?

Although Martha Stewart has thus far been mum on decorating the virtual nook, Cisco, it turns out, has a number of aesthetic tips for a pleasing decor.

'It's all about the experience,' said Brent Byrnes, Cisco's spokesman for all matters concerning unified communications.

The room should not be too big or too small, Byrnes said. In a typical TelePresence setup, three screens reside at the front of the room, and a table is in front of their view where participants should sit. The room should be no larger than 31 feet by 24 feet, with a ceiling at about eight feet. In other words, auditoriums are out. Doors should be out of sight, either to the right or left. People entering and leaving can be a distraction. Also, no windows should be present because ambient light and the world outside can distract, too.

There's more: All the chairs in the room should be visible to the camera. Nothing is more annoying than hearing people speak without seeing them, Byrnes said.

Ideally, all the rooms in a videoconferencing system should be identical, he said. Identical colors, and even identical artwork, should grace the walls. Distinguishing one location from another can be done with a small sign with the name of the town in which that office resides.

If all this sounds a bit drab, that's the point. The idea is to create a uniform environment, one that allows the participants to concentrate on the task at hand. And sufficient uniformity could even offer the illusion that everyone is in the same room together.

With TelePresence, Cisco is offering a fiendishly clever, though subtle, notion of teleportation: Instead of sussing out a high-tech way of allowing a person to virtually visit some location, just have everyone in a meeting realistically appear as if they were in the same room.

Such mimicry could pay off grandly, not only in saved travel costs but also in environmental benefits. Cisco estimates that 98 one-hour TelePresence meetings generate about the same emissions as a single cross-country round-trip air flight. For more details on how to set up a TelePresence site, go to

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.


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