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Keep employees happy with a balance between conference room design and privacy

office space, graphic illustration
Danielle Aihini
Published on

As the modern office continues to gravitate toward agile working and open floor plans, we see co-workers flock to the privacy of conference rooms to post up, camp out and get distraction-free work done. This relationship between privacy and great conference room design contributes to collaboration, productivity and employee happiness. ‘The Open Office Trap,’ an article in the New Yorker, states that the open floor plan work environment is incompatible with productivity. Whether that’s true or not depends on the individual; but it’s difficult to argue that distraction, whatever your threshold for it may be, has no effect on workplace satisfaction.

A study measuring happiness at work found that ‘flow and intrinsic motivation’ was a defining factor contributing to workplace happiness. This is defined as occurring only ‘when one is totally absorbed in using one’s skills to progress on a challenging task, such that irrelevant external stimuli and the passage of time are excluded from awareness.’ So, how do we maximize employee ‘flow,’ knowing that some work better in privacy and others excel with collaboration? We use conference rooms to our advantage.

Open floor plan offices are extremely personalized work environments and, in this era of coworking, we often see employees interacting with space in new ways—utilizing furniture and technology as a means of increasing collaboration and productivity. Enabling workers to interact freely with their surroundings must extend to conference room design and ensure that the potential for personalization of the space is available, and that the lack of privacy in the open office is made up for in meeting and conference rooms.

Control how the space is used

We all know that person. He enters an empty conference room with a 30-oz coffee thermos and a bowl of cereal from the pantry. He reaches into his backpack—a Pandora’s box of papers, files and stationary—and fans its contents out around him on the table. He may or may not take his shoes off at some point. He’s ready to camp out in the conference room, solo, for as long as it’s available. Co-workers walk by, peer in and opt to have their unplanned meeting in the open office—distracting many of their colleagues.

This is a dramatic example, but it’s the reason why your conference room design should include the ability to control access to the space. This can be as simple as a lock on the door with the key held by a receptionist; however, this can be annoying and unproductive for both parties—the receptionist who will form personal relationships with his co-workers and feel bad for not giving them informal access, and the co-workers who have to jump through an extra hoop to use the space. Instead, you can opt for a modern access solution, such as an electronic lock that issues a mobile key for those with reservations—this will fully automate the space.

Kisi digital workplace tool future of work

Consider Client Needs When Choosing the Layout

As you begin setting up an office, you need to make sure that your conference room is properly equipped to handle your clients and employees. You want it to promote productivity, a place where the aforementioned ‘flow’ can take a collaborative form. Meeting rooms should be a place where one can go to get away from distraction, while feeling like they’re still part of the larger open office layout. To achieve this you can incorporate your branding into the meeting room with similar furniture and color schemes. If you have multiple conference rooms, you can extend your company’s culture to the rooms with themed names.

There are many potential layouts, including a large board table, a U-style table, and more. To figure out what works best for your space, think about how it will likely be used. If the conference room will only be used for presentations, then rows of seats and a podium will work. If there will be more interactive meetings, make sure everyone has workspace and can see each other. Always ensure there is enough space for people to walk around. The ideal layout will include furniture that is flexible and can be easily moved based on client needs.

Choose the Right Technology

Technology can be be used to streamline security, such as a monitor that locks when not in use, so that if mid-meeting breaks are taken no proprietary information will be visible when the door is open. It’s important, if your meeting room isn’t soundproof, to invest in a white noise machine, or a mechanism that can ensure important conversations aren’t overhead. Meetings can sometimes feel like a burdensome time requirement—that’s why no time should be wasted trying to project a powerpoint or connect to your wireless display.

Meeting room scheduling software is an effective way to save time and ensure that large rooms aren’t being booked by small groups that will underutilize an in-demand space. Make sure that conference rooms can be adapted for different departments. For example, your marketing team might benefit from white boards then, rather than have them lean a whiteboard on the ground (where it’s visible to outsiders), you should already have one installed in the room where it won’t be visible to people walking by.

Understand how the spaces in your office are used

You can’t use your office to its full potential if you don’t know how the space is being used. It’s important to understand which rooms are most frequented, so that you’re not overbooking or cramping too many people in a conference room and—as a result—forcing meetings to happen in common spaces. This is how privacy can be compromised and distraction can skyrocket, inhibiting the flow and intrinsic motivation of those working in the area. Smart technology, like Robin, can help you understand how specific spaces are being over or underutilized and allow you to improve the overall functionality of your office.

conference room insights

Provide Extra Amenities

During a meeting, clients and employees will want to focus on the task at hand, so try to include some extra amenities that prevent the need to leave the room. Keeping doors open is an easy way for the topics of the meeting to be overheard. If you can have a setup in the room, like a fridge with some water bottles and a small basket of snacks, that will go a long way for productivity, time management and privacy.

Great design elements for conference rooms

The best part about an open floor plan office is the ability to brand it with one sightline—the conference room is no exception. The most common design we see is a centered opaque film that acts as a privacy strip on the glass wall. Another favorite design element are vertical columns that allow natural light in but prevent the interior of the room from being seen. Harvard business review ranked natural light as the number one office perk—its study found that workers in daylight office environments reported a 51 percent drop in the incidence of eyestrain, a 63 percent drop in the incidence of headaches and a 56 percent reduction in drowsiness.

Since conference rooms are commonly built into underutilized corners of the office, away from the natural light and open layout of desks, it’s more important than ever that the architectural privacy of the office not take away from whatever amount of natural light could reach the meeting room. Colored or reflective privacy film, that can be applied to glass doors and walls, can further brand your office and keep it looking modern, sleek and on brand. Another agile work method, for offices without the budget to design their meeting rooms, is utilizing partitions or movable privacy screens—we see these go a long way in allowing your open-plan office to evolve with the needs of your workers and different departments that are all utilizing the same conference room for different purposes.

If you see many of your employees flocking to the meeting room then you need to rethink the configuration of your office. Try to make quiet nooks and fill up corners with tables and work surfaces. The reason modern offices are so great to work in is because they are versatile and they give workers the freedom to work how and where they work best. There’s no longer a one-size-fits-all solution to workspaces, so why should there be with conference rooms? Either your space should be versatile to host many different types of groups or you should have multiple conference rooms with different purposes—a space where you workers can flow. What we want from our workplace evolves, but striking the perfect balance between design and privacy shouldn’t have to.

Two people walking and talking in an office

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