How meeting rooms are getting a modern makeover

Every office needs meeting rooms – yet their location, size and design is evolving to fit in with the modern workplace.

05 febbraio 2020

As a place for teams to talk to clients face-to-face or hash out ideas and make decisions, meeting rooms have always been a central part of office life.

While even the crème-de-la-crème of meeting rooms can’t atone for poorly organised agendas or disruptive attendees, well-designed spaces can enhance focus and maximise productivity so that meetings have the best chance of running to time and yielding the intended outcomes.

For today’s workforce, however, what makes an effective meeting room is no longer necessarily the classic set-up of a large table, several chairs and a single screen with a few paintings on the wall.  

“A meeting might be anything from two people grabbing a quick conversation, to a brainstorm session, a town hall, or a more formal appointment with clients,” says Georgina Dallas, a designer at Tétris, a JLL subsidiary. “Companies increasingly want various designs to cover all these bases.”

Company-specific meeting styles

The rise of flexible space is transforming the use of office space to better facilitate agile working and collaboration.

Lounge areas with comfortable seating are now popular choices for smaller group meetings across a range of industries. Semi-private booths are becoming a common sight, giving employees more privacy for short meetings. And fully-enclosed pods such as Google’s modular meeting rooms are gathering traction, often kitted out with whiteboard-style walls for brainstorming and easily moveable furniture.  

“Meeting room designs are becoming more informal with flexible layouts, in line with the way we work,” says Dallas. “The idea is to create spaces that fit different styles of collaboration, allowing people to work the way they want.”

However, what’s inspiring for one company doesn’t necessarily work for another. And for all the informal spaces, formal meeting rooms still need to be part of the mix.

“An effective design depends how a company operates and how much privacy various meetings require,” says Dallas. “Meeting rooms are often used to host clients, and where sensitive or confidential information is discussed so it’s crucial that the design balances style and privacy – in terms of what can be seen and heard by people outside - while also reflecting the company’s image.”

For example, while many companies prioritise transparency and glass-walled meeting rooms, they might also choose to use cloaking film that can scramble screen displays while maintaining the view of who’s inside to add extra privacy.

Room for wellness 

With wellbeing a rising priority in other parts of the workplace, this focus is translating to the meeting room, where senior managers can spend up to 50 percent of their time.

“Natural light, greenery and biophilic design have been shown to enhance concentration and wellness for employees, which is especially important in spaces where losing focus impacts productivity,” says Dallas.  

If an office layout doesn’t allow for meeting rooms to be located by windows, then artificial lighting – often smart circadian systems – can create a similar environment.

Natural or recycled materials are also increasingly popular for internal design as companies aim to improve sustainability across their business, while sofas and armchairs make for more personable meeting spaces.

“Designs are moving towards a more residential, comfortable vibe, as the way people work – and meet – becomes more informal,” says Dallas.

Getting the tech right

Along with on-brand décor, functionality remains key to any design - and technology is where companies are investing the most, notes Dallas.

Smart lighting and air-conditioning that automatically turn on when attendees enter help create a fluid experience, while reliable, high-speed internet ensures cloud-based presentations don’t drop out and waste valuable employee time.

New technology is also enabling increasingly sophisticated videoconferencing, with tools such as smart interactive whiteboards, and cameras and microphones that automatically zoom in on people who are speaking.

Down the line, this could usher in entirely virtual meetings as more people work from home or outside the office - and holograms of each attendee are a possibility for years to come. In 2018, Vodafone debuted the UK’s first live holographic call using 5G. 

“Technology is increasingly available that helps remote attendees feel as if they are in the room,” says Dallas. “When it can truly deliver this seamless, virtual meeting, the impact on sustainability will be significant, cutting down on travel time as well as carbon emissions from flying or driving.”

And while in 10 years’ time fewer people will attend meetings in person, that doesn’t mean the end of the meeting room. “How and where we work is changing but as long as there are offices, there will be meeting rooms,” says Dallas. “They’ll just continue to adapt to new technology and the growing focus on providing a personalised workplace experience to facilitate groups of people getting together and talking – whether that’s done in cyberspace or in real life.”

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