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Huddle rooms: growing demand

Once upon a time, so-called huddle rooms didn’t exist. Now, they not only exist – they seem to be everywhere. But, asks Ian McMurray, is that good news for the AV industry?

They’re narcissistic, have a strong sense of entitlement, love praise and are inveterate job-hoppers. Or: they’re family- and team-oriented, seek and value feedback, prize efficiency and are achievement-oriented.

Remarkably, these are descriptions of the same group of people. We’re talking about millennials – or, as they’re also known, Generation Y: those who were born (definitions vary) between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. While there may be doubt about exactly what their defining characteristics are, there is no doubt that they’re having a significant impact on the workplace – not least because they are, by all accounts, its fastest-growing demographic.

Let’s take the positive view. They enjoy working with others, and value meaningful interaction. They like to get things done in the most effective way possible. As such, it’s hard to see millennials signing up for the concept of the traditional corporate-style meeting: that’s just not how they prefer to work. Oh, and, one more thing: millennials have grown up with technology. They are not, however, according to many commentators, tech-savvy: rather, they are tech-dependent.

Given the above, we should probably have anticipated the rise to prominence of the so-called huddle room.

“Demand for huddle room installations is growing,” explains Marco Landi, president, EMEA at Polycom, who believes that it is indeed millennials who are driving their adoption. “According to Wainhouse Research, there may be as many as 50 million huddle rooms worldwide, suggesting that lots of different enterprises are seeing their potential. As conferencing technology has advanced, so have expectations; the traditional ‘bowling-alley’ boardroom setting is perceived increasingly as unnatural, so the tendency is to move away from this.”

“According to Wainhouse Research and Gartner, demand is growing,” adds Lieven Bertier, global marketing manager, collaboration at Barco, whose company offers its ClickShare solution for the huddle room market. “For instance, the number of huddle rooms featuring conferencing is expected to double from 2015 to 2016, to a total of 10-20% of all meeting rooms. At Barco, we are certainly seeing that enterprises have a lot more smaller rooms to equip, whereas the number of boardrooms and integration rooms, for example, is remaining stable.”

Landi makes a clear distinction between traditional meeting spaces and the new breed – but what are the characteristics of this upcoming phenomenon?

“A huddle room is an open collaboration space where employees can have casual, impromptu meetings,” says Jonathan Mangnall, VP of sales – EMEA at Harman Enterprise. “They’re often spur-of-the-moment, initiated when employees need to pull aside for a longer discussion.”

“A huddle space lacks formal corporate structure and is used for meetings that could last no more than ten minutes,” adds Michael DiBella, director – collaborative solutions at Kramer Electronics USA. “They are ad hoc in nature and promote more creative thinking. The beauty of the huddle room or space is it can be anything you want it to be. Therein lies its appeal.”

Must-have resource

“Huddle rooms are small, interactive and high occupancy working spaces that users can frequently drop in and out of,” believes Stijn Ooms, technology director, Crestron EMEA. “The huddle room is rapidly becoming a must-have resource to better support dynamic collaboration between local and remote knowledge workers.”

There is widespread consensus, then, that huddle rooms represent a new, informal way of working. They are designed to encourage spontaneity, interaction and collaboration. A common trait seems to be that they cannot be booked in advance. Those are not the only attractions, however – there are also practical considerations.

“With office space costing a premium in many cities around the world, the average workplace seems to be growing smaller,” notes Ooms, “and therefore the need for meeting rooms to be more flexible is increasing.”

“Many offices are shared or open-plan, meaning that meetings and calls can sometimes be disruptive for others,” Landi points out. “Having the freedom to find a quieter place can help prevent distracting other people from their work, while simultaneously making the most of the spaces available in the office.”

“The attraction is part of the natural flow of workplace change,” notes Brady O Bruce, chief marketing officer at InFocus. “We see considerably more open seating and modular office space, especially with the injection of the millennial workforce and the influence of leading companies, such as Google, Apple and Amazon. Huddle spaces follow that collaborative vein and having additional spaces is becoming more important as individual work spaces become less private and conducive to smaller meetings.”