Good conference room ideas can be the bridge to a better hybrid office.
Hybrid meetings are challenging. But if companies don’t find ways to bring all their workers together, they’ll miss out on both collaboration and innovation in the workplace.
Companies therefore need to embrace designs and arrangements that allow for both formal meetings and impromptu brainstorming sessions. Even when employees are across multiple locations.
In this article, we explore conference room ideas you can use to improve the modern office for hybrid work, along with nine elements every meeting room should now include.
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Creating collaborative workspaces has always been essential for allowing the best work to happen. But this process is much more complicated when dealing with either a hybrid workforce or a distributed workforce.
The workplace has certainly changed. Conference rooms now have to cater to both in-office team members as well as those working remote. When dealing with hybrid and remote workers, things like great acoustics and beautiful design elements are still important. But they are no longer enough for productive meetings.
When remote workers aren’t able to easily connect in real-time, we know that work suffers. According to Cushman and Wakefield’s profound Experience per Square Foot™ survey, 56% of remote workers feel less connected to their colleagues. And 64% feel that learning and mentoring suffers with remote work. That’s why companies should now be doing everything in their power to allow for more meaningful connections between all employees.
“We have to solve for how we deal with culture and learning and mentoring in the hybrid workplace experience,” says Angie Earlywine, Senior Director in the Total Workplace division of Global Occupier Services at Cushman & Wakefield, in response to these numbers. “Perhaps as we think about the purpose and future of the office, it will be to solve for those very things.”
As we’ll explore below, that means that embracing modern conference room ideas isn’t just about getting meetings right. It’s about getting the entire hybrid workplace and the employee experience right, too.
The explosion of remote and hybrid workings means office leaders need to think more carefully about the purpose of the office, their workers, and the spaces they use.
Like Earlywine highlights in a conversation about the hybrid workplace experience, giving solo workers who primarily engage with focused work access to a highly collaborative space benefits no-one. Because these workers need quiet space where they can put their heads down.
On the other hand, innovation-based teams can really benefit when they have the spaces and tools that foster collaboration. This is true even when they’re not in the same room together.
“If it’s not fit for purpose, down to the team level and down to the individual, you could be misappropriating funds, resources, space, and technology.,” says Earlywine.
In other words, there are many elements that go into a good conference room, along with best practices for how to design them.
But perhaps the most important element is simply using a strategy that accounts for the purpose of both the teams and the individuals who will be using these collaborative spaces, and designing accordingly.
You need the right combination of technology, design, and layout, to create equal experiences in your meeting rooms. That said, every company will have its own requirements when it comes to collaborative spaces. And therefore their own approach to their implementation and design.
Ultimately, companies that let employee experience drive their meeting room strategy can’t go wrong. Especially when they also apply the following conference room ideas:
Perhaps counterintuitively, the hybrid office of the future demands more meeting spaces, not less.
Yes, there may be less people in the office overall.
But thanks to the pandemic, people aren’t going to want to cram into a space anymore. Even if the regulations were to allow you to do so. Jamming lots of people into conference rooms is a thing of the past.
“Take a few chairs out of conference rooms and give each other some space. We are all going to bring a certain level of anxiety with us for a little while around personal space,” says Earlywine.
Moreover, according to HOK research, 73% of meetings take place between 2-4 people.
So it’s time for companies to rethink their approach to meetings, and whether they need those large conference rooms.
For some organizations, like those requiring large-scale enterprise facility management, large meeting rooms for training and company-wide meetings may still be appropriate.
But for many organizations, meetings are often best when they’re smaller but more frequent and focused. It therefore makes sense to offer more spaces that gear towards these smaller, purpose-based meetings.
Densifying a conference room or cramming people into a training room is probably not going to be the social norm for a while.Angie Earlywine
Densifying a conference room or cramming people into a training room is probably not going to be the social norm for a while.
Are there enough private areas in your office for small groups of employees to duck into when inspiration hits?
And are these private areas spread out across the office, on different floors or in different buildings as applicable?
You can have the most beautifully designed conference rooms, but if they’re not readily available to employees, where they are, then those brainstorming sessions just won’t happen.
Even something as simple as providing coffee tables and comfy chairs in the right places can encourage people to stop and engage in casual yet still critical information-sharing and mentorship.
Remember too when choosing locations for your collaborative spaces, you should also think about their purposes, along with how they’ll affect their surroundings.
For example, those coffee tables and chairs shouldn’t be near a focus area, where employees need peace and quiet.
Or if employees need privacy—like for job interviews or HR matters—then a private office might be the right space to offer. Phone booths may also be useful for companies that require a number of private interactions between people in the office and their remote coworkers, clients, or colleagues.
The right technology is critical to providing the right workplace experience in this new era of hybrid and remote working. Looping in remote employees needs to be seamless. This can only be achieved when facility managers (FMs) work with IT to ensure the office is equipped with the following:
Note that for hybrid meetings, these tools, including a good wifi connection, need to be available to all workers, no matter where they are. On average, 15% of meeting time can be a waste, largely due to bad equipment. This puts a strong onus on companies to ensure that all workers, including those working remotely, have equal access to both good hardware and software. And that they know how to use it, too.
For this reason, companies need to use software integrations that create a digital workspace that workers can tap into from virtually anywhere in the world. These tools will ideally be available through a mobile app as well.
Having the right location and technology only goes so far. Without a good room booking system, even the most well appointed meeting rooms will sit empty.
If employees cannot easily book the collaborative spaces they need, then—it goes to reason—it will be much harder for them to collaborate. It needs to be incredibly easy to both book a space for the future, and to find one right now, in real time, too.
This is best achieved through meeting room booking software. It should provide real-time availability, advanced search options, and, most importantly, the ability to find and book a room in seconds. Better still is when the software also collects data on room usage that can be used to make better decisions for office layout and design down the road.
Especially when this software is well integrated and available through the mobile app, this type of meeting scheduling software is what powers a truly synergistic workplace.
‘Zoom rooms’ have definitively become a new office staple. While in the early days of the pandemic, these setups may have been ad hoc and piecemeal, any office that plans to continue with hybrid work should now be incorporating them into their office design.
In fact, even companies in traditional offices will need to contend with the fact that business travel is down and will likely stay down. This means they can also expect to do business over video as much as in person.
In other words, good video conferencing is now a ‘must’ for the modern office. The more companies can make it easy and accessible, the better their workplace will be.
This can be as simple as Zoom meeting calendar integration that leads to more efficient scheduling.
Or it can be dedicated physical video conferencing rooms like we’ve created at OfficeSpace, to account for the fact that we have workers spread out across three separate countries. In these video rooms, employees simply need to hook up a laptop to the main screen. With the touch of a button, we’re ‘sitting in’ on meetings taking place in different offices in different time zones.
There’s no doubt that work is becoming more flexible. This is in part because it’s something every generation in the workplace is demanding. It’s also in part because it’s proven to be an effective way to navigate a rapidly changing world of work.
In response, companies are adopting any number of flexible seating and flexible working strategies to keep workers happy—and hopefully avoid the worst of the Great Resignation.
This flexible approach to work is also extending to a flexible approach to meetings. Companies are now smart to provide different rooms for different purposes. Break-out rooms, huddle rooms, phone booths, Zoom rooms, small working spaces, large spaces, formal board rooms and informal collections of bean bag chairs—any and all these spaces can now work.
When thinking about their meeting room strategy, companies ultimately need to think about all the spaces their workers are likely to need, and adjust accordingly. Moreover, the more they can track how these spaces are actually being used using good reporting and analytics, the better position they’ll be in to maximize space utilization in the future.
Acoustic design for meeting rooms was a challenge even before the onset of hybrid and virtual meetings. Good sound for video conferencing, phone meetings, and remote presentations is even more challenging.
Either IT or FMs will have to ensure that all workers are outfitted with proper speakers and
microphones to participate easily and meaningfully in meetings. They may also need to consider soundproofing spaces that will be used for private and/or confidential meetings.
While not necessary, using a theme when designing your meeting rooms can add a little fun to the office.
Plus, incorporating branding and elements of the company culture into the office interior is a great way to make the office both more engaging and easier to navigate.
Choosing a theme often means carefully choosing room names. At OfficeSpace, for example, we’ve used a local approach in two of our offices, naming each conference room after our favorite local parks—like ‘Cahuita’ and ‘Monteverde’ for our Costa Rica offices, and ‘Juan de Fuca’ in British Columbia, Canada.
You might also choose to further develop the theme by incorporating it into your décor. You might have a color scheme, so that your ‘Blue Room’ is blue, and so on. Or perhaps the ‘Movie Star Room’ is adorned with black-and-white photos of old Hollywood icons.
Ultimately, when great rooms with great names and great technology also tie into the wayfinding and digital meeting room signs we mentioned earlier, the office suddenly becomes a friendlier and more welcoming space. And hopefully one that encourages a better and more collaborative company culture, too.
Finally, employees are now more concerned with health and safety, and therefore with cleanliness as well.
Maintaining clean and accessible meeting rooms should therefore now be part of every facility checklist. Remember that post-COVID, employees feel reassured when they see cleaning happening, and/or know their employers are taking this seriously. That’s why it’s also a good idea to consider keeping a cleaning log and making it public. It’s also a great idea to ensure each collaborative space is equipped with cleaning supplies and hand sanitizers.
In terms of good conference room ideas, it’s important ensure that all meeting rooms have good airflow and ventilation; FMs who deal with the HVAC system can make adjustments to the building automation system (BAS) to ensure good air quality.
In theory, when it comes to interior design, the sky’s the limit.
In reality, it’s often best to follow key meeting room design trends and best practices.
This isn’t your living room, but good conference room ideas include offering comfortable seating and make the seats as inviting as possible.
Modern design tips for the office also include incorporating as many plants and as much natural light as possible.
Of course, certain rooms or office styles may call for a different vibe. Note that not every worker prefers bright working spaces.
Your meeting rooms shouldn’t be a DIY project, of course, and they should be designed with an eye to the future and to the many people they will have to serve.
That said, it still might not be a bad idea to consult with your current employees. Ask what types of furniture, lighting, art, and layouts they’d like to see.
A conference room should have whatever is necessary to make an equal meeting experience for all participants. That can look like hi-tech or low-tech elements. This depends on the company and how they want employees to use the space.
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Photos: Max Vakhtbovych, Christina Morillo, PHC Software, Max Vakhtbovych