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Is the Office Now Just One Big Conference Room?

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The office has certainly changed, but it’s yet to be determined what it will be turned into. Every company and every team is finding its own relationship with the office, but one thing that every organization has to consider is why someone would come into the office in the first place. As more people work from home, at least part-time, the office has to provide more than just a place to set up a laptop. For most, what the office offers that our couches and kitchen tables don’t is a place to be with others. 

Creating space for connection

Whether it is a brainstorming session, a performance review, or a casual lunch break chat, there is much more interaction that happens working from an office than from home.

Collaboration is so important to the new iteration of the office that most workspaces now have more space dedicated to conference rooms than desks. Conference rooms are even given prime real estate at the edges of a floorplan, such as next to the windows, that before was reserved for only the most senior employees. Modern offices seem to lead with their conference rooms, trying to draw employees in and incentivize their meeting time.

Conference rooms today are not like they were before the pandemic. Hybrid work has changed almost every aspect of conference rooms, from the layouts to the audio/visual equipment to the way that they integrate with a company’s workflow software. For conference rooms to be the draw that companies want them to be, they need to be easy to use, functional, and enjoyable. This means giving as much thought to the aesthetics and functionality of our conference areas as we give to common spaces. It also means creating conference rooms that have great lighting for video. 

There is a natural asymmetry when it comes to hybrid meetings. Participants in the room will always feel more connected to each other. On the flip side, in-person participants that have to share a screen can feel reluctant to interrupt or can be crowded out of a conversation. Good conference rooms can help level the balance of power. Technology like face detection software can automatically frame everyone equally on-screen. Sound reduction software is becoming much better at eliminating echoes or reverb from multiple microphones in the same room.

Collaboration means a lot more than just talking. Conference rooms are finding ways to facilitate things like document sharing and whiteboard in a way that is useful for those attending in-person and digitally. Meeting organizers are also getting creative in the ways to bridge the digital divide, such as ordering the same food or drinks for at-home participants so they can connect on things not related to work at hand.

Creating better conference room experiences

Like any space, conference rooms are most useful when they are well utilized. Room reservation software is helping make sure everyone is able to use conference space in an efficient manner. A nagging problem for office managers has always been workers who book large conference rooms for smaller groups or themselves. As conference room time becomes more precious, this problem becomes more of a burden. To alleviate the waste of conference rooms, some office designers are experimenting with offices that can double as small conference rooms or single-person phone booths that give workers a good substitute for a private conference room. 

While the focus so far has been on how to expand and improve conference space in offices, that is likely only the start. Eventually, we might see other spaces, like communal or flex spaces, start to be equipped with the lights, cameras, microphones, speakers, and screens needed for video conferencing. There will always be a need for a private conference room, but now that we are more comfortable seeing the inside of our co-workers’ homes, our tolerance for background noise and movement has grown. One day we might not even make the delineation between “workspace” and “conference space.” Instead, we will just find new ways of helping people collaborate in any part of the office and from any place in the world.

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