Reinventing the Conference Room

Reinventing the Conference Room on

It’s time to turn this underused space into the company’s idea incubator.

Scoff if you want at the Millennials and their insistence that your office should look more like a coffee bar. They’ve got the right idea. Productivity is a social activity. A comfortable space with the right furniture and layout makes us want to collaborate. Close your eyes and picture your conference room. Is there a large, rectangular table capable of seating a small army? When was the last time anybody ever used that starfish speakerphone? How about the cranky projector dangling from the ceiling?

The average office conference room is sterile, ill equipped, and utilized. Employees avoid them. Nothing about most conference rooms makes them inviting places to interact. It’s time for a reinvention.

Does it really have to be called the conference room

What happens in that room, anyway? If you’re about to reinvent your conference room, now’s the time to decide if you should even keep the name. It could be time to retire the moniker. Be a snoop. Observe where people congregate to collaborate and figure out what’s drawing them to that area. Those are the things you want to add to your reinvented conference room or whatever you decide to name it.

A single giant rectangular table doesn’t work for a group who wants to meet for a quick, daily stand-up. Does your current conference room table seat 12 or more? Research by Herman miller shows that only 3 or 4 of those chairs will be used for the majority of meetings. Increase the room’s usage and employee productivity. Switch to small tables that can be arranged to accommodate size and meeting purpose.

Brainstorming works best when people are comfortable, and when they can get up to move around. Add comfortable lounge-style chairs that can be relocated to create conversation pits. Cocktail-style tables sit lower than traditional conference tables. They’re a better choice for laptops.

Reinvention tip: Test before you commit. Ask people to try out the furniture you’ve selected. Send them to the showroom or bring in samples.

It’s all about space

Conference rooms that get the most use let participants decide how much space they want to use. It’s best accomplished with furniture that’s easy to move. Mixing things up spurs creativity.

Big conference rooms can be overwhelming. You may be able to reclaim some space for other purposes. The optimal square size is small enough to encourage comfort, but ample enough for people to get up and walk around. The circulation space also allows them to move to better positions and see what’s being shared on a computer screen or white board.

Reinvention tip: Creativity happens when people are engaged. Apply a generous touch of playfulness to your new space. You don’t have to go crazy, but you do want the atmosphere to say, “Innovate!” Bright colors bring energy to a room. If that’s too radical for decision makers, add it with artwork.

Technology traps

Your IT department has good intentions, but they’re not the right people to decide on the technology tools for your new conference room. Presentation projectors are giving way to flat screens with wireless video hubs. An Apple TV or similar device is user-friendly.

Make WiFi connectivity a priority. Collaboration today often involves accessing websites on the fly, or sending an instant message to someone who’s not in the room.

Not all presentation devices have to be high-tech. Rolling white boards are a great way for people to brainstorm.

Reinvention tip: Include charging stations for mobile devices.

Environmental tweaks

Studies show that offices kept at a temperature between 68 and 77 degrees see higher employee productivity. The temperature “sweet spot” is 71.6 degrees.

Artificial light makes us drowsy. Bring in natural light if possible. It’s been proven that the intensity of sunlight can increase cognitive performance.

Silk plants? No thank you. They collect dust. Real plants? Studies show that employees working in an environment that has real plants are up to 38% more productive.

Reinvention tip: When you increase collaboration and sociability, the room noise factor increases, too. There’ll be animated discussions. The group might stop to watch a video presentation. There are inexpensive ways to soundproof rooms. It can be as simple as the installation of a few fabric panels.

It’s time to transform your conference room into a space where teamwork rules. Inspiration spawns innovation. Make this room flexible and multi-functional, with just the right amount of fun. A Millennial outlook about collaborative space will get you in the right design mode. Don’t worry. The barista is optional.