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Collaboration and Concentration in Open Offices And Rise of Huddle Rooms

Posted by Kevin Gulley

Aug 10, 2015


Over the last several years as I travel around the country to meet with companies, customers and colleagues, I have been bearing witness to the rapid shift in office spaces towards so-called open offices.  These spaces are a far cry from the corner office dominated, cubicle farm based, big boardroom offices we all grew up with and envision when we think of corporate America.  With teleworking on the rise, employees working flex hours and businesses looking to increase team collaboration, the walls have literally come down.  Businesses are decreasing the amount of space they lease, opening up the floor plans to increase team interaction and deploying unified communications solutions to streamline team and customer communications.

As this infographic lays out, businesses are on an unstoppable trend towards open office spaces and it makes good business sense -it saves them a LOT of money.  For example:

  • Companies are leasing 33% less space per employee than they did just a decade ago

  • Businesses have increased space utilization from 50% to 80-95%

  • Organizations are now packing 7 workers in per 1000 sqft as opposed to 5 workers in just 2009

Recently I was meeting with some executives at Jabra in their new North American headquarters and received a guided tour of their brand new, state-of-the-art open office.  The thought that went into the space and the changes the new environment has helped facilitate in their business processes provided me with a new appreciation for how open offices can impact corporate culture and what businesses need to do to ensure open offices deliver on the promise of increased collaboration and efficiency.

Open Offices Require Careful Planning, Plenty of Collaboration and Specialty Spaces

According to Stefan Slattery, the Marketing Program Manager at Jabra, management was intimately involved in designing the new office.  “The overarching theme was always open office, but our facility manager interviewed and gathered details from the department heads to determine how each team needed to work and what approach would help them be the most effective,” says Slattery.  “For example, the marketing team went with an open bullpen area allowing easy access to colleagues for collaboration and rapid fire discussions.  The sales team wanted to afford a level of privacy for phone calls, but also allow for streamlined colleague access and collaboration, so the cubicle walls are shorter and they back up to each other so team members can connect more easily and see who is available for discussion.”

The other vital aspect of the open office that Jabra designed was ensuring there are plenty of private collaboration and conferencing spaces as well as specialty rooms to make sure the space performed for the employees.  According to Slattery, these rooms included:

Huddle Rooms - They have three glass-fronted rooms with whiteboard walls that groups can quickly go into to collaborate on a particular project.  By using glass the spaces are visible and teams can tell if they are available at a glance.

Silent Rooms - These rooms have their own doors and deliver privacy for employees that are looking to have a private conversation  or execute on heads down work

Relaxation Spaces - These rooms have comfortable couches and chairs that employees can use to take a break, or do some work on their laptops with their feet kicked up.

Lync Video Conferencing Rooms - These two video collaboration rooms are fully integrated with their MS Lync UC solution, with huge video monitors showing upcoming meetings with one-click launch.  Schedule a meeting at your desk for one of these rooms, walk in at the correct time with your team and click ‘Go’.  Watch everyone else appear on the monitor as they join.  Sounds pretty sweet.

Conference Rooms with Full AV Hookups - Another 4 or 5 conferencing rooms with full AV hookups are scattered throughout the office to ensure there is never a lack of available conference space and that local teams can connect with remote colleagues or customers whenever necessary.

“These rooms are what really make the new space shine,” says Slattery.  “You never feel like there is a lack of privacy if you need it, or team collaboration space when you want it.  This makes a big difference, especially in such an open environment.”

Concentration and Productivity in Open Office Spaces

One area that it is clear open office spaces excel in is increased face-to-face collaboration among team members.  “From the marketing team’s perspective we are noticing major improvements in collaboration and the ability to more easily meet with colleagues and pull remote team members into a conversation.  This is especially true with the increased number of video collaboration rooms, not to mention desktop video at every workstation” says Slattery.  One interesting point is that the huddle rooms are quickly becoming a favorite locale for sidebar conversations and impromptu brainstorming sessions.  The additional flex spaces allow for team members to address some of the perceived downsides of open offices, namely they are noisier and employees can feel a lack of privacy.

In such open spaces, another area of concern I have heard from employees is concentration.  How do you execute on that heads down, critical project when you are right in the middle of all your coworkers?  Having the chance to discuss this with Jabra was ideal, as they are committed to eating their own dogfood when it comes to open office collaboration, leveraging unified communications and utilizing their own devices to enhance privacy.  “When it comes to creating a personal concentration zone, you are responsible for carving out your own space and dependence on your devices and peripherals is critical,” says Slattery.  “The first thing I do is change the presence status on my UC solution to ‘Do Not Disturb’ to cut down on non-critical IM’s and phone calls.  Then I turn on my busylight so my colleagues know not to tap me on my shoulder.  Then I put on my noise cancelling headset, switch it from connecting to my phone to connecting with my music so I can get down to business.”  

I had never heard of a busylight before, but it is a desktop peripheral that connects to your phone and a red light shines to let people know you are on a phone call.  You can also manually turn it on to let people know you are concentrating.  A simple idea, but it makes a lot of sense in an open office.  Having a noise cancelling headset like the Jabra Evolve can make it seem like you are alone in the office by eliminating virtually all background noise.

Getting this tour gave me a new appreciation for how a well-planned, well-executed open office space can deliver results.  Design for each team’s unique needs, commit to unified communications, have plenty of collaboration spaces and make sure each team member has the right devices to allow for privacy and execution.  Seems like a pretty simple recipe.

Topics: collaboration, Business Case, Employees, Industry News, Headsets,, Huddle Rooms

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