Big Gains in Small Spaces

We all saw traditional office culture give way to the "open office" plan, which ostensibly held the goal of increasing collaboration and reducing cost. But many who have lived the open office work environment will agree that the noise, lack of privacy, and dearth of meeting spaces for teamwork impede focus and limit productivity.

Without sufficient private space for teamwork, collaborators find themselves cobbling together communal tables and chairs in an open area, which is less than ideal for a deep and enthusiastic dive into a thorny problem, the kind that requires the review and discussion of multiple content sources and information streams. The problem is compounded when stakeholders and subject matter experts are located in other offices or offsite.

Given these challenges, it's no wonder we're now seeing a proliferation of teaming rooms as part of a larger activity-based space planning approach to workspace design. The hallmark of activity-based design is the variety of room configurations and furniture arrangements intended to meet a number of work styles. In this new workplace environment, it's understood that workers are often mobile, carrying with them laptops or tablets and smartphones wherever they go. This means key collaborators may be working from outside the office as well. With an uptick in remote participation, the appropriately-equipped small meeting room can be exactly the right space to connect with team members in several places about the visual and data-rich deliverables demanded by an increasingly more dynamic business environment.

David Danto, an executive board member of the UC&C industry association IMCCA, calls these spaces huddle rooms, and defines them as a place where small groups of people can go to have meetings away from the noise and activities of today's dense office environments. In other words, this is the kind of space where a majority of day-to-day collaborative teamwork gets done.

Growth in the number of these rooms is increasing, as companies identify them as the cornerstone of increasing productivity of their workforces. In a January report, Wainhouse Research placed the number of small to medium meeting spaces at more than 45 million globally. Yet a majority of these rooms still lack adequate technology to enable teams to work effectively together. Beyond an analog whiteboard there's often little to facilitate teamwork inside the room, and even less to allow seamless connectivity to collaborators in other offices or in remote locations.

However, the landscape is evolving rapidly as companies recognize that participants must be able to do more than just speak properly through video conferencing systems. They must be able to bring multiple streams of structure and unstructured data seamlessly into a meeting, and similarly make visible this content to collaborators located in other locations. Facilitating the sharing and creation of content, called infopresence, is now critical for these spaces. Enterprises are recognizing this need and moving rapidly to address it. In our own marketplace survey, 60% of respondents said they're now focusing their technology investments on these smaller spaces.

This transformation of small spaces is also tackling an additional challenge for organizations: engaging and motivating millennials, the first digital native generation. Millennial expectation for seamless digital access and visual communication is high. Because they can seamlessly share content with others in their personal lives, they expect to be able to do the same in a group context at work. They are very mobile and they want to be able to contribute to solving a problem, regardless where they're located at the time of the meeting. That's why video conferencing alone isn't going to be enough for these modern workers.

In small team collaborative work sessions the focus is on the work, not just faces and voices. Participants need to see and share content seamlessly and often simultaneously to maintain the flow of the conversation. The right enabling technology brings the best out of these workers to the benefit of the organization. Offering the wrong technology to motivated millennials stands to disengage, distract, and demotivate. Digital natives don't want anything in the way of flow in getting things done, most especially technology solutions that are incomplete or difficult to use.

We can all agree that business issues are big enough without technology creating new barriers to problem-solving. As McKinsey points out, we're already in an era of data deluge where subject matter experts are becoming increasingly specialized. As we work both on our own and with groups it's up to us to work together and to surface the most relevant insights impacting the work at hand. How do we combine all of these disparate content sources and data sets, perhaps hailing from several locations, into a single view? It's going to take a new kind of collaborative video conferencing that recognizes content is at least as important as people. If not more so.

When the workplace is sufficiently equipped with content-rich collaboration tools to facilitate teamwork for everyone in the organization, including distributed teams, the workplace transforms from cost center to economic accelerator. The small/huddle room is becoming the ideal space to unleash economic value. Gartner outlines the considerations for selecting modern meeting room technology to facilitate the thought process. Don't overlook the performance gains you can achieve with a focus on the tools for better teamwork in every space.