Conference rooms are nothing new. For decades, office spaces have implemented these separate spaces for team meetings, stand-ups, conferences and one-to-one sessions.
With the rise in hybrid working models, workers are spending less time in the office. The time they do spend is likely to revolve around video meetings with home-working staff and external clients, so creating a welcoming environment that harnesses productivity is paramount.
Whether you’re renovating your existing setup or investing thousands in a brand new office space, these five steps will future-proof your conference room in preparation for any event.
Choose the right equipment
The trend of video conferencing is fast overtaking in-person encounters, so being prepared with the technology you’ll need to support this is a great starting point.
Consider the size of the room and the purpose it’s likely to fulfil: a powerful set of speakers will help participants to hear their distanced colleagues much easier. We’ve already put together a handy guide to buying a business webcam, but for a conference room a video bar would be a much better fit. The best video bars combine a camera (sometimes two, consisting of wide-angle and telephoto lenses), a sensitive microphone and speakers.
In any instance, consider whether the camera has a wide enough angle to capture everybody in the room. Usually going for higher than 120 degrees should be sufficient, with a 60 to 80-degree setup best suited to a sole worker.
A large display will work well in most scenarios, but maybe you will want to consider mounting multiple displays side-by-side in rooms that are likely to be used for video conferencing, especially with a high number of participants. Select a display with a minimum resolution of 4K; the best screens will be able to digitally uprate low-resolution video to appear clearer.
Historically, a desktop computer located near to the screen will have been used by a meeting’s host or presenter to load their visual aids onto a large display, but more users are using laptops and mobile devices like tablets in the interest of portability with new hybrid working routines. What’s more, some video bars have built-in support for some video conferencing suites, so there’s no need to hook them up to a computer at all. Eliminating a large computer can create a cleaner environment, but whether you go for a computer or not, be sure to provide plenty of connections for people to hook up to displays, microphones, Internet connections, and so on. A combined panel will look the tidiest.
If you’re implementing more than one conference room, it’s a sensible idea to standardize the equipment used so that, whichever room an employee finds themselves in, they will be able to use the equipment. A good network connection in every room is a must.
Ensuring your room is accessible to all of your workers is vital; this could include installing wider doors, mounting key touch points in lower positions, adding clear signage and using braille plates where necessary.
Any conference room should be multipurpose, especially as budgets tighten as a result of the pandemic and all of its effects, so designing a room to be equally as comfortable for team meetings and one-to-one sessions should be part of your consideration.
Finally, using technology to your advantage to allow employees to book rooms can prove beneficial. The best systems integrate with users’ calendars, and even have wall-mounted displays next to the room’s door to notify others whether they are occupied.
Paying close attention to who is likely to use your rooms will dictate the best layout. The first of two popular layouts involves arranging office desks and sitting spaces in a ‘U’ shape. This is great for presentations or other meetings that are typically led by one person.
The second common layout focuses on a central island-like table, often referred to as a boardroom layout. This is ideal for interactive meetings and discussions.
There are plenty of other layouts you can experiment with. We like banquet-style tables that are great for networking and collaborative working.
Whichever layout you decide works best for your needs, remember to space out managers among regular workers to challenge the intimidating hierarchical structure, creating a more comfortable environment.
A great meeting space table will have access to ports for power, Ethernet, and even to link up to the room’s display and other hardware. These needn’t be expensive all-in-one desks - floor-mounted connections are just as effective.
Conference and huddle rooms have long used uniform designs with little creativity, which means there is a great opportunity to spruce up your room.
Be adventurous with the design and experiment with materials and colors that you don’t tend to use in the rest of the office. Conference rooms should inspire creativity, and where better to instill this than a themed room that helps to build a positive mood.
Conference rooms can be harsh places, so using homely decorations can help to soften any room. A worker who feels more comfortable is more likely to be productive and have valuable input. A simple way to do this is to install mood lighting, whether that’s smart light strips or bistro-like low-hanging pendants.
Avoid distracting designs and furniture, and remember never to choose form over function. Any office chair, for example, should be ergonomical and supportive, while office desks should be spacious enough for a worker’s computing device, notebook and a drink, at minimum.
Create the perfect environment
Regardless of the room’s interior design and layout, any space should be isolated enough to avoid external distractions.
If you’re building new, consider placing your space away from office hotspots and social areas to reduce distractions and the infiltration of outside noises.
There are still ideas to implement if you’re using an existing space. If you’re renovating, adding extra soundproofing insulation can pay dividends. In order to prevent the room from being too dark, add windows with an opaque coating. This softens the light while minimizing distractions from people walking by.