When we think about the evolution of office spaces, our minds often go to recent innovations: shared workspaces, open floor plans and increased worker mobility.
But meeting rooms, too, have kept up with the pace of change. More than just a space that offers the obligatory long table, today’s conference room boasts video conferencing tools, well-designed furniture and interactive whiteboards. These conference rooms can be key locations where employees can innovate, collaborate and inspire.
In a business environment where space is at a premium, every room has to be thoughtfully designed. Oftentimes, this means creating more small meeting rooms as opposed to investing in large boardrooms. After all, 59 percent of meetings involve only two to three people. In other workspaces, it may mean creating flexible, multipurpose areas that can be sectioned with moveable walls.
It all starts with understanding employee needs and working habits. Sofia Fonseca, a vice president at HOK in charge of the architecture firm’s workplace strategy pre-design solutions, says that this understanding is paramount when building an ideal office environment.
Technology and Modularity
According to Fonseca, not all meetings are created equal. A company’s culture and how formal the meetings tend to be, help to define the space. Some companies are comfortable with informal chats while lounging in open areas. Others require more privacy.
Of course, in-person meetings demand a different set of requirements than remote ones, where employees need equipment for conference or video calls. “Modern meeting rooms should include rich technology options so that you can connect remotely, since we live in a global economy,” Fonseca adds.
When it comes to smart use of meeting space, adaptability is the name of the game. “Keep it modular. On one wall, it may make sense to have a smart board. But it’s just as important to be able to have furniture you can move to provide a variety of setups,” Fonseca says. The more collaborative the meeting, the more modular the room should be.
No One Size Fits All
According to Fonseca, it’s important for designers to understand the purpose of the space and choose furniture that works within its “envelope” of walls, since there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all conference room. That means finding the right balance of things, such as writable surfaces that can run floor to ceiling, and glass walls that let in light but also use shades for privacy or projectors.
“We collect information up front from an organization,” she says. “We make, literally, a menu for what would make a successful conference for them. It needs to really be tied to their culture and what fits them.”
When it comes to meeting room placement, it’s not just about convenience. Much of it is also about daylight. Fonseca says that while a meeting room with a great view can be used by a company for showmanship, she recognizes that “access to daylight is becoming a premium.” A great conference room with sweeping views may block daylight from other parts of the office. However, meetings that take place with natural sunlight tend to be quicker and more efficient.
Striking a Balance
Balancing all the different priorities in terms of work space versus meeting space can be difficult, but it is possible. When organizations focus on what fulfills their employees’ needs in addition to aesthetic and collaboration best practices, the results can be transformative.
Companies are striking this balance across the world. CBRE in the Czech Republic recently announced the winners of a competition for Meeting Room of the Year. This year’s winner was J & T Banka, a bank with offices in Prague. The competition featured examples of beautiful-yet-functional meeting rooms, which can be viewed in the below slideshow.