AV Everywhere — the Coming of Open Spaces

I was in Manhattan last week and was asked to tour a space that represents the future of a Fortune-50 company. An entire floor in their downtown headquarters had been built to create a more open, collaborative, and technology supported workspace that they will begin to roll out worldwide this year. It was both beautiful and functional – which is a real testament to the individuals within these companies and their AV consultants/integrators who are embracing the changing workplace.

The views from the space were amazing, but I was more impressed by the depth of thought that had gone into envisioning the future of the corporate workspace. Everything from active noise cancelling emitters to replace traditional walls as sound barriers to a uniform “user experience” across all spaces were considered.

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The space looked more like the command deck of the Starship Enterprise (the new one designed by ILM and not the TV-series one) than the office spaces being designed as recently as five years ago. The trends to openness and collaborative work spaces aren’t new, even Wainhouse and traditional analysts are tracking the space with an equal mix of excitement and concern as to what it may imply about traditional unified communications and AV “collaboration” technology.

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The good news for my AV colleagues is that open spaces create new opportunities for AV – such as the trend towards pervasive AV rather than dedicated AV rooms. Standing in a space that embodied these trends made me think more about the human impact of these changes and how it will change the way we work.

Here are a few of the takeaways from that meeting which I have taken to heart. Thanks to my tour guides for the insight!

1)      Meetings will start differently.

When you remove physical barriers to rooms and more seamlessly introduce collaboration spaces into an environment, they will be used more often. A secondary and a possibly more important effect is that these rooms will be used on demand.

There is an invisible overhead (time) to scheduling a meeting, walking to a dedicated space, and waiting for your colleagues to arrive physically or virtually. This overhead would dissipate if the three decision makers could simply decide to walk from the water cooler to a space that could be used for an ad-hoc meeting. These types of meetings will require new ways to get started. NFC from a mobile device to launch the appropriate technology and not a calendar invite for example.

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Unscheduled meetings have been shown to be more creative and, surprisingly, more outcome driven than regularly scheduled events. If you are developing products for business you can safely assume that the majority of work in the next decade will take place outside of scheduled traditional meetings in a conference room. Products for the workplace need to accommodate that new trend.

2)      Transitional spaces are meeting spaces.

AV and software is everywhere in the workplace. In decades past, certain rooms were used for video-teleconferencing — now I can take a FaceTime call anywhere.  Your apps, your data, and everything you need to have a productive meeting and collaborate with your colleagues is accessible from anywhere – it’s the tablet under your arm, it’s the smartphone in your pocket or the back pocket of your skinny jeans if you’re a hipster millennial.

How often have you left a meeting and continued the discussion in the neighboring hallway?  Imagine if these transitional spaces were outfitted with a few displays and the ability to wirelessly connect to a display. The hallway is now a stand-up, ad-hoc, collaboration space where real work can get done quickly.  This represents a tremendous opportunity for AV companies that understand the implications. Digital signage is workspace, a smartphone camera combined with an Android TV hanging on a wall becomes a soft VTC endpoint, and quality audio/video capture throughout a space is an exciting challenge waiting for a solution.

3)      Dedicated spaces are evaporating – dedicated technologies will too.

This is maybe the most obvious observation, but AV technologies have a long history of being dedicated, expensive, hardware systems that require a dedicated location. It is difficult sometimes to envision a high-quality group teleconferencing system that doesn’t require a dedicated environment.  I’m just pointing out that there will be fewer and fewer of these dedicated spaces — so it’s important to re-imagine your products in a way that embraces mobility, transition, and the ad-hoc nature of an open environment.