IBM is pinning its hopes of an economic revival on huddle room technology.
After 19 consecutive quarters of declining sales, Big Blue is calling in its once revolutionary remote workforce and gathering its best minds into small, on-site squads. It’s hoping the increase in incidental, accidental personal contact will help spark the next big idea to take the company back to the top of the high-tech heap.
These dynamic little teams still need to communicate with the wider business and client world, however, and that’s where the huddle room technology comes into play. Rather than slow the flow of ideas by having to schedule time in the big video conferencing suite, small teams are adopting mobile video calling spaces that are always ready.
Luckily for IBM, huddle room video conferencing equipment is getting smarter all the time, and new features such as voice activity detection make instant, smooth video calling easy.
IBM’s Change of Mind
For more than a decade IBM was the leading light for telecommuting. In the 2000s, while the rest of the business world was still coming to terms with the possibilities of remote work, 40% of IBM’s almost 400,000 global employees were telecommuting. It famously saved the company more than $100 million annually in real estate costs alone.
Big Blue hit a bottom line downturn in the early 2010s however, and rightly or wrongly–and Yahoo’s decision to head down the same path didn’t help much–it is trying to change its fortunes by changing the way its staffs work together. But those returning to the office will find it radically changed. As is now common for offices, cubicles are out, small team roundtables are in, and everyone gets to video conference in huddle rooms.
With the rise of these smaller, multi-purpose digital meeting rooms comes a new branch of video calling equipment: all-in-one units that just need a screen and small table to operate.
The Best of Huddle Room Technology
Huddle room video conferencing equipment is usually compact, ready to use in an instant, and easy to operate. It has to accommodate teams with limited space and time, as well as various types of video conference room designs.
It is typified by mobile units like Logitech’s Connect, or Owl Labs’ recently released Owl video conferencing device. You bring them with you when you start a meeting, and take them out again when you’re done, leaving no trace of the video call that was just completed.
Or, for the IBMs of the world, you can jump up a notch and invest in a 4K ultra HD unit like Logitech’s new MeetUp. It costs a little more than those other two – $899–and it is best suited to a fixed location underneath a big screen setup in the huddle room, but it comes with advanced features.
For a start, it allows you to video conference in 4k, the highest standard currently available for a video conference and the best picture money can buy for the professional. There’s a limit to what current internet speeds will allow you to do in 4K, but high-end tech users are going to be all about 4K in the near future.
MeetUp also has a wide-angle lens with a 120-degree field of view that can capture an entire team in a small space, and beamforming microphones with voice activity detection that can shift the focus to whoever currently has the floor.
Being designed for small spaces, however, means the MeetUp relies on digital zoom. That shouldn’t be a problem in a huddle room, but if big business demands superior optical zoom it’ll have to pay a little extra again and get something like the Aver VC520.
Huddle room units are becoming as varied and smart as any piece of office hardware, and IBM has plenty of gadgets to choose from as it leaps into the team orientated office.
Huddle Room As Part of the Agile Office
If IBM’s intent is to make the office faster, smaller, and sleeker without compromising on quality, then we think the emerging huddle room technology can make it happen.
IBM’s idea seems to be that bringing unplanned interaction and real-world social activity into the mix will help its staff be more creative. Perhaps they’re imagining that a small team working roundtable-style will share ideas about a communal project as it occurs to them. Someone else suggests a new angle, they get some peer support, and then everyone can dash off to a nearby, never booked, huddle room and share the big idea with the team over in the Austin office. The emerging tech means the room is always ready to go as soon as a laptop or VC unit is turned on, the visuals, sound, and controls are as good as any large conference room setup, and there’s nothing to slow down the workflow.
That’s easily achievable with the current tech, and should be more so once these devices get smarter and start recognizing faces, answering voice commands, and predicting who needs to be dialed in to a call. So IBM has the huddle room tech it needs. The question remains whether calling in all the telecommuters and placing them into huddle rooms in the first place provides IBM with its big comeback.