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Tech-enabled huddle rooms: The secret to a more innovative workplace

As we discussed in our earlier post, huddle rooms are a hot topic these days, promising those organizations who adopt them a whole host of benefits. These include greater productivity, the enablement of more agile workflows and even higher job satisfaction - particularly amongst the millennial generation, who are now make up the largest cohort in the U.S workforce at 35%, a number that is forecasted to rise to 75% by 2025.

But creating effective huddle rooms that will be widely adopted by employees is not as simple as buying equipment, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. There are many other factors that should be taken into account.

Here, we will look at optimising your office environment to make sure you get the most out of your real estate, your huddle spaces and your employees.

The problem? Most office spaces today are designed sub-optimally

A recent study by workplace planning experts Herman Miller's Space Utilization Services sought to quantify how and when office space was being used. They used wireless sensors attached to the undersides of chairs to collect highly accurate data on how often a chair was utilized during the day. What they discovered was surprising:

  • 77% of the time, private offices are unoccupied;

  • 60% of the time, workstations are unoccupied;

  • Conference rooms are rarely used to capacity—in larger ones, four out of five seats typically sit empty.

The data also demonstrated that:

  • Mobility is becoming more important;

  • People like to work in “social” spaces and will choose them over less social spaces;

  • Smaller meeting spaces are used more than larger spaces;

  • Rooms with technology are used much more than those without. 

These statistics make a clear case for huddle rooms, but what can you do to better support these more productive ways of working?

Huddle spaces have unique requirements 

A 2017 study by the Brooking Institute on "Innovation Spaces" asked a cross-section of global-reaching architects on the cutting-edge of practice to define what is considered an innovation space.

A condensed version of their answers included the following descriptions: spaces that strengthen interactions, communication, and collaboration; and spaces that are open, transparent and contextually responsive.

Put in more prosaic terms, for a space to be successful in enabling innovation, it must respond to what workers need - as a team and as individuals.

When architects were asked how innovative spaces have changed over the last 10 years, they made three broad observations:

  • Technology is more pervasive, connecting people to ideas and to each other in ways not seen before;

  • Innovative spaces are more open, transparent and inviting;

  • Design no longer evolves only from the client of the leaders of an organisation - the process now includes those who will use the space.

In the above report, Dr. Tracy Brower, director of Herman Miller Performance Environments, said in 2015, “Formal conference rooms are great for presentations, but informal spaces encourage a different kind of interaction—more unstructured, more creative, and more conducive to a collaborative culture”. 

Designing your office space: from sub-optimal to exceptional

Regardless of the purpose of the office space - be it a freshening up of your existing space, a new HQ for a growth stage company or a satellite office in a remote location - the physical space is an extension of your organisation and its culture. So how can you ensure your office space will suit the needs of your company, its employees and your company culture?

Priority 1 - listen to your employees

The more you involve your employees in the planning and design of the space, the more you offer them the chance to engage with the company. You'll also find experience and knowledge among your employees that will make the process of preparing the new space easier. It would be a mistake to assume what works for them and what doesn't, so you should ask them to share their opinions on the following - you may be surprised by their answers.

  • Layout

What works and what doesn't in the existing space? Why? What is missing?

  • Color

There is an enormous amount of research that attempts to define a link between the color of an office environment and employee productivity. A 2005 study by Dr. Nancy Kwallek at Texas University, for example found that color can have an impact on mood and on productivity, but there is no clear link between the two. The best course of action is to ask the employees what they would prefer and, if you have the time and resources, to A/B test some sample colors before moving ahead with the project.

  • Lighting

According to a 2015 study by Mirjam Münch et al, lighting conditions in workplaces contribute to a variety of factors related to work satisfaction, productivity and well-being. The study found that “Compared to the afternoon, people who had DL (Daylight) were significantly more alert at the beginning of the evening, and subjects who were exposed to AL (Artificial light) were significantly sleepier at the end of the evening.” More natural light means more alert and energetic employees, so be sure to maximise the amount of daylight in the office.

  • Other Practicalities

Getting your employee's opinion on office space aesthetics is one thing, but they should also be encouraged to share their opinion on more practical matters, too. Ask for a wish list of items for the new space, coffee bar, kitchen, bathrooms, storage space - anything they feel would make work a better place to be. This could also extend to their desire for a greener, more sustainable workplace.

  • Technology

 Last, but far from least, is their technological requirements. As we showed above, smaller meeting spaces are used more than larger spaces and rooms with technology are used much more than those without. In addition, the rise of remote workers and millennials in the workplace mean expectations and requirements of technology are changing, so equipping your new office spaces with high-quality, easy-to-use video conferencing equipment is a no-brainer.

An office layout that maximises informal social spaces

The authors of the 2015 book "Change Your Space, Change Your Culture" (condensed version here) emphasise the importance of creating "social" spaces to engage employees. “Like rings of a ladder, innovation is tied to collaboration and collaboration is tied to engagement, and the first ring of an innovative culture is an engaging workplace.”

So how can you improve the layout of your office to create a more engaged, collaborative and innovative workplace?

What does a more collaborative office plan look like?

The Herman Miller report mentioned above illustrates the differences between a traditional open office plan, characterized by the dreaded "cubicle" system that most of us are familiar with and a more contemporary, collaboration-enabling solution that is now considered best practice.

In this "conventional" plan, an office space of 24,150 sq ft designed for 135 occupants, we see 19% of floor space designated for groups and 81% for individuals, with just one space - a break area - that can be used for informal interaction.

The second illustration shows how the same work environment can be used to support greater collaboration with more than double the worker density at 336 occupants. Here, the ratio is 40% group spaces and 60% individual. It goes without saying that this is an enormous improvement on ROI in terms of office real estate but creating these more inviting spaces will also boost engagement and collaboration; enable new, more effective workflows; and result in greater innovation.

So, how does the second plan create space for more than twice the number of people?

1. The size of workstations is reduced

2. The plan recommends that 60% of workstations be shared at a ratio of 3:1

3. Nearly three times as much collaboration space is provided, countering the problems created by point 1 and 2

A more collaborative space helps build a more innovative culture

You can read about the data-driven recommendations behind this office plan in this report, but in essence, creating a wider variety of informal collaboration spaces achieves the following objectives:

  • Community collaboration areas (aka huddle spaces) make planned interaction convenient and chance encounters more likely

  • Increasing the number of natural gathering areas that include informal meeting spaces enables smaller, flexible teams to have more frequent and natural conversations (a work style typical of predictably more productive and successful teams). 

  • This type of plan is the manifestation of a more psychologically open, collaborative culture, with the office used as a collective space owned by everybody, rather than a series of individual territories. 

How to maximise the potential of informal spaces with the right technology

With the rise of remote work and the perma-connected millennial generation of digital natives, video collaboration is only becoming more central to the way we work. Creating more informal meeting spaces in the office to support new ways of working is a fantastic thing, but in order to maximise their potential, there has to be a technological component involved. The wide variety of spaces shown above have a wide variety of functions and use-case scenarios - from small, collaborative huddle rooms to stand-up meetings to ad-hoc laptop get-togethers. These spaces have unique technological requirements - especially with regards to cameras. 

From the day Huddly was founded, we sought to design and build cameras to meet these technological challenges and empower organisations to work in new, more collaborative and agile ways. That's why we don't call Huddly GO a webcam - we call it a collaboration camera.

Huddly GO is the perfect camera choice for these spaces. It is ultra-compact and USB powered, meaning it can be quickly mounted anywhere and ready to go at a moments' notice. It has a 150˙ field of view, ensuring everyone can be captured and on-screen - even in small rooms or in laptop meetings where participants are close to the screen. A 16MP sensor and intelligent software features like dynamic light optimisation deliver superb image quality regardless of challenging lighting conditions and make sure you always look your best, no matter where you are.

We encourage you to learn more about what Huddly GO can do over at our product page or check out how GO is helping other organizations work in new ways on our User Stories page

In the next article in this series, we will be diving deeper into the challenges of technologically-enabling these spaces and taking a look at how to choose the right combination of hardware and software. Stay tuned!

As ever, thank you for reading, and don't forget to have a look at

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Article by Dan Hesketh, Huddly



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