Wednesday 27th October 2021
Formal and informal meeting spaces

Think of meeting spaces and your first thought is probably a big long table, with nice leather chairs surrounding it, glass panelling on the outside to let in more light, and probably a big TV screen or computer-based projector at one end.

Or at least something fairly close to that…

Of course, not every type of meeting fits that cookie-cutter image of a meeting room. Every business is different, every department is different and every meeting objective is different – and all of those factors change the demands on a meeting space to deliver what employees, and the business as a whole, need from it.

This is especially true in the current business climate, where the rise of more flexible work means that employees’ expectations around office-based meetings are even higher than before. After all, if they don’t feel it’s worth coming into the office for a meeting that’s compromised, then they’ll simply resort to taking part from home. With that move comes the loss of body-language and more natural communication that only face-to-face collaboration can provide.

So, when defining the formal and informal meeting spaces of future offices, what considerations should be taken into account? Among a vast range of different variables, six in particular stand out:

1. Capacity

The old Goldilocks theory applies here: a meeting room should be “not too big, not too small – just right”. Too small and it’ll be standing room only, and those not around the table or not in the middle will struggle to contribute. Too big and a vast, echoey void can flatten the atmosphere and stifle creativity. The ideal balance is in between the two, with a space that’s right-sized for the number of people taking part.

2. Layout

It may seem like a relatively trivial point, but how attendees are arranged in a meeting can make a big difference to their involvement? Sit them at a big boardroom-style table and they’ll feel more formal and business-like, and make contributions to suit. Put them around free-standing chairs – or even stand them up – and you strip away the formality and allow them to feel more at ease. For meetings that need free thinking and creativity, the latter option makes so much more sense.

3. Surroundings

Ergonomic considerations go beyond the meeting space itself and take into account anything that’s around it. Is there natural light and fresh air coming into the room to keep everyone active and motivated? How protected is the space from background noise (especially in open-plan offices) that may cause distractions? Does the room have sufficient privacy, or can people see in through glass panels? All these things can have a major impact with how comfortable employees are with the meeting as a whole.

4. Seating comfort

Connected to the previous point, the very seats that people sit on have their own part to play – especially if it’s a long meeting where attendees are likely to get distracted or feel uncomfortable. Like the conference table we mentioned earlier, corporate-style meeting chairs that sit employees bolt upright will generate similarly rigid responses. Put them in an informal setting with couches, soft chairs – or even beanbags if you’re feeling really wild! – and you release them from their inhibitions.

5. Booking format

Some meetings demand more planning than others, while every so often, a sudden need to bring people together means immediate access to collaboration space is a must. While a workspace management solution that allows employees to search for and book meeting spaces in advance is vital, it’s worth considering keeping some spaces ‘off the grid’ so that they can be used spontaneously as and when they’re needed.

6. Video conferencing functionality

However formal or informal a meeting might be, flexible work mean that in many cases, not everyone will be taking part in a meeting in person. Every meeting must have the ability, if it’s needed, to deploy a video collaboration tool, and secure access to the relevant equipment. This could be through booking a room where VC tools are installed, or ordering the equipment to a room for a specific time: either way, workspace booking software can support these needs.

In summary

All of the above points ably demonstrate that the lines between formal and informal meetings have never been so blurred. In fact, it’s now better to think less of the formality of a meeting, and more about what’s right for the context and objective of each meeting individually. These are likely to be so diverse from day to day, and from team to team, that businesses will need to cover as many bases as possible by providing a wide range of meeting spaces. Ultimately, only by maximizing choice can businesses maximize meeting success.

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