Huddle rooms and the changing nature of business meetings

How demographics and technology are impacting European workspaces

Huddle rooms and the changing nature of business meetings

Executive summary

The European workplace is undergoing an invisible revolution. Despite persistently high levels of youth unemployment in some EU member states, the age demographics of the workforce are shifting. As a result of retirement and recruitment, the proportions of baby boomers and millennials employed in European businesses are rapidly reversing. The same is true in other markets, such as the USA, where a recent study predicted that by 2020 approximately 50% of the US workforce would come from the millennial generation, and only 25% from baby boomers1.

Because of their size, these generations already exercise significant influence on the workplace and will undoubtedly impact the nature of work well into the future. Research has shown that boomers and millennials share many work-related values.

That said, they often disagree on specific preferences and general work styles. Enterprises that find ways to satisfy these generations’ similarities, while also bridging their differences, will benefit from improved recruiting and retention of these workers. In parallel with this demographic shift, continued advances in technology are creating observable changes in the way work is performed, the behaviour stemming from worker preferences, and the tools being developed to enable a convergence of culture and technology in the workplace.

It is now difficult, if not impossible, to affect culture in the workplace without also affecting technology and vice versa. This means that enterprises must consider both culture and technology in any decision about either one. A recent phenomenon that illustrates this convergence is the huddle room; a small space that facilitates quick, casual, and often unplanned meetings. The industry uses the terms “huddle rooms” and “huddle spaces,” with the former defined as a space enclosed by walls and the latter as an open space. In this white paper, we use the term “huddle room” to refer to both types of spaces.

This paper aims to:

  • Summarise the demographic shift from a Boomer to Millennial majority in the workforce, while highlighting multigenerational worker preferences
  • Explain how culture and technology have become practically indistinguishable business issues
  • Explore the huddle room as one manifestation of this convergence
  • Introduce some considerations in creating huddle rooms (or similar workspaces) that address multigenerational worker preferences; this exercise will illustrate how inseparable workplace culture and technology have become

The dynamics of a changing workplace

Both in the EU and US, the workforce is composed primarily of three generations of workers, with specific year ranges for each, although these may differ slightly between researchers. The Population Reference Bureau defines the generations as follows2:

  • Baby boomers: Those born between 1946 and 1964
  • Generation X: Those born between 1965 and 1982
  • Generation Y (millennials): Those born between 1983 and 2001

The boomer and millennial generations each comprise approximately 70 million people, whereas the number of Gen X-ers is one-half this number2. In 2010, the boomers constituted 50% of the workforce, while the millennials made up 25%1. By 2020, millennials will increase to 50% of the workforce, while the boomers will decrease to 25%1.

Given the size of these so-called “bookend” generations (because they straddle Gen X), they will significantly influence the nature of work for years to come3. Much research has been conducted to glean insights into these generations’ viewpoints, preferences, and values in order to determine how they might impact the future of work.

Boomers and millennials share many high-level values regarding work. Perhaps surprisingly, the boomers and millennials tend to agree on work-related values more frequently than either tends to agree with Gen X’s work values3. For instance, research has shown that boomers rate seven non-pay reward types as more important than pay, and millennials rate six rewards higher. Of these, the two generations share four rewards in common, including high-quality colleagues, flexible work arrangements, recognition for a job well done, and opportunities for new work experiences and challenges3. Gen X, by contrast, tends to prioritise pay over these alternative rewards3.

While there is broad agreement on work-related values, there are also notable differences in working environment preferences. In large surveys, millennials prioritise “engaging workplaces” while ranking “quality of meeting rooms” last1. In contrast, boomers stated a reversed preference1. Millennials tended to prefer unplanned, casual, informal meetings, whereas boomers preferred planned, formal, structured meetings1. And while millennials stated a preference for workspaces that were open and conveyed a “residential” feel, boomers showed no preference for these types of informal workspaces1. The millennials’ priorities reflect their preference for collaboration, interaction, and a combination of life/work balance1.

Given their relatively smaller numbers, Gen X-ers will play an important role in creating workplaces that appeal to these generations’ shared values, as well as bridge the gap between their differences, as they rise to assume management responsibility from retiring boomers. Gen X-ers would be wise to acknowledge the preferences of these two generations because recruiting and retaining top talent is a strategic and competitive business issue4.

Technology, in parallel with this demographic shift, is an equally important part of the evolving workplace because it directly influences and enables organisational culture. The convergence of workplace technology and culture in areas such as collaboration software has been broadly observable in recent years. If the recent past is any indication, then technology will be important to, and inseparable from, the goal of creating desirable workplace cultures and bridging the gap between generational styles.

The emergence of huddle rooms

Several behavioural trends encourage the use of huddle rooms. These trends span the multigenerational workforce, but they especially facilitate millennials’ work preferences and styles. These behavioural trends include the following:

  • Mobility – Some areas of the workforce have always been highly mobile (i.e. sales forces), but enterprises increasingly recognise all workers’ desire for flexible work arrangements. This flexibility includes worker mobility, whether at multiple locations, in a single office or off-site. In response, many companies no longer assign permanent workspaces to employees, even those who are located primarily on-site5. Instead, employees work in the location that makes the most sense to complete a specific project or task – whether for several hours, days, or months at a time. They then relocate based around project or team requirements. This concept of flexible work locations and worker mobility is beginning to be applied to meeting spaces.
  • Spontaneous, casual interactions – Millennials prioritise teamwork and collaboration as a core activity of any team. The need to collaborate with one or several teammates often arises spontaneously, and huddle rooms are ideal for quick, unplanned meetings. In addition, millennials prefer casual collaboration to formal meetings. Thoughtfully designed small, open huddle rooms are well adapted to quick, unplanned, more informal interactions.
  • Geographically dispersed workforces – Workspaces are needed where individuals and small groups of workers can interact with co-workers, managers, customers, and business partners located around the globe – even for small start up companies. Huddle rooms are usually equipped with technologies to enable long-distance communication and collaboration.

In addition to these behavioural trends, several technological trends support the use of huddle rooms. These technological trends include the following:

  • Wireless technology and ad hoc networks – Businesses have entered the age of pervasive networking and are moving into the age of ad hoc networks (also known as mobile ad hoc networks, or MANETs)6. In most European urban and suburban locations, at least one public wireless network is accessible. In the future, MANETs will enable users to quickly start up and shut down networks on demand, without the support of a predetermined infrastructure6. Businesses and consumers continue to spend heavily on wireless technologies and subscription services. The International Telecommunications Union estimated that, by mid-2014, 6.9 billion wireless subscription services were in use worldwide, compared to 4 billion at the end of 2008 and 1.41 billion in 20037. Plunkett Research has estimated that 79 per 100 people in the global population now have a wireless telecommunications subscription (compared to 16.5 landlines per 100 people in the global population)7. Wireless services support worker mobility, always-on network connectivity, and easy intercommunication of devices required for the types of meetings that take place in huddle rooms.
  • Pervasive computing – Also known as ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing is a growing trend in the design and manufacture of everyday objects where, by embedding a microprocessor, it is possible to make devices smarter and more connected, and contribute to the growing Internet of Things (IoT).
  • Mobile technologies – The rise of pervasive networking has supported an explosion in mobile technologies, ranging from personal computers and tablets to smartphones and newer categories such as wearables. Based on aggregate data from its customers, Citrix reported in May 2014 that device enrolment in enterprise mobility programmes increased 135% over the previous year, and the number of devices that businesses are managing across all platforms (Android, iOS, Windows Mobile) more than doubled8. As with wireless services, mobile devices enable workers to take advantage of flexible work locations and arrangements such as huddle rooms.
  • Social and collaboration software – This technology enables teams to communicate, collaborate and share information on a single platform. Social and collaboration software, in conjunction with cloud computing, facilitates huddle rooms because each worker can access shared resources and information on their screens, rather than relying on their physical presence to share hard copies, or awkward methods to collaborate on different copies of the same digital file. This software supports remote collaboration as well as rapid set-up and breakdown of meetings in physical spaces.

In these ways, huddle rooms illustrate one way that workplace technology and culture have converged.

Considerations in establishing huddle rooms

Two primary considerations in establishing huddle rooms, or similar workspaces, are the design of the space and the technology deployed. Environment is a distinguishing feature of the huddle room, especially in contrast to traditional corporate meeting locations. Traditional conference rooms tend to provide much more space (e.g. seating) and more types of resources (e.g. technologies, refreshments, storage, etc.) compared to huddle rooms5. Huddle rooms do not make traditional corporate conference rooms obsolete for some purposes, but they do make more sense for smaller, informal meetings that can be quickly convened and dismissed5.

The design of huddle rooms and their differentiation from traditional meeting spaces is influenced by three broad factors:

  • Size – Huddle rooms are usually designed to comfortably support the physical presence of up to half a dozen meeting participants5.
  • Location – Huddle rooms may or may not be closed spaces isolated by a physical boundary. Huddle rooms can be found adjacent to lobbies, lounges and open workspaces. The casual style and usually non-confidential topics of huddle room meetings do not require physical separation from other office spaces.
  • Look and feel – Huddle rooms are usually furnished with a table, several chairs, and perhaps simple shelving. Some advocate designing the space to reinforce a team’s identity or the company’s brand through the use of colours, slogans, and other themes9. Others advocate making the spaces easy to modify for short-term, project-based uses by numerous teams9. Agreement exists that huddle rooms should be designed to not detract from their main purpose.

Much professional literature has been written on the design and environmental factors of huddle rooms, but less attention has been given to the optimal technologies that should be deployed. Technological considerations shift the discussion from form to function. The first question to ask in considering huddle room technologies is: What types of activities will be performed in the space? These activities determine the technologies needed to maximise productivity.

Huddle rooms lend themselves well to:

  • Conceptualising/brainstorming – Generating and developing new concepts, ideas, designs, etc.
  • Information sharing – Quickly updating team members on the status of projects and new developments.
  • Document sharing – Planning, developing, editing, and reviewing documents.
  • Dialogue vs. monologue – Facilitating dialogue among teammates equally (in line with a more casual, informal style) rather than a monologue from a clear meeting leader.
  • Telephony – The ability to speak with remote teammates, whether via traditional telephone or voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), is fundamental to productive meeting spaces.
  • Audio – Audio accessories such as loud speakers, whether portable or fixed, improve the ability of meeting participants to communicate, especially in spaces adjacent to passing foot traffic.
  • Video – The ability to view remote meeting participants on a screen, as well as play video or share images, enhances and improves communication. Flat panel displays (FPDs) are often the first technology that businesses consider for this use. However, newer technologies such as interactive projectors provide significant advantages over FPDs in terms of cost, sustainability, and features.
  • Interactive projectors – This more recent technology offers robust visual and functional capabilities for maximising productivity. Interactive projectors can be used in a variety of ways, from serving as the video display during videoconferencing to projecting images and video. Interactive projectors bridge a significant gap in a work style preference between boomers and millennials. Boomers use whiteboards for their simplicity and ease of use, while millennials are comfortable using digital alternatives. Interactive projectors allow users to capture written notes on a whiteboard in real time and then easily save, transmit, store, and share those notes in digital formats. In essence, interactive projectors transform physical whiteboards into digital technologies. Interactive projectors are versatile tools that should be seriously considered for meeting spaces.

To maximise the value of huddle room technologies, organisations should plan for complementary capabilities, which include the following:

  • Network integration – The ability to integrate huddle room technologies into the enterprise’s broader information and communications infrastructure is critical to maximising productivity and investments in existing technologies.
  • Universal connection methods – Workers should be able to connect (or “tether”) multiple types of devices to huddle room technologies. For instance, laptops may use high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) technology for transferring audio and video to projectors. In contrast, smartphones may use wireless or mobile high-definition link (MHL) for the same task.
  • Security – Huddle room technologies typically integrate into the enterprise network and interface directly with multiple end-user devices. For this reason, proper security measures should be implemented. Consultation with the information security team on how to incorporate appropriate identity and access management, authentication, and device-specific “hardening” measures should also be conducted.

By considering both environmental design and technological toolsets, organisations can ensure they optimise both the form and function of huddle rooms.

The convergence of culture and technology in the workplace

The demographic, behavioural, environmental, and technological trends covered here all point to the convergence of workplace culture and technology. The huddle room is one observable manifestation of this trend. As illustrated generally and in the specific case of huddle rooms, these trends impact several aspects of business, including the nature of interactions, collaboration, and productivity.

This convergence provides a path forward for enterprises. Businesses that embrace these changes and adapt their practices accordingly are likely to remain competitive by tapping the knowledge, skills, and talents of the evolving multigenerational workforce. Creating workspaces that facilitate and enable evolving worker preferences and styles is a fundamental strategy for attracting and retaining talent. Creating these spaces begins by recognising that any decision affecting culture also affects technology and vice versa. Therefore, technology must always be considered, even in seemingly cultural workplace initiatives such as huddle rooms.

Implementing technology solutions, such as interactive projectors, could be highly beneficial for all audiences. The solution would be:

  • Replacing a whiteboard for boomers with the interactivity that millennials prefer
  • Serving as a versatile video display/video conferencing solution to improve sharing and long-distance communication
  • Enabling users to view and contribute content locally or remotely from most types of devices
  • Simplifying the ability to capture, save, share, and store meeting notes
  • Improving productivity by supporting different worker preferences for common meeting activities

To learn more about huddle room technologies generally, and interactive projectors specifically, visit Epson online at: www.epson.eu/meeting-solutions

This site provides in-depth resources to use in planning huddle rooms and other contemporary workspaces. 

1Gargiulo, Susanne (2012, August 21). ‘Geneneration Y’ Set to Transform Office Life [Electronic version]. CNN International Edition. Retrieved January 8, 2015, from http://edition.cnn.com/2012/08/20/business/ generation-y-global-office-culture/

2Carlson, Elwood (2009, March). 20th-Century U.S. Generations. Population Reference Bureau. Retrieved January 8, 2015, from http://www.prb.org/Publications/Reports/2009/20thcenturyusgenerations.aspx

3Hewlett, Sylvia Ann, Laura Sherbin, and Karen Sumberg (2009, July). How Gen Y and Boomers Will Reshape Your Agenda [Electronic version]. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 8, 2015, from https://hbr.org/2009/07/how-gen-y-boomers-will-reshape-your-agenda

4Fernandez-Araoz, Claudio, Boris Groysberg, and Nitin Nohria (2009, May). The Definitive Guide to Recruiting in Good Times and Bad [Electronic version]. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from https://hbr.org/2009/05/the-definitive-guide-to-recruiting-in-good-times-and-bad/ar/1

5Blackwood, Jonathan (2014, June 26). The Emergence of the Huddle Room [Electronic version]. Corporate Tech Decisions. Retrieved January 8, 2015, from http://www.corporatetechdecisions.com/article/the_emergence_of_the_huddle_room

6Loo, Jonathan, Jaime Lloret Mauri, and Jesus Hamilton Ortiz (Eds.) (2012). Mobile Ad Hoc Networks: Current Status and Future Trends. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group. Retrieved January 8, 2015, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/216986757/Mobile-Ad-Hoc-Networks-Current-Status-and-Future- Trends#scribd

7Plunkett Research, Ltd. (January 2015). Introduction to the Telecommunications Industry. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from http://plunkettresearch.com/telecommunications-market-research/industry-trends

8Citrix Corporation (2014, May). Enterprise Mobility Trends. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from http://www. slideshare.net/citrix/citrix-xenmobile-enterprise-mobility-trends

9Grantham, Charlie (2014, October 24). Workplace Design Implications of Emergent Worker Attitudes [Electronic version]. Work Design Magazine. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from http://workdesign. com/2014/10/workplace-design-implications-emergent-worker-attitudes/