In the world of knowledge work, collaboration is critical. That means as return to office mandates take effect and hybrid work becomes the new norm, companies will need to pay extra attention to office spaces designed for collaboration.
That means the classic meeting room setup— the long-table with a phone on it and a wall-mounted screen—isn’t enough for employees to feel they need to come in to hold meetings and collaborate.
The Gensler Research Institute’s U.S. Workplace Survey 2022 revealed that employees in hybrid workplaces want to return to offices that make them more effective and offer a mix of experiences. For knowledge workers, only 34% of the week is spent on individual work. The rest is spent on collaborative work in meeting rooms and huddle spaces.
In this article, we’ll look at the role good meeting rooms play in an effective hybrid workplace, examples of meeting room layouts, and how to manage meeting rooms effectively.
The Role of Meeting Rooms in Hybrid Work
Meeting rooms are one of the most important places in any hybrid workplace. People don’t come into the office to work alone. They come in to collaborate, build rapport, and work synchronously. The role of the meeting room in a productive workplace has never been bigger. What do hybrid workplaces ask of their meeting rooms?
Enable Stronger In-Person Collaboration
The bar for getting people to go into the office is higher now that employees have the choice and flexibility to work where they want. As Gensler’s research shows, employees will want to go into the office if it facilitates better work outcomes, regardless of any official RTO policies. This is especially true for collaborative work. No one wants to go into a meeting or conference room setup with tech that doesn’t work or offer tools for true collaboration.
Designed correctly, meeting rooms offer numerous benefits to hybrid employees. They can be a space for quiet heads-down coworking or brainstorming sessions. They can connect teams and cross-functional collaborators in seconds no matter where they are.
Facilitate Seamless Interactions between Remote and In-Office Employees
In a hybrid work model, in-office employees will have to collaborate with remote employees on an almost daily basis. It’s not always guaranteed that people who need to collaborate between teams or even within a team will be in the office on the same days.
Hybrid work’s great strength is its flexibility, and the spaces your team uses must reflect that. Meeting rooms must be spaces that enable close collaboration between those physically in the room and those participating remotely without losing anything. That means rooms need to be equipped with the right technology and have a layout that allows everyone to participate easily and equally—no matter where they are.
Provide Flexible and Adaptable Spaces
Today, companies building hybrid workspaces are thinking more about how each space can be used for more than one function. Meeting rooms need to be easily transformed for different uses.
In addition to formal meetings, meeting rooms in hybrid workspaces can be used as:
- Quiet spaces for employees to do deep, focused work on individual tasks or projects without the distractions an open office might have.
- Space for social and team building activities that provide opportunities for team bonding, celebrations, and camaraderie-building.
- Learning areas for new employee orientation, group trainings, guest lectures, and other educational-style meetings.
7 Meeting Room Layouts and When to Use Them
There’s no one perfect meeting room layout. Different layouts have different strengths and limitations. The key is being flexible and allowing for more than one type of layout within your office. Here are a few styles of meeting room layouts you can try.
The boardroom layout features a large central table with chairs surrounding it. Participants face each other, which lends itself well to direct communication and encourages interaction.
Ideal setup for: formal meetings, executive sessions, and decision-making discussions in which participants need to collaborate and discuss things carefully.
In this layout, tables are arranged in the shape of the letter "U," with chairs placed around the outer edges. Presenters or facilitators can move freely within the U-shape and engage with participants more directly.
Ideal setup for: training sessions, presentations, workshops, video conferences, and smaller interactive meetings where attendees need to have a clear view of the presenter and any visual aids.
The classroom layout consists of rows of tables and chairs facing a visual focal point, such as a screen or whiteboard.
Ideal setup for: lectures, training sessions, or presentations where the focus is on the presenter, and participants primarily need to take notes and listen. Interaction and group discussions are limited in this setup style.
Theater or Auditorium Style
This layout is similar to the classroom style, but without tables. Chairs are arranged in rows facing a stage, screen, or presenter. The theater layout maximizes seating capacity.
Ideal setup for: large presentations, conferences, or events where attendees don’t need to take extensive notes or engage in small group discussions.
In this layout, round tables are partially surrounded by chairs, with one side of the table left open. This arrangement encourages interaction among smaller groups of attendees and provides clear sightlines to the presenter or focal point.
Ideal setup for: workshops, team-building activities, or events for larger groups where attendees need to work in small groups while still having access to a central presentation.
This layout consists of several round tables with seats all around them, allowing smaller groups to sit facing one another as part of a larger whole.
Ideal setup for: team-building sessions, meals, or events that require a larger group to break off into smaller groups while still having access to a central speaker or presentation.
This casual layout consists of a combination of side tables and comfortable seating options, such as sofas, armchairs, and bean bags, arranged in a relaxed manner.
Ideal setup for: informal discussions, brainstorming sessions, creative thinking, or any meeting that calls for a relaxed atmosphere and collaboration.
How to Manage Meeting Rooms in a Hybrid Office
Successful meeting room management involves not only putting forth a well-thought out layout, but creating consistent rules and policies, and providing technology that enhances the space. Here’s what office managers need to know about improving their office’s meeting room experience and unlocking greater meeting productivity.
Create Equitable, Consistent, and Clear Meeting Room Policies
Poor guidelines and policies around meeting room booking can lead to wasted productivity, frustration due to double booking or meetings that run over time, and lack of access to the resources employees need to run meetings.
We’ve talked in-depth about creating effective meeting room policies, so here’s a quick refresher on how to make sure yours reduces conflict and facilitates ease of use for everyone:
- Define the policy’s scope. Determine your key purposes, such as space maximization, utilization, collaboration, or reduced complaints due to booking frustration.
- Establish the purpose of each room. Look at all of the meeting rooms available and decide on a purpose for each one. Define their purposes based on capacity and resources. A large conference room shouldn’t be used for one-on-one meetings, for example.
- Develop user-friendly systems for booking. Use conference room scheduling software that allows employees to easily search for rooms based on availability, resources, and capacity.
- State rules and provide training. Provide in-room instructions for using screens, projectors, etc. Outline room-specific rules, such as noise levels, time limits, and health and safety protocols.
- Monitor and enforce rules. If you’re adopting a new way of booking meeting rooms, it’s critical to back the new policies up with enforcement to help new habits along. Send reminders to people who violate policies and be proactive about enforcement.
- Collect feedback for continuous improvement. Gather feedback from employees, managers, and people and IT teams to identify what’s working and what’s not. Make adjustments as needed.
Provide Layouts for Different Types of Meetings
As we discussed above, there are many different types of meeting room layouts that create space for different types of meetings. Within the context of your office’s meeting rooms, you should look to provide as many layouts as your team realistically needs.
For example, if your sales team needs space for coaching, a classroom style room would be beneficial. If your executive team needs to have regular on-site meetings, a boardroom style room is essential.
If meeting room space is at a premium, you may need to get creative with furniture and equipment that’s easy to move and reconfigure into different layouts for different meeting types as needed. Learn more about space management for hybrid workplaces.
Use Technology to Enhance the Meeting Experience
With hybrid work in full swing, it’s critical to equip meeting rooms with technology that make effective meetings easier. People will resort to old habits if the technology hinders, rather than enables, their meetings.
While the tech you choose for your meeting rooms depends on your teams’ specific needs, there are a few pieces of conference room equipment that you can use to make an excellent experience a baseline you can build from later.
- High-quality video conferencing. Hybrid still means that even if everyone’s in the office some of the time, no one is in all the time. Anyone working remote will still need to attend meetings with in-office employees. Investing in the best video conferencing setup—high-quality cameras, microphones, screens, and speakers—you can is a must.
- User-friendly collaboration tools. Interactive displays, whiteboards, digital flipcharts, etc. will be essential for meeting rooms used for coworking sessions, brainstorming, and other collaborative tasks.
- Room control systems. It should be easy for anyone using a meeting room to adjust the lighting, temperature, and audiovisual equipment to their group’s liking.
- Wayfinding systems. Employees who don’t come to the office very often will need help finding the right spaces for their work. Use wayfinding systems to help them find their desks, meeting rooms, and teams quickly.
- Room scheduling software. Use room scheduling software to show everyone room availability by type as well as time and day. This will prevent misunderstandings and double-bookings and ensure that people can book the meeting rooms they need based on size, technology, and meeting format.
Your meeting rooms are a crucial component of your overall hybrid work strategy. Don’t leave their management up to chance. Start considering how each conference room layout will impact work, and how your policies will remove friction from your employees’ collaboration efforts.