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Designing Corporate Meeting Spaces to Cue Collaboration

By Craig Janssen

Have you ever noticed how corporate meeting spaces prompt people to behave?

Presentation rooms assume podium-based thinking.  There is no subtlety in where the focus should be. When you walk into the meeting space, all seats are oriented to face a single speaker position.  Board rooms have their own cues.  There is typically a large table which promotes a hierarchical culture and eliminates flexibility.

The result of these forms is that corporate meeting spaces commonly support presentation and inadvertently punish attempts at collaboration.  

How most meeting rooms cue passivity.

To use theatre design terminology: there is a clear stage (a power position) and there is an audience area.  Fixed furniture or not, the basic theatre design of the meeting space defines the experience.  And most rooms are set up with a scale and proportion that tells the person entering how to behave.

And so they do.

Most conference rooms are unwittingly designed as “event” rooms.  These spaces often have a 2:1 or greater aspect ratio.  This forces the “stage” or focus point to be at one end.  People thus take turns to present their ideas—a sequential process—and the space itself pushes back against efforts for parallel processes of discovery, engagement or decision making.

Adding insult to injury, most of these rooms are designed without nearby huddle areas for cohort groups to develop thoughts away from the larger team—or for individuals to pull away to investigate, imagine and collate the information (intellectually, emotionally or electronically) that they explored in the larger meeting.

In an “event” room, audiences come to hear what was preprogrammed for them to hear. There is little creation or collaboration.

Creating a meeting room as a collaboration space

Collaboration spaces on the other hand utilize aspect ratios of 1.5:1 or less and allow multiple stage positions—think black box theatre.  As a result the “stage” position can be set up not only in multiple orientations, but can also allow multiple concurrent stage positions.

Collaboration spaces need to consider that presentation occurs from any and all seats—both within the room and outside of it.  As a result, the layout, furnishings, and technology must allow democratic access.  And when the access includes going beyond the walls to facilitate collaboration with team members in a different geography, it isn’t enough just to have bi-directional video. We have to blur the lines between remote and local to allow distant team members to have a quality experience so that they can engage effectively.

Our hyperlink-driven, participatory digital world isn’t conducive to linear power point slides and a passive experience—which means it is no longer enough to design meeting rooms as “event” spaces.  Corporate meeting spaces have to morph to support engagement. Across the country, we are seeing more and more of our clients embrace this discussion.

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