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What's All This Talk About Huddle Rooms?

The concept of a huddle room is simple. They are small meeting rooms that facilitate a variety of work activities. They seem almost too obvious to be a thing, but a thing they are -- and they're a thing with huge implications for the future of video conferencing. Despite the fact that many organizations don't have them yet, Frost & Sullivan expects that huddle rooms and open spaces will represent 67% of all video conferencing deployments by 2020.

The concept isn't particularly new, but the momentum to build and use these spaces is. That's because of a perfect storm of sorts. So let's look at what's behind the mass adoption of huddle rooms and the four key drivers fueling their demand.

1. Open Floor Plans

It's not a coincidence that we call them office buildings. It's because these structures are filled with individual isolation chambers. That's because it used to be assumed that work was done best in quiet, uninterrupted spurts -- and there is some truth to that.

Turns out, there are two kinds of work. There's the traditional solitary work (think Superman's Fortress of Solitude) and there's collaborative, team-iterated work (Superman in the city). Most office environments were optimized for the first category, so we wound up with a lot of walls and doors, and relied on the conference room down the hall for collaborative work.

But times have changed. Now, with our ability to work remotely, the solitary work category is often better accomplished outside the office, in a home office or even at a coffee shop. And since teams are more distributed, the conference room down the hall isn't as effective as it once was either.

So now, instead of containing ideas, organizations are turning to open floor plans so that ideas spread. These plans can also be viewed as hip -- particularly when they're accented with nontraditional furniture and baristas. As an added bonus, open floor plans are even cheaper than classic offices.

In these new spaces, organizations are finding that conversation overflow can be a good thing, but can also be really bad. We need some privacy (Superman in the phone booth).

This is where the huddle room comes in. It's bigger than a phone booth, but smaller than a traditional conference room. They get used for a variety of activities, but mostly meetings. Open offices are spawning the need for huddle rooms.

2. Meetings Have Changed

It's not just the physical environment that's changed, but also the meetings themselves. Not long ago, meetings were mostly associated with keeping up to date. We worked, went to meetings, and then went back to work. Those types of meetings still exist, but they are decreasing because other tools fill that need.

For example, workstream collaboration services are effectively asynchronous meetings. Other tools such as Yammer, email, and even Facebook keep colleagues in the loop. Simultaneously, work is becoming more collaborative. The most popular PC apps a decade ago were largely single-user tools. Today, our tools enable us to regularly share and collaborate.

As a result, meetings are more productive than they used to be. They are also less formal, more participative, often ad hoc, and shorter.

3. Video Has Arrived

For decades we poked fun at AT&T's 1964 launch of the videophone. It was a failure akin to the fiasco of Ford's Edsel back in the late '50s. The technology was too limited, too expensive, and totally missed the mark of how people wanted to communicate. It truly was a -- excuse me, I just got a Facetime call from my kid.

Sometime between 1964 and today, video conferencing arrived, at a lower cost and higher quality than we expected. Now, barriers to video have disappeared. The technology is available, accessible, and inexpensive. It works on all of our devices, both in and out of the office.

Video not only arrived, but was democratized. I remember the locked video room at one of my prior employers a few decades ago. The coveted room was for important people to discuss important topics -- few were worthy.

The cost of video equipment is so low now that there's no excuse not to add it to every meeting space. The costs of huddle-class products such as Logitech MeetUp or even the SmartDock for Microsoft's Skype Room Systems are relative bargains. Quality, HD displays surprisingly continue to drop in price. It is now possible to outfit a huddle room for video for less than we used to pay for speaker saucers.

4. Diminishing Incompatibilities

Interoperability limitations have held back video conferencing for decades. Each vendor was effectively building its own island networks. Metcalfe's law states that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users. In other words, networks become more valuable as they grow.

Interoperability is now a solved problem. Companies such as Pexip completely hide the complexities of interoperability, both on-site and in the cloud. As a result, Metcalfe's law is exponentially increasing the value of video conferencing systems.

Bonus Driver: Connection and Empathy

The modern workplace is inherently less friendly than it used to be. The reasons are many and include things like distributed teams and nontraditional work hours. The water coolers, elevator rides, and other reasons to stop-and-chat have largely been replaced with email and text messaging. We are more likely to communicate today via text than in person.

We all know how text-based messaging can cause confusion. The reasons, in part, are lack of eye contact and other cues such as tone and expression. When we communicate in person, our communications are more empathetic. We connect more as we convey feelings such as happiness, humor, and anger with our eyes, expressions, and gestures.

Fostering teams and connections requires additional deliberate effort, and video technologies can help. Making video easy and accessible is more important than ever.

The huddle room is where it all comes together.

Learn more about Video Collaboration & A/V at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. And continue your huddle room education in the session, "Huddle Rooms 101: How to Make the Most of Your Huddle Room Estate."Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Advance Rate or get a free Expo Plus pass.

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Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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