The Open Office is changing the landscape of enterprise collaboration. As the walls of the huddle room come down, sharing media among teams becomes an inexpensive and easily deployable furniture commodity. The focus on an open office culture increases the number of stations and use of application-sharing technologies. The project team may not be aware, but they are in the collaboration driver seat; their decisions are determining future IT strategies and technical support models.
With any floor buildout, the most important dependencies driving the project timeline is furniture (CPM, 2016). The technology has be installed before users can sit down and be productive. This is why furniture selection occurs very early in project. Entire buildout schedules hinge on furniture milestones.
Avoiding the cost and complexity of conference rooms, the business unit representative, architect and designer are selecting media furniture directly out of a catalog, or from the showcase floor, at the same time they are choosing office desks and chairs. The look and feel of each piece of open space collaboration furniture must match the rest of the office or appear out of place. This team is focused on the office environment and perhaps unaware that these media stations are part of organization’s larger collaboration ecosystem. Because these media systems are inexpensive and deployable at large scale, furniture decisions are predetermining the rollout and capacity requirements of enterprise infrastructure.
Several furniture manufacturers customize their media tables around specific AV switching components, which means future technical support agreements can end up being decided at the time furniture is selected. These furniture companies have good intentions. They know a lot about user requirements and their innovative media systems are dressed nicely into the table and easy to operate. However, a preference for the furniture’s look and feel can result in a long-term dependency on specific manufacturer for a consistent user experience. The furniture’s streamlined enclosures may not support alternative electronics. Now consider what happens when there are hundreds of aging stations. Any new technology will have to fit into the same custom enclosures inside the media table. In addition, many furniture manufacturers only consider users need laptop connectivity and rarely provide ways to mount mini PCs, which are critical for integrating peripherals like video cameras and speakerphones. PCs typically have a different support model that the AV equipment and the furniture.
Collaboration spaces are called huddle rooms or pods, alcoves and walk-up stations in open seating plans. These pre-fabricated media systems can fit into any of these arrangements. The same collaboration technology (Skype or Jabber) will work across all types: laptop (PC) display, application sharing, annotation, white boarding and texting. Some media furniture can support audio and videoconferencing. Installing systems with conferencing features in office spaces without walls raises new hurdles for the project team: environmental considerations such sound masking and lighting, and proper placement to avoid foot traffic or disturbing participants at adjacent workstations.
Bi-directional functionality is not suitable for many open space situations, which ends up confusing the end user. The open space worker expects an effortless transition from their desk to a station and from a station to conference room. Say, for example, a Skype call: while the user can do video at their desk with a head set, a walk-up station installed in the café is only going to be useful for local collaboration. The furniture may look identical, but the functionality may be different. Therefore, it is important to clarify expectations with signage, and offer a variety of collaboration alternatives, distributed across the space based upon the cultural preferences.
When it comes the future of the huddle rooms, IT and multimedia managers may no longer be in the driver seat. Open office planners are tearing down walls and putting in pre-packaged media systems that foster interpersonal communication. This new office culture could have a profound impact on the organization’s overall collaboration strategy, increasing the demand to interconnect and unify the experience across collaboration spaces and conferencing rooms.
TURNING POINT is Mark Peterson's personal take on innovation and collaboration influencing today's corporate strategy. To have a conversion about what takes to implement collaborative solutions efficiently and at enterprise scale, contact Mark Peterson
CPM (2016). Furniture Specification Services. Retrieved from http://cpmonesource.com/cpm-one-source-furniture-procurement-services/cpm-one-source-furniture-specification-services-los-angeles-orange-county-san-diego-santa-barbara-dallas
Fast Company Inc. (2016). Steelcase's Brilliant Workstation For Staging Virtual Meetings [Video]http://images.fastcompany.com/upload/steelcase1.jpg
IFB (2016). Media:scape mini test-drive. Retrieved from http://www.interiorsforbusiness.com/mediascape-min-test-drive/
Pruzinick, M. (2016). Huddle up! System Contractor News, February 2016. Vol. 23, No. 2.
Steelcase (2016). Open Space Planning. Retrieved from http://www.steelcase.com/resources/space-planning-ideas/