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Why Your Conference Rooms Are Sitting Empty (And How to Fix It)


Your employees are constantly complaining they can’t find a conference room when they need one. But when you walk around the office, you see nothing but empty rooms. Sound familiar?

Chances are, the problem isn’t a lack of conference rooms, but poor conference room utilization. In addition to creating a negative experience for your employees, poor space utilization also contributes to a lot of wasted dollars. 

To gain full visibility into how much money your organization is losing, start by calculating the cost of just one empty conference room. The average annual lease rate for commercial real estate in the United States is $35.34 per square foot, according to consulting firm JLL’s latest office outlook report. Using JLL’s 3-30-300 rule, which shows the approximate relationship between utilities, rent and employees, you can estimate utility costs at $3.50. And when you consider the average large conference room is about 420 square feet, you arrive at an annual cost of nearly $16,313.

That’s what your organization is paying each year just for that conference room to exist. Now it’s time to determine if its existence is justified. Research from workplace design and consulting firm HOK shows the average conference room is empty more than 70% of the day. Assuming a 30% conference room utilization, that means a single empty room is costing your organization over $11,419 per year. 

There are several reasons why conference rooms sit empty while employees complain they can’t find a place to meet. The first is that they don’t have the right space to meet their needs. According to HOK, nearly 75% of all meetings are attended by two to four people, yet most meeting rooms are designed to accommodate much larger groups of 6-20 people. 

Your employees don’t necessarily want to book a large, formal conference room for a quick, private conversation between two people. But if your workplace doesn’t have the right mix of reservable spaces, they’re going to take the only space that’s available—and it’s valuable space that could be better used for another purpose!

Another reason employees don’t use conference rooms is a perceived lack of availability. Room scheduling tools like Microsoft Outlook allow employees to make reservations for recurring meetings, but unless the employee remembers to cancel the meeting, the room will appear to be reserved even when it’s sitting empty. Employees may also be reluctant to reserve a conference room if they don’t have a quick, easy way to do so. In an agile work environment, employees are encouraged to move around the office throughout the day and collaborate spontaneously. If they have to spend 15 minutes searching for an available meeting room, they’re more likely to forego reserving one altogether. Instead, they’ll gather a group around a colleague’s desk to discuss an important matter, distracting others while a perfectly good conference room sits empty. 

To reduce the number of empty meeting rooms, make sure your workplace provides an appropriate mix of spaces. In addition to large conference rooms, you also need smaller conference rooms, quiet spaces and less formal huddle areas. Another important step your organization can take is to implement room reservation software that makes it easy for employees to reserve a conference room at a moment’s notice. They should be able to immediately see the size of the room, seating capacity and available equipment the room contains—even if they’re away from the office.

The solution you choose should integrate with your existing calendar tools (like Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar) but it should have the added functionality to eliminate double-bookings and “ghost” bookings that remain after a meeting has been cancelled. Additionally, it should allow employees to see whether a room is available and reserve it instantly using a digital room scheduling panel or a mobile app. 

To take conference room utilization to the next level, consider implementing IoT sensors outside each room. These sensors will automatically update the status of rooms based on real-time occupancy, ensuring no space goes to waste. For instance, if the sensor detects a room is unoccupied 15 minutes after the scheduled meeting time, it will make the room available again so others can book it. 

An empty conference room can be a major source of wasted space in your workplace. But if you use the right software and technology and ensure employees have access to a variety of meeting spaces, you can significantly improve conference room utilization.

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