Today’s unified communication technologies are breaking down traditional workplace barriers. Thanks to real-time collaboration tools, organizations now account for large numbers of offsite workers who interact remotely on a daily basis. To accommodate this growing trend, firms are progressively turning to new systems, processes, and structural designs to create cooperation-driven conditions where virtual communications can thrive.
Huddle rooms that are equipped with application-specific conferencing technology can leapfrog organizations into virtual-collaboration readiness by delivering true sound quality. Pictured is TesiraFORTÉ, Biamp Systems’ new DSP product line. A prominent illustration of this shift is the emergence of the huddle room. In general terms, a huddle room is a small space where three-to-five staff members can congregate for meetings—providing privacy from the common disruptions of open office settings. Obviously, a main huddle room enabler is technology, with many organizations adopting low-cost/low-range solutions to leverage the wide availability of IP-based conferencing software. However, without proper consideration for space design, audio quality, and suitable peripherals, huddle rooms can engender issues that gradually erode their advantages, leading to strained communications that can damage a team’s collaborative momentum.
The following tips, aimed at optimizing huddle rooms, discuss best practices for creating spaces where conferencing sessions can closely mimic the natural flow of face-to-face exchanges—resulting in better teamwork and more productive meetings.
• Capturing Audio: By using dedicated microphones, organizations can ensure that participants at both ends of conferencing sessions, regardless of location, can enjoy superior sound quality. Professional-quality ceiling or tabletop microphones also reduce the background noise usually picked up by both speakerphones and microphones embedded into laptops and tablet devices. When installing ceiling microphones, it is important to consider a huddle room’s design and dimensions, which can directly impact performance. For instance, in rooms with high ceilings, supercardioid microphones featuring a pickup range of 90 degrees will better serve longer distances between speakers and the microphone. However, to prevent audio degradation within larger pickup areas, technicians should be cautious not to “over-mic” a huddle room. Tabletop mics are also an option.
• Audio Playback: Placing loudspeakers in huddle rooms can lead to better comprehension during conferencing. Installed directly into the ceiling or deployed as self-contained units, quality loudspeakers will produce improved fidelity and wideband audio during sessions. A related consideration is whether a selected audio solution will also be used in multiple spaces. Audio processing platforms can be designed modularly to accommodate growing organizations more easily while managing costs.
• Sound Enhancement: Digital Signal Processing (DSP) technology can help circumvent installed noise pollution emanating from sources such as HVAC systems. Using audio-enhancing innovations including ambient noise compensation, speech processing software, gain sharing automixing, and acoustic echo cancellation for more natural-sounding audio, call participants can experience clearer, echo-free communication within the huddle room. In addition to contributing to more natural-sounding conversations and eliminating intrusive noise, signal processing technology enables gain staging, acoustic tuning, clearer overall audio, and more precise system control.
• Room Design: Despite their smaller size, huddle rooms still require attention with regard to acoustic design. Some materials such as concrete floors and glass walls can bring complexities to producing high-quality audio. By reflecting sound waves, these surfaces produce reverberation, which reduces call comprehension for meeting members. To help avoid this problem, the use of more forgiving interior materials—such as fabrics and sound-absorbing panels— will reduce reverberations and noise, and acoustical modeling software will provide a greater understanding of how sound will react within the space at various levels. Acoustical modeling software specifically analyzes sound performance within a space by creating a model that will pinpoint short- and long-term sound reflections. Technicians can then select the proper tools and technologies required for optimizing a particular huddle room’s acoustic performance.
With advantages such as reduced travel costs, more collaborative work teams, access to a greater talent pool, and increased overall productivity, huddle rooms equipped with today’s wide range of conferencing technology can leapfrog organizations into virtual-collaboration readiness.
Justin O’Connor is product manager of audio products for Biamp Systems.