- Today’s workers need conference rooms that adapt to their changing needs, useful spaces for both those in the office and those working remotely.
- NeoCon 2022, a commercial interior design convention, shared some ways meeting rooms are starting to evolve and why it matters.
- Meeting room design trends include preparing for asymmetrical video meetings, adding seating and varying areas to encourage creativity.
The job has changed. The office has changed. Now meeting rooms need to catch up.
Our workplaces are being asked to meet the new demands of today’s workers, and conference rooms are an important part of meeting those needs. NeoCon 2022, a commercial interior design convention, revealed some of the ways our meeting rooms are starting to evolve.
The boardroom hasn’t seen much innovation in the past 50 years; slide projectors were replaced by monitors, and then those monitors got taller and thinner. Cameras were added to connect a beige conference room to another conference room, just in a different building.
But the shape of these rooms has remained the same: rectangular and wide enough to comfortably accommodate an oval table in the shape of a racetrack usually surrounded by 8 to 12 chairs. These halls, historically, featured leather seating and were oversized to impress visitors.
The best of these spaces are usually accentuated by an undemocratic amount of natural building light along one wall and opaque glass on the other to tease any passer-by to the pleasure of having fun inside. If they don’t have a window, a photograph of Ansel Adams will suffice.
Now that workers have more choices about where to work, they’re increasingly asking the question posed by the cheeky coffee mugs everywhere: “Could this meeting have been an email?” A well-designed meeting room can turn that answer into a simpler “no”.
One of the most consistent trends emerging in meeting room design is the preparation for asymmetrical video meetings. Unsurprisingly, video (whether via Zoom, Skype, Teams, or whatever comes next) is here to stay. But what changes is who is home and who is back in the office.
The rooms featured at NeoCon were created to support the various combinations of here-alone, there, here-together, and there-together. These design considerations reflect how in-person attendees are oriented and how they face.
For example, place the video monitor on the long wall instead of behind the head of the table. Then, all participants should sit on the same side of the table, giving everyone in that room an equal presence on the screen. A wide angle includes everyone at once with no one in the back. It has even more impact if the software and monitor orientation are set up so that those in the video are of equal size and position to create the impression that everyone is sitting at a round table.
Meetings are often long — sometimes too long in an uncomfortable chair. The posture we adopt when attending meetings will change in the future to support the different activities that may occur during a meeting. Sitting is the standard posture for meetings, but often creativity can be stimulated by movement. Standing or perching can help teams reflect and add energy to their creative process. It’s also easier for everyone on the team to share ideas visually if everyone is already on their feet.
Creating zones for this kind of creativity in the same space as a meeting can increase participation, speed, and quality of problem solving. Almost the opposite, taking a physical and metaphorical step back from an influx of information can help meeting participants absorb everything.
Often, a more relaxed posture, like sitting in a lower lounger, can be just the shift in energy needed to let the stellar ideas shine through. Creating these zones for ideation and thinking – while accommodating virtual team members – is the evolutionary challenge that will be met with technology and protocols.
All of these additional room reorientations and postures have one significant downside though: they take up more space, so the conference room has to expand. This is helped by two factors, however – both related to the pandemic.
First, the meetings were held in spaces initially thought to be intended to accommodate at least two to four times as many participants. Meeting attendees left chairs between them and did their best to socially distance while being required to be in a confined space. Anyone who has ever had to downsize their home or found themselves occupying an empty workstation next to them knows that free space is a void that fills up quickly and is very difficult to return later. . People are used to extra space for their meetings and won’t be happy to be asked to return to small boxes.
The other factor at play is that as the big return to the office unfolds, office spaces are adapting – mainly by allocating spaces originally intended for individual work (which can now be better accomplished from home) to more group spaces and meeting spaces. Workspaces created today and in the near future will surely have more meeting spaces with larger footprints.
This balance between in-person and remote will make it even more critical for project spaces to be able to continuously display key items and status throughout the duration of the project.
Therefore, dedicated project spaces will take up more and more space in new floor plans. Any number of team members can be in the space each day, and the visual display of all a project’s status and pending issues will help them navigate tasks quickly. the most pressing ones, as well as connecting with what everyone can work on.
Of course, NeoCon2022 also showed that we don’t abandon our factories when working collaboratively. Just as biophilia has made its way into other parts of the office environment, plants are also present in conference rooms. Confined spaces can benefit the most from adding plants, and finding ways to add these living elements to conference spaces becomes a priority.
Larger spaces, various new postures, dedicated project rooms, and greener spaces will all help answer the age-old question, “why do we meet?”