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Opinion: all hail the huddle

Columnist Rob Lane on the latest meeting space and collaboration trends

Unless you’ve spent the last year or so on a deserted island, you’ll be well aware of the current overused buzzwords in corporate AV: collaboration and huddle. One doesn’t need to huddle to collaborate, of course, but the current trend is certainly to keep things tight, with furniture and AV companies reaping the rewards of the growing demand for teched-up huddle spaces.

In essence such spaces are smaller meeting rooms meant for informal, ad hoc chats, small team presentations, brainstorming sessions, or videoconferences with remote workers. 

It was only a few short years ago that a company’s meeting spaces were essentially limited to large conference rooms or boardrooms: ideal for a full-on, 16-person get together, but somewhat barn-like when only hosting a small, two or four people meet.

Today, two, four or six-person rooms are commonplace, with a less formal, more agile ethos in the way workers meet. Informal, impromptu collaboration is seen as more efficient and creative than the planned, everyone is invited, bore-fest meetings of yesteryear.

According to Wainhouse Research, there are now more than 50 million of these huddle rooms across the world – and not all of them are corporate-based. Increasingly they are being utilised in public spaces such as libraries, train stations and museum lobbies, as well as in higher education.

Huge influence
Millennials, of course, are having a huge influence on the use of technology in education, as well as corporations. They expect the latest technology – the best kit at their fingertips – and it’s no coincidence that the rise of huddle spaces across all sectors coincides with the influx of millennials into education and business. This workplace revolution has filtered down to education from enterprise, with higher education establishments reconfiguring the way students and educators interact in lectures and informal/formal meetings.

Wainhouse Research opines that 55% of younger workers are influencing conferencing managers for an increase in video solutions in the workplace, while 75% demand more mobile solutions. Huddle spaces, of course can tick both of these boxes.

Today’s workers are able to utilise huddle spaces to more easily conference with colleagues across the globe or with those working locally from home, before walking a few feet to their favourite in-office café hot desk where they can pick up the work thread over a flat white, with or without a colleague.

Global organisations now fully understand the benefits that agile working brings, and AV integrators are being tasked with creating small, conferencing-ready huddle spaces within these open plan, Google-esque, office ‘villages’. By signing up to the Google way of doing things enterprises have invited playfulness into their organisations, tapping into this latent ability to play amongst employees, helping to boost both ideas and productivity. It’s no coincidence that huddle space design taps into this playful ethos, with bright colours and stylish, Star Trek-like finishes helping to boost the desirability of huddling.

Interestingly, although Wainhouse estimates that up to 50 million huddle spaces exist, only a small minority are equipped with more than a table and seating – and such equipment is hardly high-tech: a “standard dry erase or flipchart”, according to Wainhouse.

Increased revenues
So it’s hardly a surprise that integrators have realised the huge potential for increased revenues: with so many tech-poor huddle spaces crying out for collaboration technology, there’s certainly a few bucks to be made, and companies such as Harman/Samsung and Polycom have tweaked their technology offerings to fill this gap in the market.

What once was seen as a smaller segment of the broader conference and collaboration industries has become a burgeoning industry in its own right. Time to get involved if you haven’t already done so…