As we begin to consider whether and when we are going back to in-office work, many companies are moving their office configurations away from fixed offices, cubicles, and large conference rooms in favor of hoteling, where workers rotate among shared desks, and huddle rooms, small meeting spaces where a handful of employees can collaborate. I’ve begun to look at huddle-room products from companies like Poly, Microsoft, Cisco, and, more recently, Bose.
Bose sent me its latest huddle space product, the Videobar VB1, for evaluation. For a company relatively new to this space, this is a decent effort.
I still doubt we will be using huddle rooms as much as we think, given that surveys are still showing that significant numbers of employees don’t plan to go into work and are perfectly happy conferencing in remotely. With that context, let’s about the new Bose VB1 and the future of huddle rooms.
Taking the Bose VB1 Videobar for a spin
The Bose VB1 is well-positioned for a hybrid work environment — literally. Unlike most of the other huddle room products I’ve tried, it is designed to mount under rather than above the large room display. These displays are typically mounted at standing eye level, so placing the device on top of the display puts its integrated camera too high. Placing the VB1 underneath the display approaches sitting eye level, which should help remote attendees feel more like they are part of the meeting and less like ghosts looking down at people from above.
The all-in-one conferencing device is attractive and discreet. When installed, it works like a remote dock, providing a single USB-C connection into the device for all features. It isn’t standalone, meaning you have to use a PC or laptop with it, but the single USB-C connection makes for a quick connect/disconnect process and fewer wires to get in the way. (It also supports Bluetooth if you want to connect wirelessly.)
The camera doesn’t do speaker tracking, and that’s fine in this context. I would want speaker tracking in a larger space like the main conference room, but it isn’t very usable in huddle rooms, which are typically 10×10 to 12×12 feet and seat a maximum of 7 people. More practical in these small spaces is the VB1’s auto framing feature, which allows the camera to expand its view to encompass those attending the meeting locally.
With Bose, I expected that the sound performance would be good, and it was, but so was the quality of the video. The device has six beam-steering microphones that zero in on the speaker, allowing them to be better understood. Noise cancellation worked reasonably well, and both outbound and inbound sound clarity were first rate. The fixed 4K camera is excellent as well.
The VB1 comes with wall and table mounts (the VESA TV mount is separate), and it has an ethernet port for managing the device and remotely servicing it.
Retailing for around $1,200, it’s an attractive option for huddle spaces with remote meeting participants.
Rethinking the huddle room
About those huddle spaces: A lot of the huddle rooms I see being designed will likely have to be changed. Security is one problem: Too many huddle rooms have inward-facing windows and aren’t soundproofed well enough to protect the confidential discussions contained within them. Large displays are often placed within view of external or internal windows, a potential risk for confidential information to leak out of the room.
Windows also tend to be bad acoustical surfaces, and while they may open the room up visually, they can make the attendees feel like they are in a fishbowl.
Another issue is technology: Over the next decade, conferencing technology will change a great deal. Vendors are developing ever-better mixed reality (MR) products that visually, virtually integrate remote attendees into local meetings. This requires higher consistency from room to room and a significant change in the technology being used to equip them.
While we’re still a ways off from widespread mixed-reality solutions, huddle rooms should be consistently sized and provisioned so that when they have transitioned to multi-room mixed reality, the physical differences can be mapped from room to room.
When laying out these rooms, don’t just think about today’s technology. Think about tomorrow’s, or you’ll likely have to rip them out and reconfigure them in 5 to 10 years.
Wrapping up: Eyeing the hybrid work future
Huddle rooms have become the new must-have for offices expecting employees to come back. I’m still doubtful that most will come back, but if they do, they’ll need safe places to meet — and those spaces will need to accommodate remote participants.
Building huddle rooms that protect against data leakage and assure the remote worker experience will be even more critical for our hybrid post-pandemic future. If you are going to build huddle rooms, remember that keeping them consistently sized and provisioned will make for a more effortless pivot to mixed reality once that technology matures.
The Boise VB1 provides an impressively clean and robust huddle room solution, and it is worth looking at as you consider provisioning for your new hybrid working future.
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