Forget the big and boring meeting rooms where one-sided information is projected. The meeting room of the future is smaller, cableless and wireless, interactive and partly virtual. Wim De Bruyne, General Manager of Meeting Experiences at Barco and Frank Demonie, Chief Technology Officer at KBC talk about connecting, sharing insights and smart collaboration in huddle rooms.
Are you familiar with huddle rooms? They are cockpits for 2 to 6 people in which employees actively work together and share information, with collaboration tools as leverage and wireless connectivity as conditio sine qua non. Both KBC and Barco use them for creative sessions or strategic meetings. Wim De Bruyne: ‘Huddle rooms fit perfectly in the new meeting culture aspired by the millennials: from passive to interactive, from large meeting rooms with expensive equipment to smaller spaces where they connect their own devices to a screen and share and compare information.’
The new technology driven working habits are also changing the interior of the brick buildings. Frank Demonie: ‘We would no longer construct a building like this one (the KBC–head office in Leuven, ed.). In Malines, for example, we have no fixed offices any more, only open spaces, small islands with a few seats around a table and small cockpits where people can creatively work together and login for a Skype call. ‘
ClickShare is a wireless Barco solution for the presentation and sharing of content. Wim De Bruyne: ‘You connect very intuitively with a button or an app, without losing time with cables. More than 400,000 meeting rooms (including those of the KBC, ed.) are already equipped for this solution. Our business unit ‘Meeting Experience’ has grown from a 0 to +150 million euro turnover in five years. Our mission? To create a flawless meeting culture by the efficient use of technology. No one wants lengthy, non-productive meetings anymore! ‘
Mr Demonie, how is KBC’s meeting culture?
Frank Demonie, CTO at KBC: ‘Six years ago, we carried out a complete transformation. We introduced super secure Wi-Fi, but also mobile devices and Skype for Business as an all-in-one communication platform that allows us to dial in, chat, videoconference, share and record content, collaborate on documents … Strategic meetings in large meeting rooms are a thing of the past.’
‘Recently we had a call on strategic themes, including a Q&A session, with more than 1,000 participants. We focus strongly on location-independency and working at home. Two years ago we launched telepresence for international board meetings, in which we see each other clearly. This allows us to save on travel expenses and to reduce our carbon footprint.’
Wim De Bruyne: ‘IT creates work places that are much more collaborative and intuitive. In our strategy for the future we are counting on one or more virtual participants at each meeting, allowing us to interact with people which are not physically present. Remote participants should enjoy the same experience and level of engagement, including eye contact.’ These are trends and questions Barco is monitoring and trying to answer.’
Can you create the same dynamic for remote participants?
Frank Demonie: ‘Meeting rules must of course be set. For example, people should ask direct questions, such as “Wim, what do you think of that?” This way you keep everyone alert.’
Wim De Bruyne: ‘It is not just about technology. The organization culture – the way people work together – is just as crucial. You can have the best infrastructure, but if people do not change their behaviour or are unwilling to share information, you will get nowhere.’
Are the new generations the catalyst for those new workplaces?
Wim De Bruyne: ‘Definitely, but it does not stop there. Companies realize that more information sharing means more ideas and higher productivity. The trend towards self-organizing teams fits in perfectly as well. Managers become coaches.’
Frank Demonie: ‘KBC has strongly evolved from a hierarchical company to a network organization. Hierarchy slows down innovation and we want to be very innovative. We need to, if we still want to make a difference as a bank.’
Wim De Bruyne: ‘Above all, we must ensure that everyone, young and old, can connect in a simple and intuitive way. Our own survey with 1,250 end users showed that 81 percent of the people experienced stress during meetings when technology failed. There are still a lot of meeting issues to be solved.’
‘We are working on a new product to automatically integrate all devices. And we experiment with a virtual video director, allowing you to switch to different faces during a meeting. The video director will also provide a short movie of the meeting, with speech to text conversion.’
Frank Demonie: ‘We are also investing in automatic simultaneous interpretation during meetings.’
How will virtual and augmented reality impact tomorrow’s workplace?
Frank Demonie: ‘AR is ideal for adding extra information – like checking a customer’s investment background during a meeting – but the hardware, such as the VR headset, is still a little to laborious. There is no lack of possibilities, provided the technology goes beyond the gimmick and people accept it.’
Wim De Bruyne: ‘AR allows you to add more context to the information that is shown during a meeting. We are already testing VR installations and virtual whiteboards you can draw on. We also experiment with presence detection (you enter a meeting room and it recognizes that you are ‘ inside’) and voice recognition. Quite a lot is possible, but there are also privacy issues involved.’
How important is the workplace for impressing clients and recruiting young potentials?
Frank Demonie: ‘Buildings and their look are becoming less important than the ability to work in a location-independent way. Job satisfaction greatly increases when employees can determine for themselves how they organize their day, to avoid traffic jams for example. In the war for talent, which certainly rages in the IT world, new employees expect to be able to collaborate and experiment wherever they are.’
Wim De Bruyne: ‘The expectations of new employees are indeed getting higher. Our headquarters in Kortrijk excels in innovation and our coffee bar is a meeting point. When we bring customers or partners ‘physically’ together to show them new technologies – sometimes you need to really feel them – they also experience the kind of atmosphere in which we work.’