Designing Conference Rooms to Foster Collaboration
Good design is intuitive. It tells you what to do without saying anything. You just know what you’re supposed to do. When was the last time you had to read an instruction manual for an Apple product? Similar to technology, our environment also can tell us what we’re supposed to do and how we’re supposed to do it. When you walk onto an airplane, the overhead bins are opened and waiting for your luggage. When you approach a breakfast buffet line, the layout indicates how you’re supposed to interact with the food (by loading your plate with bacon first, of course). Conference rooms can be very similar. How you design them can go a long way to influencing how employees use the conference room. How then should you go about designing a conference room for collaboration? Below we’ve outlined what we’ve seen in the best collaborative conference rooms.
Collaborative conference rooms should be very well stocked with everything that the team needs to work together. If there’s only one dry erase marker, only one person can draw or write. But if there’s lots of markers, everyone can participate. Other items you see in the best designed conference rooms are copious amounts of writing surfaces, done with Ideapaint, chalkboard paint, and giant whiteboards. The more space you have for writing, the easier it will be for your team to write on the walls. If the writing surface is small, people may feel averse to crowding next to the board and getting in each other’s personal space. Whatever your conference room needs, make sure it is oversupplied with all of the necessary equipment.
Design for Informality
Collaborative workspaces and offices should be designed to get everyone to share their ideas and contribute. A relaxing environment, with friendly colors, soft furnishings, informal seating, and an intimate layout can help to encourage your team to share their ideas. Think about how cafes are designed. The whole purpose of a cafe is to provide guests with a relaxing and enjoyable place to drink some brew and connect. A conference room designed for collaboration does the same.
A large conference room gives everyone plenty of space to spread out and distances themselves from each other. Which is the exact opposite of what we want in a collaboration space. Distance creates barriers and challenges our ability to share with each other. A smaller space literally brings people closer to each other. As long as the space isn’t so small that people feel like their personal space is being invaded, a smaller collaboration room will encourage your team to share and interact.
How often do you find yourself inspired by an idea at the most random time? Maybe in the shower, while out for a walk, or while you’re working on something unrelated to your idea. The thought jumps in your head and you need to work on it right away. If you or your team suddenly need to jump on a moment of inspiration, nothing can be worse than needing to schedule a meeting room. You want to jump in one right away. If you have conference room iPad or tablets with the schedule of availability for that room, users can quickly book the room without needing to open their computers. Meeting room management system Roomzilla is designed to integrate with a conference room ipad display, allowing your team to instantly jump into and book meeting rooms.
Take a page from convenience stores and coffee shops. Have you ever noticed how whenever one convenience store or pharmacy opens, another one opens nearby? Or how you’ll find 3 Starbucks within a few blocks of each other? There’s a good reason for that. Convenience is a big deciding factor for whether or not people go get that mid-day coffee. Same is true for conference rooms. If your team has to walk down the hall, around the corner, over the river and through the woods (hi Grandma), they’re less likely to use the space. That means conversations are going to happen somewhere else, and possibly even right at your workers’ desks. That creates noise and distraction for all of the other people who are trying to focus.
Videoconferencing in the meeting room empowers your team to pipe in coworkers and collaborators who work in different offices or are traveling. If investing in conference room videoconferencing technology is not an option, at the very least make sure that the wireless signal in the room is strong enough to support streaming video conferencing tools like Google Hangouts. And don’t forget to take your whiteboard drawings with you. IdeaPaint developed an awesome app for capturing and sharing your everything you’ve drawn on the wall.
Design for Flexibility
One day your team is laying out samples and materials on the table. The next day they’re drawing org charts on the wall. On another day they’re huddled close to each other, leaning in and having intense conversations. Each of these scenarios is best served by different furniture layouts. A large table is great for laying out those materials, but it gets in the way of physically getting close. A room full of chairs helps for sitting around and brainstorming, but all of those chairs get in the way when everyone is trying to draw on the whiteboards at the same time. If your furniture is modular and on wheels, your team can easily arrange the furniture however they need.
A rectangular conference room table encourages the group leader to sit at the head of the table. But a round one has no top. At a round conference room table, everyone is equal. A round table also sends a signal that everyone is welcome to participate and that nobody can hide.
How do you and your coworkers encourage collaboration and interaction in the conference room?