Using your lounge room as a pseudo conference room with Microsoft Teams (and an Xbox)

There are plenty of blog posts and videos out there with tips about how to stay health, active, and above all, sane during this strange period in modern history where we are relatively confined to our homes.

There are also plenty of posts and videos out there about how to set your desk up and what tech to use (including some by me).

More so, this post is about being a bit unconventional and using some of the other tech in your house to break out of your daily position.

The challenge

Our new reality of working from home has for many resulted in an increasing amount of calls and meetings. Some of these may have been coffee meetings, some in a meeting room, some by the water cooler, at your desk, wherever. As someone who has already been working from home for most of the past decade, I’ve found that in reality the amount of calls & meetings I have hasn’t really increased, but because I don’t have the option to leave the house and meet people in person I am starting to feel a bit boxed in.

While many people have a decent setup at home with external monitor, webcam, headset, decent chair & desk and the rest, many don’t.

The reality it is that it doesn’t make much of a difference what your WFH setup is, you need a change. And right now, one of the best changes is simply to move to another area of the home.

A relatively uncommon scenario that also applies to me is that I work with my wife on a daily basis, and often we’re in the same meetings together. So, the “solutions” I’ve come up with here make more impact for us.

Method 1: using your TV and webcam as a pseudo conference room

This method is relatively simple. Take your webcam, get a HDMI cable and plug them into your TV. Effectively you’re creating a similar setup to what you may have at the office (hopefully you have a full meeting room system like those from Crestron or Logitech).

In this image below I’m having a call with some colleagues while I sit on the couch, because I didn’t need to necessarily be at my laptop for the duration of this call. Simply select the external camera as the input, the TV as the audio output, and happy days.

The camera I used below was a Jabra PanaCast which is designed for huddle rooms, so worked reasonably well for audio pickup in my lounge room. It wasn’t the best quality because the room is bigger than the average huddle room, but it worked well enough that my colleagues weren’t frustrated by it.

Note, it would be possible to use Miracast to present your screen on the TV, however that still doesn’t address the requirement of having a webcam plugged into your laptop.

Method 2: using your Xbox as a meeting room device

Often in meetings we still want to use our laptops, so sitting right up at the screen like in method 1 is not going to be practical, nor is getting really long HDMI and USB cables so you can sit on the couch but stay plugged in.

This allows you to still use your laptop, as the Xbox becomes the meeting room device itself. Unlike a meeting room system, the Xbox does not have its own account so can’t be invited. All we are doing here is logging into our own account via the Edge browser built into the console. In the screenshots below myself and a couple of colleagues were trying out a game to play together via Microsoft Teams as a way to help with the social cohesion while working remotely.

I was using the same Jabra PanaCast webcam plugged into the Xbox via USB, and in reality any webcam would also work.

If you have a Bluetooth keyboard connected to your Xbox this is easy enough, however using the controller it got a bit tedious. Additionally, in many instances the on-screen keyboard would pop up because it thought I wanted text entry. Given the tediousness of using the controller, I certainly wouldn’t recommend using the Xbox for anything other than joining meetings.

As well as this the resolution of my camera was quite low, despite being capable of 1080p. I suspect this is a limitation of the Xbox drivers for USB cameras.

Some might say that the angle of the camera looking at someone sitting on a couch is not exactly flattering – and they’d be right. I wouldn’t recommend this for important meetings such as those with clients, however with your peers who we have started to become accustomed to seeing in sweatpants or without makeup – it’s perfectly fine.

Additionally, you don’t necessarily need to have a camera at all. In many cases you might just be attending a presentation, live event, or a silent participant in a meeting – so for those you don’t even need a camera.

Given we’re going to be in lockdown for at least a few more weeks (if not months), give it a try!