In these days of COVID-19, you can’t just pull up a chair to someone’s desk for a quick chat. And even the smallest group standing around 6 feet apart in the hallway is going to feel uncomfortable and bother others nearby.
You could plop down in the conversation pit if your office has an open workspace plan, but even if you aren’t bothering anyone else the action around you will be distracting at the very least. And wouldn’t you rather have a big screen everyone can see rather than everyone scrunching around someone’s laptop to view the display? What if you need video conferencing?
Conference room design matters because there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all meeting space.
Elements of good conference room setup
A traditional conference rooms has a large rectangular or oval table surrounded by chairs. That can be just right for board meetings, interviews, etc. In reality, though, we use “conference” rooms for all sorts of gatherings.
So, what makes an effective meeting room?
Spaces that are uncomfortable, cumbersome, or ill-equipped detract from your ability to get work done. Meetings are delayed, attendees are inattentive. No wonder people say meetings are a waste of time. This won’t do. You have to come together in groups large and small to conduct your company’s business.
“A meeting area that’s comfortable stylish and fully equipped will help you communicate better and build relationships,” notes Gaiku. “It can effectively lead to attracting clients or finalizing deals.” Or, we might add, brainstorming the Next Big Thing.
You’re there to work, so you want a results-oriented environment. Therefore, effective meeting room design includes:
- Comfortable, visually as well as physically
Flexibility is critical. You can’t create a separate conference room for every conceivable purpose because every meeting has unique characteristics. Spaces designed for flexibility can be configured as needed to accommodate many types of meetings without sacrificing other important elements.
What should be in a conference room?
Everything needed to conduct any sort of meeting that might take place within that room — equipment and supplies — should be right at hand to avoid delays or interruptions. Don’t forget that you’ll need to stock conference rooms with COVID-19 related supplies such as hand sanitizer and wipes that can be used to freshen equipment and work surfaces.
In terms of equipment and furniture, you’ll need:
- Controllable lighting.
- Sound (audio system and sound-proofing, because many meetings are confidential).
- Digital display(s).
- Video conferencing system.
- Reliable, strong wireless internet connection.
- Temperature controls (and up-to-date HVAC sanitation protocols).
- Table(s) – in larger rooms, multiple smaller tables make it easy to reconfigure seating arrangements as needed.
- Chairs (those that swivel and have wheels are far more conducive to conversation and easier to move around), or sofas.
- Plates of chocolate chip cookies. (OK, maybe not critical, but in some organizations this might be a cultural must-have. And, seriously, food and beverages are commonly part of meetings.)
Let’s add extra space to that list. No one should have to get up and go stand somewhere else just to see or hear better. On the other hand, especially during longer meetings some participants want to move around. They have a bad back. Or they think better on their feet. Well-thought-out conference room design allows for that.
Types of conference room setups
A conference room can be used for any meeting of 2+ people who need to work together or be educated together:
- Intimate one-on-ones
- Casual brainstorming sessions
- Formal presentations
- New product launches
- Interviews and personnel reviews
- Team huddles
- Departmental meetings
- Collaborative work sessions
- Training sessions
- Board or client meetings
- Annual or other all-hands meeting
- Quick status updates
- All-day or multi-day conferences
A meeting room may also be ideal for any employee who wants a quiet getaway to concentrate or ruminate.
What are five basic seating arrangements used for small group meetings?
Small groups come together to converse or collaborate, so seating arrangements must facilitate engagement. The entire group may be small, or a larger gathering might require small-group seating for breakout sessions, team project work or “musical chairs” style networking.
- U-shape. Everyone can see each other as well as a video conferencing screen or interactive whiteboard if it’s a virtual meeting, plus the presenter or group leader can move around and still be seen.
- Traditional conference table. This is great for board meetings, etc. where attendees may have to spread out paperwork as well as use a laptop to take notes. The table can be augmented with a tool such as Meeting Owl to allow remote participants to hear and see, but the room will also need multiple display screens for those in the room to comfortably see virtual attendees.
- Hollow square. Great for in-person meetings but not when there will be remote attendees.
- Classroom style. Good for training sessions or seminars where participants will need to take notes during a presentation.
- Banquet-style setup. Round tables are useful for lunch meetings or strategy sessions.
A comfy conversation area with sofas or cushy chairs and a coffee table can also work nicely for small groups that just want to chat for a few minutes in a relaxing setting.
What is included in meeting room audio systems?
Lousy acoustics can kill a meeting. People who can’t hear easily miss important information, or they tune out and don’t bother to listen. Audio systems have to accommodate video conferencing as well as in-room sound levels and quality.
Room layout affects acoustics, in two ways. The size, shape and any internal barriers affect sound distribution but so can the seating arrangement. In small meeting rooms, speakers built into video display screens may be just fine. For larger spaces, though, conference room equipment should include components that accommodate flexible meeting room setup:
- Multiple speakers or a mobile “pod” to amplify sound
- Multiple, omnidirectional microphones, preferably just a few feet apart
- Multiple display screens
- Auxiliary equipment such as amplifiers, AV distribution equipment and recording devices
Often overlooked? Sound masking technology that eliminates distractive noise from outside the conference room. In some companies this is also essential to prevent eavesdropping on extremely sensitive or proprietary discussions.
If you’ve always had a secret yearning to become an expert on conference room audio systems, you can read up on the details here.
Benefits of a good conference room setup
Conference space that accommodates online meetings provides all the benefits of any good conference room, plus versatility in terms of convenience and inclusion. With online capability, everyone is automatically invited into the meeting whether it will be a one-way formal presentation or fully interactive session. Greater participation ensures maximum brain-power and diverse perspectives are applied to every project and decision, and that can translate into significant competitive advantage.
Besides, a room setup that allows video conferencing and other digital interaction makes a great impression on employees as well as visitors. Your company gets it.
What technologies are necessary for the modern conference room?
Technology is a must for today’s conference room. Some tools are optional, but others are crucial:
- Plenty of power and outlets to serve AV equipment, personal devices and allow for recharging during long meetings. With a wireless presentation system in place, everything will be easier and no one will trip over a power cord
- Internet access and bandwidth powerful enough to serve everyone’s devices and also prevent dropped or poor quality transmissions
- Video conference tools
- Interactive whiteboard
- Digital display screen(s).
- A good audio system.
While these essentials and gadgets make meetings more productive, there is another technology that will significantly improve every meeting experience: conference room scheduling software that is fully integrated with conference rooms and digital signage.
The right meeting room scheduling tool allows your people to book the right space for their size and purpose, shows attendees how to get there, and ensures the space is reserved just for them. It also enables last-minute space finding and booking. It works smoothly with calendaring tools as well as common platforms such as Microsoft Teams.
Why are meeting room audio systems so important?
Earlier, we listed the key audio system elements for successful meeting rooms. Quality, state-of-the-art tools and equipment demonstrate you care about everyone’s time and convenience. In general, it is better to have it and not need it than the reverse, but room size and intended purpose(s) should dictate audio requirements.
For example, a huddle room or boardroom doesn’t require a huge display screen or multi-speaker sound system, whereas a larger conference room designed for flexibility should have multiple screens as well as microphones and speakers. Figuring this out can get complicated, but no worries -- Robin’s office space calculator can help you determine a good conference room setup.
How to choose a conference room setup
How do you know what kind of meeting room to book?
All too often this decision is based on whatever you can get, as long as you can squeeze everyone in. But you’re making do rather than setting the stage for a really great, productive and energizing meeting. Whether you’re looking to have a small group discussion or planning to host hundreds, you need a space that fits.
- How many people will there be?
- What is the purpose of the meeting? It might be a presentation, a collaborative work session, a networking event or reception, or a working luncheon or dinner. Or a combination of these activities.
- What tools will attendees or facilitators need? Think about an interactive whiteboard, video conferencing, projected visuals, etc.
The dimensions of the room will determine what seating arrangement(s) you can use. Larger, flexible conference rooms can accommodate a variety of options and, often, multiple configurations within the same space. So you might have auditorium or theatre style seating for a full group, then smaller setups to serve other purposes.
How to properly implement your room design
We’ve assembled a guide filled with definitions and tips to help you design and implement the best meeting spaces for your organization.
For example, seating capacity takes on a whole new meaning now. Not how many bodies will the fire marshal allow you to fit into the room, but how can you create a seating arrangement that encourages interaction and productivity while also ensuring safe distancing. In fact, there is a whole new list of pandemic-related policies and protocols that come into play for safe return to work.
Planning the ideal conference room setup is not a one-and-done. These spaces will always be a work in progress because your business is growing and changing and working spaces have to reflect that to stay relevant and useful. The right meeting room scheduling software will capture room usage data you can analyze to continuously improve conference room design and implementation.
How can online conferencing benefit your organization?
- Immediacy and agility. Teams can convene right now or very soon, if needed, so you can maintain valuable momentum rather than waiting around for folks to travel across town or across the country/globe. Eliminating the need to travel can also increase meeting attendance if time or finances are limited.
- Monetary savings. Bringing employees and guests into town for meetings is expensive. Digital meetings also save on unnecessary paper and printing, etc.
- Inclusivity. Video conferencing serves all the people, all the time. This is exceptionally important now that remote work and hybrid working arrangements are the norm. Employees can collaborate easily and well. Your company can interview and hire globally, if you want, and meet with investors, vendors and others easily and efficiently.
- Better experience for employees, visitors and other stakeholders.
Every one of these benefits can boost morale as well as your bottom line. But they won’t do that unless your organization invests in flexible, well-equipped conference room setup options.