Empty meeting rooms (or ghost rooms) are a growing problem for many companies today.
The rise of hybrid and remote working means that less and less meetings are taking place in the traditional boardroom. This leads to a new problem: collaborative space that sits empty for the majority of time.
In this article, we explore this empty meeting room problem. We also review four ways to avoid empty ghost rooms and other options for unused meeting spaces.
Discover the four models companies are using to adapt to hybrid work—and how to make them work for you.
We’re all now fully aware that our ‘new normal’ is impacting all aspects of how we use and navigate the office. This is right down to how we conduct our business meetings. The rise in remote and hybrid work led to a subsequent rise in partially empty offices. And sometimes completely empty board rooms.
Thanks to video conferencing software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, meetings are now as likely to happen virtually as they are in person.
And even when a company adopts regular hybrid meetings, there will still be fewer people physically present. Meaning meeting room design can now usually accommodate fewer office chairs and a smaller conference table.
But when companies don’t adapt to modern office meeting room realities, they’re often left with a big meeting room problem: ghost rooms.
‘Ghost rooms’ can refer to those rooms that are a shell of their former selves. Rooms that people rarely use or book. In this scenario, ghost rooms are more than a waste of space. Because seeing meeting room tables always sit empty can also start to drag on employee morale.
Ghost rooms can also be meeting spaces that people book, but that sit empty when no one shows up to the meeting. This often happens because workers who had planned to be in-person find themselves all working from home that day. It is also usually the result of booking solutions that don’t make it easy (or automatic) to release rooms that are no longer needed.
In either scenario, ghost rooms present a major meeting room problem, no matter how many meetings an organization ultimately has.
And in either scenario, the following solutions can dramatically reduce the problem of empty business conference rooms, while also helping to improve the workplace experience as well.
Just because your number of remote and hybrid workers is rising doesn’t mean your traditional meeting rooms have to sit empty.
The following conference room ideas and strategies can help any company evolve to solve the empty meeting room problem.
Like we’ve covered, a big culprit for ghost rooms is employees that don’t show up to their meetings. But why aren’t they showing up? Often, it comes down to a clunky room booking system that isn’t meeting their needs.
It should be just as easy to release (i.e.: cancel) a room booking as it is to make one.
Otherwise, rooms can sit empty, because they’re technically still booked for these canceled meetings—leading to wasted space and frustrated colleagues.
Thankfully, using better, cloud-based meeting room booking software can solve many of the problems that lead to empty meeting rooms.
First and foremost, good meeting scheduling software can eliminate no shows, maximizing all the available rooms in your office building. In fact, if it integrates with IoT sensors and a badge system, it can do this without workers even needing to manually check-in.
For example, when there’s a last-minute cancellation or a meeting owner doesn’t check into a room, OfficeSpace room booking features automatically free up the room for others.
Of course, this software isn’t just useful for releasing rooms. It can also make it easy to find and book rooms on any device (including via mobile app). Also while limiting surface sharing with touchless check-in. All of this can dramatically maximize room availability while also expanding employee empowerment.
If your meeting rooms and conference halls often sit empty, it’s likely not simply because employees aren’t releasing rooms when they cancel meetings.
If you’re adapting to a new hybrid work schedule, there is also a high likelihood that you need less meeting space than in the past. In other words, thanks to the workforce transformation almost everyone is experiencing, the minimum number of conference rooms needed is also transforming.
To solve this problem, you need access to good meeting room occupancy trends. This is best accomplished when facility managers (FMs) have access to reliable reports and analytics. Also when they’re able to collaborate with their IT and HR counterparts to use this data to improve facility planning.
Specifically, organizations need to analyze room booking trends… Namely key metrics like overall utilization, peak daily utilization, reclaimed time, the busiest hours during the week, and the popularity of individual rooms and types of rooms. This data will show how employees are actually using the collaborative spaces available to them.
Armed with this information, FMs can then make decisions to improve space utilization—ideally, done hand-in-hand with headcount planning. You don’t want to just make spaces for the employees you currently have. You want to plan for the hybrid workforce you may have in the near future, too.
Smart companies will also survey staff to get feedback on everything from room names and their desired modern office conference room interiors to what types of meeting rooms they prefer. Ensuring you’re aligned with employee sentiment is the best way to ensure you’re creating spaces they’ll use.
Ultimately, providing a high-quality booking experience and office meeting room interior is what’s going to make employees excited about meetings again. And more likely to make time and show up for those they’re scheduled for.
In the beginning of the pandemic, we all had excuses for not having good hybrid meeting policies in place. But now that we’ve had two years to prepare for the return to the office, it’s time to help employees. New meeting policies are a necessity.
Specifically, employees need an official guide into how they’re expected to book and attend meetings. This is often best developed and shared in partnership with HR.
Employees should also get regular prompts for all upcoming meetings, remote or otherwise. They also need good wayfinding signage that can help them navigate the office, especially when they’re primarily remote.
Of course, employees don’t just need the right booking software—they also need to know how to use it. That’s why, perhaps in partnership with IT, facility managers will need to ensure every employee is instructed in how to use the booking tools available. Companies can also include this education in any onboarding procedures.
And of course, this process can be greatly simplified when organizations choose booking software that is inherently easy-to-use.
Presumably, if employees are returning to the office, it’s because organizations have done the work to ensure they can do so in a way that is safe and compliant with local health regulations. A tool like Distancing Planner can greatly simplify this process. It helps to keep employees socially distant whether they’re in cubicles or sharing an office table.
That said, there’s a difference between being safe, and feeling safe. In other words, you may be capping the number of participants in a meeting room to technically ‘safe’ levels. But employees can still feel a little squeamish about shared spaces.
“Don’t be aggressive in putting everyone right next to each other,” says workplace strategist Angie Earlywine, Senior Director in the Total Workplace division of Global Occupier Services at Cushman & Wakefield. “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. We don’t yet know for how long that’s going to last.”
This is another area where regular employee surveys can provide invaluable insights. Healthy regulations aside, how comfortable does your team feel with closeup meetings? How close is too close? The only way to get these answers is to ask employees directly.
Even with a good room booking system and official policy in place, many organizations will find through using analytics that they simply have more meeting spaces than they need.
When this is the case, it makes sense to repurpose your meeting rooms. Assuming you’re using good flex room ideas, you can make changes. Turn your unused meeting space into a variety of fun and functional spaces to better support your team where they are.
That said, even when the number of in-person meetings has been reduced, it will often make sense to maintain a hybrid meeting room or ‘Zoom Room.’ This can make it easier to coordinate meetings between remote workers and those in the office on any given day.
In other words, if you maintain a smaller, dedicated meeting room with fewer chairs coupled with laptop hookups, blank screen for projections, and video conferencing software, your employees can have an ‘official’ meeting space that serves their current needs.
The meeting room isn’t for cramming a bunch of bored people into a shared space. It’s for creating a purposeful space that invites collaboration and innovation, and helps employees connect with each other and their shared goals.
Meetings are about the oldest business concept going, for a reason. When creating your modern meeting rooms, look beyond the glass walls, white boards, fancy armchairs, high quality wooden tables and projection screens. Instead, create an environment that will inspire workers to connect and collaborate. A simple open space that serves employees well is better than a magazine-worthy conference room no one ever uses.
Ultimately, the biggest meeting room problem isn’t empty conference rooms… It’s rooms that are not optimized for the people that use them. The coolest loft style or best city view won’t matter in a room that sits empty.
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Photos: Mariakray, Pawel Chu, Startup Stock Photos, Elevate Digital