10 Conference Room Design Mistakes

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A conference room can be an incubator for the next great idea. When meeting room design isn’t fully thought through, however, great ideas can fizzle out and go nowhere. So how do you design a conference room to have the best impact possible?

Designing or redesigning a conference room isn’t as simple as it may seem. You can create a rectangular room with a large table in the center, to be sure, but it cab be far more challenging to design a meeting room that meets your company’s needs.

Here are 10 common mistakes to conference room design as well as some suggestions and resources for remedying them:

  1. Wrong Screen Size - A conference room is no longer just a place for physical meetings; it has to be a good space for virtual meetings, too. The video screen is a central part of meeting room design, and it must be just right for the space. Think of where everyone will be in the room, and make sure no one has to crane their necks to see the screen. At the same time, the screen shouldn’t dominate the room.

    The best screen size is one that allows the image to be large enough so that those in the back of the room can read the text, but not so big that it overpowers the people sitting in the front. As a general rule, the screen height should be three to six times the distance between the furthest seat and the screen. So, if the furthest seat is eighteen feet from the screen, the screen should be at least three to six feet high. If you really want to dial in the dimensions and get everything right, check out Screen Work's guide to picking a conference room screen size on its blog.

  2. Incorporating technology no one knows how to use. There is often a disconnect between the tech staff and everyone else at a company. It can be easy to be talked into buying complex AV equipment that only a couple of staff members know how to use. This can cause issues for you and your team if those trained employees aren’t available for an important call or meeting. Make sure the technology incorporated into the meeting room design is relatively intuitive to use, and that there are people in every department who are well trained in how to use it.

    One strategy to keep everyone up on the technology in the conference room is to train team leaders first, and then have them train others in their divisions. Other helpful tips, according to Chuck Cohn, CEO of Varsity Tutors, include hands-on training and online training.

  3. Not enough space or too much space for the headcount - Make sure you have a firm and realistic figure for how many people on average attend conference meetings, and plan to accommodate a few more people than that. Too little space and people are bumping elbows and getting annoyed; too much and it feels intimidating. Keep in mind that your future needs may change, especially if you’re anticipating growing your headcount.

    OnTimeSupplies.com offers several simple tricks to figuring out the right size of the conference table you need. Measure your conference room and determine how much clearance space you need from the walls and any other obstructions, and then estimate your number of users. Next comes the fun of deciding the shape and dimension, which OnTimeSupplies.com covers pretty nicely in their conference table size guide post.

  4. Overpowering Lighting - Harsh lighting can drain the energy out of a room and and make people irritable. When choosing lighting options, think of what the light is like in your favorite spaces. Like the way that library room looks, or maybe you just love the mood in that bistro down the street? Find what you like and then ask the designer or business owner what they installed. Also, be sure to consider how the room’s lighting might interact with natural lighting throughout the year.

    Put in a variety of light sources, like task lighting and floor and desk lamps, and dimmer switches so that your workers can control the level and quality of light. Apartment Therapy.com has a great starter guide on how to create the perfect home office lighting setup, but really you could use the same tips in thinking through your conference room lighting design scheme.

  5. No space for storage - A clean, well-stocked conference room with plenty of storage can help your meetings to run smoothly. There will be enough space for all of the peripherals that you need, and by having everything stored in cabinets and closets, you’ll keep a clean and pleasing aesthetic. A natural placement for no-hassle storage is below the conference room screen, but to use this space well, you’re going to need more than just the clunky shelving unit.

  6. No Thought To Placement - Sometimes, it’s not so much the conference room design that’s the problem; it could be where the conference room is located in the office floor plan. Think about how and when your employees use the meeting room. Does anything about your usage patterns give you ideas of where the office should be located? Be sure to allow convenient access to the room, and place it where there won’t be too many distractions.

    A blogpost from WINevada, a support trade association of Nevada businesses, offers several tips on conference room layout. Think about what the location of the meeting room will say about the importance of collaboration to employees, clients, and potential clients.

  7. Thinking it must be the only meeting room - Designing a conference room that can accommodate both big and small groups can be difficult. The solution? Don’t try. One solution to consider is building micro-meeting rooms for small groups, leaving the larger main conference room for big meetings. Coworking space CIC in Boston and Cambridge Mass has done a great job of setting up rooms of various sizes.

    Highfive, a video and web conferencing service, emphasizes the need to create ad hoc spaces that don’t need to be scheduled for quick sideline discussions on projects. Most of these spaces can be created with a quick trip to IKEA, if needed, they say. They also suggest installing old-fashioned phone booths for making quick, private calls in the office, if you want to get fancy.   

  8. Unsuitable Furniture - There is an art to picking out furniture for meeting room design. The best furniture options also should be adjustable, as it is fairly unlikely that everyone working at your company is the same height or has the same back health. Enlist a few “test sitters” from your company when evaluating chairs. This will not only help you figure out what is important, but it will also help make sure everyone is happy with the selection

    Makeuseof.com offers 5 great office chair options that are ergonomic, easily adaptable to individual seating preferences, and affordable. These include the Office Star Space Professional Air Grid, the Herman Miller Milla, and the Steelcase Leap.

  9. Forgetting the Fun. It’s a mistake to make your conference room design too stoic. Remember that this is a place for creativity and try and incorporate some amount of playfulness or creativity into the design, even if it’s just a mural. PSFK shares how you can go beyond the ping pong table to liven up your office, including by adding an in-office slide from one floor to another, a dog run on the roof for dog-friendly offices, and meeting spaces designed to look like old trolley cars and taxi cabs.

  10. Being too creative - At the same time, a conference room need not be a flight of whimsy; no one wants to be fired in a converted trolley car. A conference room should reflect the heart and soul of your business, and that requires at least some design sobriety.

There is no one solution to conference room design, so give the project some thought, and seek professional consultation if you have questions. The process of designing your meeting room might even shed light on your company’s character. Also, if any of this feels overwhelming, just start with one. You don’t need to do everything all at once. As Lao-tzu once (sort of) said, “the longest journey begins with one step."