In the era of flexible, open-plan offices, there’s more call than ever for workspaces to have areas where groups can get to focus on important projects, hash out the details, and connect with their stakeholders and clients. Though there has been much speculation about the “death” of the meeting room (especially in light of the pandemic) it’s clear the meeting room holds an essential purpose in the workplace.
In fact, over 50% of respondents in a recent Gensler survey said scheduled or impromptu meetings, and socializing are the main reasons they want to come back to the office. It's on workplace teams everywhere to make that possible for their people. One way to enable meetings: intuitive and effective meeting room scheduling systems.
In this post, we’ll discuss some of the biggest challenges in booking and maintaining conference room schedules, along with highlighting the benefits and features of using meeting room booking software to make meetings a real possibility for your people.
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Challenges with maintaining and booking meeting rooms
Of the many challenges in the open office environment, one of the most common complaints is difficulty in scheduling a meeting room when you need one. Ironically, technological advance has made meetings more prevalent, with hybrid teams and international clients using conference rooms as a bridge between offices. When anything is in demand, you’ll run into challenges with its use, and the humble meeting room is no exception.
Potentially the number one type of meeting room challenge is the empty conference room. Booked and abandoned, these meeting slots don’t get filled because the meeting got canceled, the parameters of the meeting changed, or the parties skipped a recurring event. The biggest challenge in no-show bookings is that it can affect every other booking in the office.
- Other meetings that could have made efficient use of the room don’t have the opportunity to use it (and might take a room that’s too big or too small for their needs).
- Employees trying to make a meeting come together will make it happen outside of the booking system (see ‘Theft” below).
- Overall, the utilization of your conference spaces declines, and the data you have on usage can become skewed.
Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures; when an office room isn’t available for scheduling due to a no-show, people may take matters into their own hands by simply “taking” the space they need. Unfortunately, this usually means pushing another party from the room by claiming necessity (“Sorry, we really need this space.”) or the trickle-down effect of other meeting room thefts. (“Someone stole ours, so we have to steal yours.”) Many times, this comes down to a matter of hierarchy or project sensitivity. It can also cause friction between employees or departments.
Similar to theft, squatting happens when someone (either an out-of-town office visitor or someone working on a focus-intensive project) cloisters away in a meeting room to get the space and quiet they need. It’s not only poor form; it also takes up an entire room of usable space to meet the needs of one staff member.
In the age of social distance and staged re-openings, scheduling a too-small conference room is a more serious business than in the past. Before, overcrowding simply meant latecomers didn’t get a seat. Now, it might promote the transmission of germs within the office. For that reason, creating and maintaining good social distancing protocols within your meeting room spaces is key. This becomes much easier with a meeting room booking system with capacity limits in place.
The above-mentioned lapses of etiquette, while annoying in the pre-COVID world, also take on new significance in terms of cleaning. Enhanced cleaning protocols will necessarily be part of any return plan, so it’s valuable to have the means to “take a meeting room offline” automatically between uses.
Benefits of using software for booking meeting rooms
Using booking software to schedule and maintain your meeting rooms can do a lot more for your office than simply avoid a turf-war (though depending on how contentious your bookings are, this might be sufficient reason on its own).
The streamlining, safety, financial, and data benefits of using an interactive system that works with your office design makes investing in one a great option in terms of ROI.
The manual method of booking
Many smaller offices (and even some large ones) rely on a manual conference room booking system, either because they aren’t aware of its benefits, or they believe it’s not necessary for their size. The familiar three-ring binder and sign-up lists taped to walls may be low-impact, but can quickly lead to confusion and friction points in administration.
- In many cases, the sign-up system is the responsibility of the closest admin to the office, who becomes the gatekeeper for “The Book” and the impromptu mediator for any issues that arise in its use.
- The manual method depends upon everyone subscribing to the task of actually booking. When that doesn’t happen, issues are sure to follow. For last-minute meetings, the natural tendency to navigate around the official process comes into play.
- On the other hand, when a meeting is canceled, the tendency to forget about the booking is much stronger with a manual method. Therefore, meetings that could be taking place in the space are routed elsewhere. The lack of confidence in the booking system over time can lead to increased meeting room theft.
The interactive booking system
An interactive meeting room booking system removes many of the friction points of getting into the right workspace. The system works like this:
- In the event of a meeting, the meeting coordinator (who can be any employee, not just the keeper if the office schedule) can log into the mobile app from their phone or a conference room touchscreen, checking the interactive map for room availability based on time, date, capacity, meeting type or other requirements (for instance, a video conferencing system).
- Based on the choices available, the coordinator can book the room, invite guests, and automatically sync with their Google or Outlook calendar.
- At go time, the coordinator can check into the meeting room; if the check-in fails to occur, the room becomes available for others who may need it (this is often called AMP or “abandoned meeting room protection").
- When the meeting is over, it can be scheduled for cleaning or return to service for others to use.
The ease of use of automated booking software makes scheduling, canceling, and using conference room spaces the right way both more convenient and more likely.
10 key features of a meeting room booking system
When researching your needs for an online booking system, it helps to know some of the powerful features that are built into top-of-class platforms. These features make it easy for people to get into a room easily, for administrators to make data-driven decisions about the space, and for facilities to keep the spaces healthy and in working order.
Here are the top 10 features you should look for when considering a meeting room management software solution.
1. Real-time data
The three ring-binder is hardly ever up-to-date. Fortunately, an interactive system can give you the freshest information on who is in the office, where they are, and free meeting rooms available for collaboration.
2. Capacity-specific booking
Scheduling a room is easier when you have a reference for booking. Capacity information makes it easy to get the perfect space for your needs.
3. Purpose-made selection
Every meeting is different; a well-built booking solution will be able to make recommendations based on the type of meeting you want to conduct. All-hands? One on one? Final round of interviews? Each space lends itself to different tasks, and your booking system can recommend the best meeting room for the job.
4. Touchless booking
Touchless systems are fast becoming a must-have for maintaining the health of an office. With the right booking system, you can select a meeting space from a meeting room display, or right from your personal laptop or mobile device.
5. At-a-glance wayfinding
If you’re new to the office, booking a room should be easy, and getting there should be as well. With digital signage and information, you can get to the meetings and people you need quickly and easily while reducing traffic through other workspaces.
6. Abandoned meeting protection
The most important in a meeting room are the ones that don’t happen. These ghosted get-togethers can eat into the efficiency and ROI of your office. A good, interactive booking system will deal with these lost opportunities automatically, putting valuable space back into play.
7. Calendar integrations
Being able to get everyone on board with the meeting time, date, and location is easier when the booking system can talk directly with meeting room calendars. It can send reminders, give directions, and immediately update participants on changes to the plan.
8. Messing app integration
When a powerful office communication tool can double as a booking system, your meetings can come together more easily. Integrations with messaging apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams is the hallmark of an advanced automatic meeting room booking system.
9. Data analytics
What you get out of a conference room is more than just space. With use analytics, you can better understand how and when your office is scheduling different spaces, allowing you to make data-driven decisions about your space and future adjustments to your flexible space plan and utilization.
10. Issue ticketing
Things don’t always go as planned; so, the ability to report an issue with a meeting room with the touch of a screen is an important feature in your booking system. With this feature in place, issues can be addressed quickly and easily, and everyone can get back to work more quickly.
Why a meeting room booking system is more important than ever
While ease of use and great integrations are certainly selling points, perhaps the most compelling reasons for using a meeting room booking system right now is the ability to keep your staff safe as they venture back into the office space in the era of COVID-19. There are a few ways in which an integrative system can help you make the best choices as your company comes together in this new world.
Being back in the office also means being responsible for knowing who is in-house, who is visiting, when, and for how long. Because contact tracing within the office is one of the best ways to mitigate the transmission of the novel coronavirus in the event of a positive test result, it’s valuable to have a way to quickly and easily assess primary contacts. Using the data from check-ins, meeting room bookings, and more, you can help your employees stay informed about their potential exposure, and take any necessary steps to limit further spread.
The less your employees move around within the office, the fewer opportunities arise for prolonged contact. With a status board, employees can learn who is in the office, where they’re sitting, and how easiest to get there all without leaving their desk. The wayfinding and status features can greatly improve the safety of your office, even as density increases over the course of staged return plans.
At the end of the day, it's on the workplace team to remove points of friction throughout an employees' workday. Effective meeting room booking systems unlock your office by making scheduling meetings as easy as a tap on your phone or a click of your mouse.