Microsoft Teams. Skype. GoToMeeting. WebEx. Zoom. As the pandemic advanced, online meeting sites and software proliferated to accommodate collaborative efforts while maintaining social distancing. The use and creation of conference rooms became an afterthought as spaces and buildings remained vacant. Today, as more and more companies recall their employees to the workspace, conference rooms are once again in demand. In designing and planning conference rooms, various factors need to be considered: size, lighting, sound management, environment, and technology. Let’s walk through each one.
Size and location. Perform a Needs Analysis to help determine the size of conference room needed. What will be the function of the room: sales presentations? Employee meetings? One-on-one conferences? Do you need to accommodate 6-8 people? 10 people? 20 people? Do you need to account for social distancing? Do you only have space for one or two conference rooms? Flexibility can play a big role in the design of your conference rooms. Wall dividers can be a quick and easy solution, however, acoustics, furniture, and arrangements need to be factored in. The location of the rooms on the floors should also be considered. Interior locations of the rooms make for more private environments with fewer distractions. Rooms with exterior-facing windows tend to be better-suited for collaborative sessions and ideation conferences.
Furniture. What type of seating configuration are you considering? A U-shaped configuration makes it easy for a speaker to give presentations. Classroom-style enables you to fit more people. O-block style makes it easier for conversations, allowing speakers to see each other. You need to make sure attenders are comfortable, have ample elbow room, and space to get up and walk around if needed.
Sound or acoustic management. Depending on the size and use of the conference room, acoustics can play a major role in determining the usefulness and comfort of the room. Conference rooms are generally placed within interior spaces of the office and therefore are constructed with hard surfaces. Whether the walls are drywall or glass, these surfaces make the sound reflect around the room, causing echoes and distortions, especially if using video conferencing technology. Open ceilings within the rooms can also cause problems. Solutions to help mitigate these issues can be sound absorbing panels, acoustical ceiling tile, carpet, fabric on furniture, drapes, or cloth blinds on windows, etc. To help solve this problem you should have the room electronically graphed and quantify the acoustic properties.
Technology. Options for conference rooms have expanded greatly in the past 5-to-10 years and now provide opportunities for interactive and customizable use. While features such as scheduling software and video conferencing systems are vital to a successful meeting space, there are options to expand beyond the basics and include interactive whiteboards and smart walls.
Scheduling the use of shared conference space has always been a necessity, but through digital signage this task can be simplified. Programs like SmartWay2 allow digital signage posted at the conference room to be connected to Outlook and Teams for seamless scheduling. In addition to showing the upcoming bookings and openings at the door, this system can be connected to environmental control systems and video conferencing set-ups to gather insights on room utilization and employee preferences for settings. This connection allows the room’s control panel to set the room up prior to the meeting start time for each employee.
Why stop there? Interactive whiteboards have become popular in business and educational environments to improve collaboration and communication methods. These large touchscreens allow users to edit content in real time, hold video conferences, share screens, and screencast from any device, and they can be portable or permanently mounted. Systems like the Vibe Board allow sketching on an infinite canvas in a simple, all-in-one solution that combines PC, monitor, conference camera, and whiteboard.
Environmental controls. In offices, environmental controls can make or break productivity levels and employee wellbeing. HVAC and lighting have both been studied endlessly to discover the right solutions to creating comfortable spaces for employees both physically and mentally.
The ultimate solution to environmental controls in conference rooms is to allow employees to control the zone while they are using the space. This allows users to customize settings to the specific reason they are in the room. With HVAC controls, it’s important to maintain a humidity level between 40-60% regardless of temperature as this reduces dust pollution and protects against electrostatic discharge. Providing a healthier atmosphere with a humidity level that protects human respiratory systems has been shown to reduce the amount of sick leave.
Lighting. Many studies performed about natural versus artificial light show that while natural light is always a better option, artificial light can be used to mimic nature. Adjustable LED lights can be used to control lighting levels and temperature. The system can be programmed to follow the natural tones of the sun throughout the day to help regulate circadian rhythm. In turn, this helps to regulate hormones that control how tired or awake employees are. Lighting levels can also help reduce headaches, eye strain, and blurred vision, which in turn will lead to healthier employees and a healthier space.
Each of these factors are vital in designing a space that inspires collaboration amongst employees. In this post-pandemic age, it has become even more important to place a focus on having valuable and high-quality spaces within the office. All five categories of conference room design require careful consideration to understand how they work together to improve employee productivity, health, and satisfaction. A multi-faceted design approach to thoughtfully incorporate all these factors will make a difference in your office, too.