Millennials and the Huddle Room
Now, I’m not a Millennial (I wish) but my three daughters are. They’re part of the first generation to have a computer in the home while they were growing up.
For my eldest daughters, that meant an Atari 800 or a BBC Computer and loading games from an audio cassette tape recorder. But my youngest has never known a world without the Internet. She was the MSN Messenger queen, the Napster and Limewire princess. She would have a permanent MSN session going with webcams with her mates after school (but without the sound on, strangely – they preferred to IM chat even with video) and sending and listening to (illegal) music files until they shut down Napster (and I found out about Limewire and where all the viruses were coming from)
So why are they so important to the growing visual collaboration market and what’s the connection to the so-called Huddle Room boom?
The premise behind the emerging Huddle Room concept is that work practices have changed and are continuing to change due largely to the impact of the Millennial Generation now entering the modern workplace in large numbers.
This generation, generally considered to have been born between the years 1980 and 2000, was the first to grow up with computers in their homes and those of this generation now establishing themselves into the workplace have never known a world without the Internet.
The preferred workflow model for this group tends towards multi-tasking, non-serial and ad hoc in nature. They create a workflow virtuous circle by reducing their structured workflow time (for example, scheduled meetings) to a minimum by the use of ad hoc collaborative tools like IM, voice and, increasingly, video communications, releasing themselves and their colleagues for more ad hoc (and more productive) engagements.
The dual trends of remote working and globalisation have created demand for colleagues to collaborate outside of the same physical space.
When you add in the spectacular growth in the use and power of smart mobile devices along with the BYOD/CYOD effect, the pressure on the enterprise to facilitate useable remote collaboration is becoming irresistible.
Huddle Rooms or Huddle Spaces?
There is a fundamental dichotomy, however, between the need for ad hoc visual collaboration and the use of meeting rooms. Meeting rooms are often in short supply and need to be reserved and scheduled, dislocating the ad hoc workflow model.
This factor is leading to enterprises looking again at small meeting rooms and spaces which have, until now, been overlooked for video collaboration capability.
On the other hand, visual collaboration in open spaces it practically challenging.
Steelcase, who have looked at the practical design needs of modern meeting spaces, says this about The Workplace Challenge:
Huddling in Open Spaces
Steelcase’s Media:Scape HD Videoconferencing brochure shows some attractive ideas but conveniently ignores some serious practical issues. In particular, acoustic isolation, microphone (voice) pickup and camera control.
Acoustic isolation: while people talking at normal levels in the open lounge concept would probably not be too distracting for co-workers, far end (programme) audio coming from loudspeakers represents a real challenge in open offices.
Microphone (voice) Pickup: Picking up voices and differentiating them from background noise would be a real challenge in these open-plan designs particularly if the participants are likely to move around and use whiteboards or flip charts.
Camera Control: The Steel case pictures show PTZ cameras, which, typically, have an angle of view of around 70-80°, meaning that many of the near-end participants in their photos would be off-camera unless someone was prepared to act as a Director and adjust the PTZ positioning (which, in the real world, almost never happens).
So the open-plan video lounge, while an attractive idea, is likely to bring with it some significant practical and physical challenges leaving the traditional, closed meeting room as the likely low-hanging fruit for early Huddle Room deployments.
Huddling in Traditional Meeting Rooms
Such august research bodies as Gartner, Frost & Sullivan and Wainhouse Research all agree that there are circa 30-50 million meeting rooms worldwide that have no permanently-installed visual collaboration facilities. So there is an obvious business opportunity here for the right solution if the collaboration demand is real and growing as they are suggesting.
A disadvantage of using traditional meeting rooms is that they may not suit the ad hoc workflow model because meeting rooms are generally in short supply and so their use needs to be scheduled. However, if every meeting room, even small rooms suitable for just 4 or so people, has a visual collaboration capability, this issue is mitigated to an extent and if these rooms are not able to be scheduled in advance beyond a few days or even hours, there will be more opportunity to use them in an ad hoc manner.
Prohibiting the scheduling of rooms a long way in advance was a key design tenet of Vodafone’s Video Lounge concept which was, in fact, a precursor of the Huddle Room idea (and led to the RayCube concept). Although primarily about videoconferencing and not collaboration, it was driven by some of the same imperatives, particularly the scarcity of video-enabled meeting rooms.
The lounges coThe lounges could only be booked up to two weeks in advance and this was achieved simply by a user writing his or her name onto a booking sheet pinned to the lounge wall. If the room was not in use within 15 minutes of the assigned start time, it would be released for general availability again.
Huddle Room Challenges
The main criteria that Wainhouse are advocating for the Huddle Room solution are:
- Low cost
- Easy to deploy
- Easy to use
- Easy to support
- “Good enough” performance (i.e. not OTT on the quality of experience if that means compromising point 1)
In general, the problems with video room deployments tend to come down to five factors – video (and content), audio, control, cable management and support factors:
Video & Content
- Camera view – how to ensure everyone is in-shot
- Lighting – have enough light in the room which is suitably diffused and avoiding problems caused by changing light from external windows
- How to see and interact with whiteboard/flip-chart work
- Voice pickup – how to ensure that everyone can be heard
- Programme sound – how to ensure that the far end can be heard properly in the room
- Reverberation – keeping the local sound reflections (from walls and other hard surfaces) to a minimum
- Background noise – external noise – traffic, sound bleed to/from adjacent offices, noisy HVAC etc
Typical Problems in Practice:
- Inconsistent room design and equipment types
- Non-existent or intimidating control systems (users don’t want to look stupid in front of peers)
- Poorly-designed UIs
- Poor or no user training and/or training forgotten due to infrequent use
- Complicated procedure to share data
- Cable Management
- Cables trailing untidily and even dangerously across table tops and floor
- How to call for support when required?
I will post again on some of the potential solutions to these challenges so, if this subject is of interest to you, watch this space.
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