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Jackie Furey -Director of workplace consultancy, Where We Work- offers guidance on creating the right environments for office meeting spaces…
All meetings generally have the same objective- for staff to congregate, communicate and exchange information- but let’s face it, creating a working environment for such an open-ended activity can be a challenge. Why? Because the various ways in which this exchange can take place are vast. They can be in the form of an impromptu conversation, a presentation, they can be large gatherings, (of whole teams or even all company staff), they can be one-to-ones, brainstorms or informal collaborations, and the list doesn’t stop there.
Obviously, communication is the common thread between all of these types of meeting but finding an environment that best suits all types of interaction is no easy feat. In fact, most meeting rooms are only well-designed for a few types of gatherings. As a result, the underutilisation of a meeting room is common.
When a meeting room is underutilised, its purpose tends to become ambiguous as it typically gets used for various other activities. Often, these activities can illustrate any existing issues in an office or features your workspace may otherwise be lacking.
For example, if you have a meeting room that is frequently populated with people taking calls on mobile phones – it’s likely your office lacks privacy. If solo workers are often ‘heads-down’ in the room, then noise and distraction may be an issue. However, using a large office space for such work may not be the best way of utilising this room. In truth the best way of gaining a good insight into what your workforce needs is to put it under the microscope by auditing and analysing utilisation levels.
Understanding your space
By conducting a routine utilisation study, you will obtain all the evidence you need to make strong evidence-based decisions. For example, by analysing the use of one particular meeting room (or various meeting rooms depending on office size), you may discover that for a majority of the time, the meeting room isn’t in use at all. In fact, it’s a common misconception that meeting rooms are constantly busy, simply because they are difficult to book. The reason for this is that behaviourally, we tend to follow similar working patterns and as a result we can experience meeting room rush hours, or times in the day in which we all prefer to meet.
Of course, no two organisations are the same, and therefore behavioural patterns will always be different. However, a general workplace utilisation study will typically reveal that a large meeting room is used less than 40% of the time.
The revelation that a large-scale meeting room is seldom used may well lead you to question the amount of floor space you currently dedicate to meetings. For example, you may consider the fact that you have a room that can accommodate as many as twelve, but for 67% of the time the space is used only for meetings with two or three people- and for 20% of the time it is used by single individuals. However, given that it only ever reaches full capacity 2% of the time, it’s obvious the space is rarely used to is full potential. Pair this with the fact that, for 58% of all working hours the space is entirely unoccupied, and you begin to gain a clear picture about how under used this significantly large space actually is.
Once you have a clear understanding of the space and how it is currently used, you are then able to make one of two informed decisions. You can either free the space up for alternative use or develop the meeting room so that it becomes an environment that is used to its best potential.
If you decide that, (given it is rarely used to its full capacity), it makes sense to free up the space, you can offer smaller alternative meeting room areas according to your understanding of how staff meet. These spaces could be adaptable, flexible environments such as impromptu break-out style spaces, pods, booths, café style meeting areas or sound proof glazed cubes. These can also be used for privacy or for quiet working and will cater for the individual staff members who usually occupy a whole room when lone working.
There is of course, the issue that you will no longer have the space for larger meetings, but for the handful of times per year that these occur, you can consider alternative venues such as hotel conference facilities or other nearby venues that can be rented for short periods.
When developing new meeting spaces, it is a good idea to try and make them as flexible in their use as possible, this way the environment can handle various forms of behaviour in a meeting. If regular reconfiguration of floorspace is likely -consider light weight, stackable furniture or chairs on wheels. This allows for quick changes in layout. If the idea is to create a more informal meeting environment, consider comfortable, adaptable soft furnishings.
Add coffee facilities if you wish to provide more of a café style break-zone, and the addition of white boards, or even walls painted with dry erase paint (which allows for writing on the walls and is easily wiped clean). This adds a creative element to the space. If you want to occasionally reconfigure the area from a large to a small space, you can implement moveable walls to convert the areas.
Considering the aesthetics of a meeting room can help to reinforce the company brand and overall business and thus provide a good ambience for the meeting. This can be done in various ways, for example you may wish to aesthetically represent the history of the business or maybe reflect the company’s heritage using artefacts, images, art work etc, when decorating this space.
For larger companies with multiple meeting rooms, it may be worth considering the décor of the rooms according to who uses them. For example, perhaps HR meeting rooms could be decorated with softer, more calming colours, and rooms more frequently used for marketing activities can be bright and buzzy- with quirky features. Meeting rooms for external guests always require a good balance. They should be presentable but not too opulent, corporate- but to the point that they aren’t cold or emotionless.
If you choose to keep your meeting room as it is, despite its underutilisation, there are a whole host of ways in which staff can make the most of it when it is empty. The space could be used as a company exercise room at certain hours, or you could provide yoga or Pilates lessons once or twice a week. You could even offer meditation sessions in the afternoons to help combat workplace stress. In summary- if you gain a close understanding of how and why your space is, (or isn’t) being used, the changes you then make can add great value to the way in which your workforce will function. Whether that is by changing your current environments or rethinking the areas in which you meet entirely.
Image credits: VadimGuzhva/BigStock : Monkeybusinessimages2/BigStock
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