photo: meeting in a conference room, in-person attendees joined by virtual attendees on the screen.

Leveraging tech tools for hybrid success

Photo: The Information Technology Senior Leadership Team meets with Colorado River Storage Project Management Center leadership, May 23, using Teams Rooms capability in the Kilowatt Conference Room at WAPA’s Salt Lake City office.

In Fiscal Year 2023, Information Technology installed 68 Teams Video Rooms units at 18 WAPA locations, improving our hybrid meeting experience. Teams Video Rooms bring Microsoft Teams capabilities of audio, video and content sharing to meetings where some participants are teleworking, and others are together in a conference room.

“We had the tools for people to connect and collaborate from home or their desk at the office, but there were technical limitations in bringing that same experience to our conference rooms,” said Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Mike Montoya. “With Teams Video Rooms, employees can join a meeting taking place in a WAPA conference room and have practically the same experience as those in person. For these employees, it’s been a game changer.”

“I’ve attended WAPA hybrid meetings for four years, often being the lone remote participant,” offered Enterprise Architect David Tucker. “Before Teams and Teams Rooms, I didn’t always feel included. I knew people meant well, but our tools didn’t fully support the environment. I could hear people but couldn’t always see them. And people couldn’t always see me. I missed out on nonverbal cues, sometimes making it difficult to break into the conversation.”

Teams Video Rooms supports the Power Forward 2030 objective to evolve and cultivate our culture and work practices to improve employee engagement, productivity and well-being. Specifically, the initiative that supports the objective calls for WAPA to adapt systems, equipment, processes, training and culture to excel in a hybrid environment.

Agility, partnership drive progress

“As WAPA began defining its return-to-work and future-of-work requirements, it became clear that the previous video teleconferencing system could not meet WAPA’s evolving collaboration needs,” said Montoya. Previous VTC systems and equipment worked well enough for how WAPA had been operating, but simply did not sufficiently support the hybrid environment.

IT Project Manager Shane Johnson developed and led the project plan to implement Teams Rooms across WAPA, beginning with a yearlong pilot program in 2022. From January through August 2023, a small group of IT employees travelled to 18 sites across WAPA’s footprint, installing Teams Rooms units, hosting open houses and providing training to local employees.

“We couldn’t do it alone,” Johnson shared. “We partnered closely with Facilities, Property and Communications on this effort. Local leadership, administrative officers and administrative assistants were also big supporters of the installations.”

IT also worked with local administrative support employees to make sure they knew how to use the conference room calendars to schedule and support meetings. Johnson added, “We also standardized the naming conventions and scheduling process of all WAPA conference rooms to make it easier for employees to schedule their meetings.”

To further support the new equipment and technology, IT published three user guides, which you can find on the Telework Resources page (see the first three bullets under “Technical tips”).

“I found everything really easy to use, and the training materials helped, too,” said Management Analyst Danielle Gioso, who works in the Headquarters Administrative Office. “However, there’s a whole team available to help you – especially if you have a big meeting and you want to test out some features, like spotlighting speakers, inviting people to in-progress meetings, muting everyone and more.”

The move to Teams Rooms is projected to yield $1.3 million in savings when compared to the sustainment costs associated with the previous video teleconferencing system. Montoya added, “IT continuously seeks opportunities to improve our services and capabilities while being good stewards of the resources we have been entrusted.”

Next steps

Some of the large conference rooms at WAPA’s regional offices were not within the original scope of this project. IT prioritized the spaces where smaller teams were meeting. “We are handling the large, regional conference rooms as independent projects, due to the high cost and complexity of upgrading them,” Johnson said.

Vice President of IT – Network Gary Harmon added, “We worked with our business partners to develop requirements, get bids and look for funding from the requesting programs or regions.”  IT is ready to move forward with Teams Rooms spaces in the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountain regions and the Electric Power Training Center should funding become available. IT has received requests from some smaller field offices, as well, which will be explored further as a follow-on to the project.

“I’m really proud of this project – not only in its execution, but in what it has done for WAPA,” said Montoya. “This technology is for our employees, so they can have productive, collaborative, inclusive meetings.”

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Last modified on March 21st, 2024