What Should a Modern Meeting Space Look Like?

I just got out of a five-hour meeting that was mostly productive, with no one getting shut out of the conversation, but with one glaring omission—WiFi. Somehow, the meeting room lacked a wireless network. Our office had one, but for security reasons presumably, our IT department wouldn’t allow our managers to give the guests visiting the building, or any employees, the password to access the network.

A new report, IACC Meeting Room of the Future, envisions what a modern meeting room ideally should be like. That got me thinking about my idea of an ideal meeting room, and what others would consider ideal.

In the case of my meeting this afternoon, the WiFi glitch was accompanied by the realization that we couldn’t even project the screen of one of our visitors’ computers because we lacked the proper digital projector device. Shouldn’t one of those things come with the room, like a fixture in the table? We saw a hint of a screen rolled up into the ceiling, but I’m not sure that any of us, even the tallest among us, would have been able to easily reach it and pull it down. Maybe, in addition to the always-there digital projector device, a screen for projection should simply be there waiting in case anyone happens to want to use it. It shouldn’t require a maintenance person to visit the room, or forethought to have it ready before the meeting starts.

We were sitting at a standard rectangular table, but maybe a c-shaped table would have been better. The leader of the meeting, our department head, could sit in the middle of the curve, or the “elbow” of the “c,” with the rest of us surrounding. And if he had a chair with wheels on it, he could easily roll from one end of the table to the other. I think he also would be equidistant from all of us more than he would be at a giant round table.

Come to think of it, never mind the creative “c”-shaped table; I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a large, formal conference room with a round table. What shape are the conference tables in your company’s conference rooms?

What do you think of a living room set up to serve as a conference room? For instance, it could be two large couches facing each other with a few comfortable chairs along the sides. Or a large sectional sofa that could wrap around the room. If the conference doesn’t require a place for people to prop up laptops, it might be more comfortable and facilitate a more relaxed, fluid exchange. What do you think? A little too relaxed?

I once read about meetings former President Bill Clinton’s team held in which no one was allowed to bring anything to eat. They had other meetings where people were munching on snack food, but there were some meetings that eating was thought to be too much of a distraction. Do you think refreshments have a place in meetings? Is there something to be said for beginning a meeting by eating breakfast or lunch together?

How about a bar in the “conference room” in which people could get up whenever they liked to fix themselves non-alcoholic beverages—or alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, and cocktails, if that wouldn’t violate a corporate policy? Is there a danger to allowing the consumption of alcohol in meetings? Years ago, up until the 1960s (think Mad Men episodes), it seems like it was more common than not for meetings to include the option of alcohol. If an employee overdoes it, wouldn’t that reflect badly enough on them, that each employee, like any other luxury, would be motivated to be responsible about their intake? Like the concept of a corporate “living room,” maybe a meeting with cocktails would set a less intimidating, more open mood that would inspire better conversation and idea generation.

What if the “meeting room” of the future weren’t a meeting room at all, but a few mobile and wearable devices? The meeting could take place with the group going for a walk together and the needed materials would appear on the face of the participants’ smartphones, watches, or at the very least, there would be no need to take notes because the presentations of each participant would be recorded and accessible to anyone at the company—even those who didn’t attend the meeting—on the corporate intranet or internal social network. The group could take a walk together on a nice fall day, go to the local park, or just keep walking while talking, knowing everything they need would be available without having to bother taking notes. The participants could send a voice memo to themselves about individual to-dos that come from the meeting.

In addition to working as a managing editor at a health trade magazine, I do freelance travel writing. On one of my trips, I stayed in what you might call a luxury hut. Each “hut” came with an iPod loaded with songs that could be selected to be played. When you pressed play, however, instead of having to listen with headphones, the music seemed to be coming out of the hut’s straw or bamboo walls and ceiling. There were hidden speakers that were wirelessly connected to the iPod. Could a meeting room have something similar, so meetings could be accompanied by music in the background to set a tone, discourage stress, or even inspire fresh thinking? Would that be music to your managers’ and executives’ ears or just another distraction?

How do you create a focused, yet comfortable and creative, environment in which new ideas and vibrant discussion is encouraged?

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