Conference Room Trends: Room To Grow
Ancient Rooms In A Modern WorldWhen asked to define an obsolete conference room, some experts describe the types of spaces that companies still use today. Matt Glowiak, product business manager for The HON Company, based in Muscatine, IA, pictures, “A single purpose, static room with oversized unmovable furniture and limited electrical and data capabilities.” In many cases, there is clearly the need for better technology and the furniture necessary to support it. Kirt Martin, principal industrial designer for Grand Rapids, MI-based Turnstone, describes, “An outdated conference room is the classic formal room that was designed to impress with its opulence and splendor. It reveals the poor wire management capabilities by exposing wires and cables underneath the table; the situation is worsened when employees get their feet tangled in the unmanaged wires.” A conference room should be a place that is tailored to the needs of people within a specific organization—where they can feel comfortable and have access to necessary technology. But a lot of today’s rooms don’t measure up. Regional Director Ron Schall of Englewood, CA-based Audio Visual Innovations, Inc., bemoans the conditions that are too often found in rooms, including, “Poor lighting, poor audio, and projectors that are not bright enough and unable to support high speed data.” Others agree. “A problem with these rooms is that they are sterile, bland environments that are absent of character and lacking the ability to attract people,” says Lew Epstein, vice president and creative director for Metro, headquartered in Oakland, CA. “Such conditions are tolerated, because people often have no other place to meet.” A badly designed conference room, however, can be just as difficult to work with as an archaic one. There are a number of questions that facility managers should ask before making any improvements. Who will be using the conference room, and what will they be using it for? What type of technology will be needed to facilitate this activity? Does the furniture need to adapt to the technology? All of these factors must be taken into consideration when planning conference rooms that function in a practical manner.
Collaborative EffortsThere are many uses for a conference room, and each organization uses the space differently. As previously mentioned, it is important to know how a particular group works and interacts before making any purchasing decisions with regard to these spaces.
Technology In A Global EconomyFacility managers also need to acclimate themselves to the changes in technology that will furnish conference rooms with the necessary equipment for communication functions. The technology should reflect how people gather and interact in the world today. Glowiak explains, “In a global economy, when time and money are both equal factors, video conferencing is a necessity, since it is a less expensive and time consuming alternative to actual travel. Flat plasma screens have replaced large TV monitors and have given conference rooms of limited size the opportunity to maximize their space.” There are several other new technologies facilitating these changes in the workplace. They include, as Sterk outlines, “Wireless networking, interactive presentation technologies (like WebX), video conferencing, and audio conferencing. Effective use of these technologies is a challenge.” Facility managers should be vigilant in keeping current with the latest innovations. Without this knowledge, costly mistakes could be made. Even worse, a facility could end up equipped with a conference room that is out of date or difficult to upgrade. Glowiak advises, “It is extremely important for a facility manager to be well versed in the latest technology. For example, ignorance of wireless Internet technology could force a facility manager to perform a costly rewire of a single room when the same funds could create a completely equipped room with wireless Internet.” Schall continues with this thought: “It is critical to determine what the users of the conference room really need for audio visual. Most of the time this question is not even asked. A good integrator can walk a customer through this process and help determine the optimal equipment list for current and future needs.” Easy and reliable communication is the most basic and necessary technology requirement. Video and audio conferencing are a part of this as well. Also, as Martin says, “The ability to share electronic data in the conference room is imperative. They need to be equipped with speaker phones that have multiple pickups as well as infocus machines and screens.”
The Marriage Of Technology And FurnitureUsers should search for furniture that adjusts to technology and can be modified for upgrades. “It is vitally important to be able to integrate these technologies with the space and furnishings,” says Sterk.
Looking AheadMany organizations in the years to come will not have traditional nine-to-five workers toiling in close quarters with one another. Telecommuting will continue to expand as organizations attempt to reduce overhead. These workers will need to have a space where they can congregate. Sterk predicts, “Conference rooms will become spaces for presenting or communicating information. They will be a home base for remote collaboration and video and audio conferencing.” Glowiak agrees, “The need for conference rooms will always exist as long as there is a need for people to have team communication. Technology will continue to advance, creating greater and easier ability for both worldwide and regional communication.” Epstein also recognizes the importance of conference rooms in the future. He says, “The value of face to face collaboration will drive an ongoing need for conference rooms. Physical and virtual spaces for collaboration will overlap and become dynamic environments designed for high performance teams.” Many lament the loss of human interaction in the modern world. Yet, new technologies acknowledge the importance of this contact. Conference rooms will never become obsolete as long as there are people working together to make things happen. When facility managers have carefully designed conference rooms in place and are able to remain updated on the latest innovations, they can rest easy—at least for a moment. Then it’s back to that broken toilet. This article was based on interviews with Epstein, Glowiak, Martin, Schall, and Sterk.
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