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Is the Office Lounge the New Boardroom?

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By Zoe Humphries, Senior Workplace Consultant, Steelcase

Organisations recognise group work as central to success, but often struggle to offer effective collaborative spaces. When done right, meetings can foster synergy, encourage heated discussions and allow the necessary sharing of information to crack a project. Done badly, meetings can be a complete waste of time and a serious drain on company productivity. Blank faces in a boardroom. Group think. Stagnant brainstorms.

Yet according to an article by Inc., middle managers spend an estimated 35 percent of their workday in meetings. This figure rises to almost 50 percent for executives.  That’s a whole lot of time spent in meetings which may or may not be productive. So what is the best way to get the most from these workplace exchanges?

Market leaders swear by different approaches. LinkedIn has all but eliminated presentations during meetings by enforcing materials to be sent for consideration ahead of time. Jeff Bezos keeps Amazon meetings short and intimate by applying the rule of not planning a meeting in which two pizzas aren’t enough to feed everyone.

Regardless of what happens during the meeting, viewing the space itself as a core piece of the meeting experience is an important consideration. Effective meeting room design can impact and change your entire meeting; putting attendees at ease, encouraging conversation and engineering creativity.

The reality is not everyone likes assembling around a table or sitting up straight. And not every meeting calls for a traditional conference room. Successful meetings need adaptable spaces.

From café to lounge-style seating, casual environments are a rising consideration in workplace design. Driven by the millennial generation’s need for choice and freedom to move around, technological advancements, an increasing ROI on real estate cost, and an organisational requirement for innovation to succeed; ancillary spaces with multifunctional loungers are answering a need for increased comfort, and change of pace and perspective when needed.

The key to designing effective meeting spaces is to understand your team’s needs. Meeting rooms and spaces do not have to be predictable and devoid of personality. Adding elements of fun can help transform a dry boring meeting into an engaging and exciting one. What’s important here is to keep your workplace culture in mind and embrace it without being afraid to step outside the box; sometimes literally.

The traditional meeting room had its place in an era of cubicles, large desks and corner offices.  Where once necessary for sharing information not easily acquired otherwise, today’s workers are capable of sharing information via smartphone, instant chat or email, with one tap. Because of this, meetings are now becoming less about information and more about face-to-face interaction and synergy. Collaborative and democratic, today’s meetings are most effective in spaces which match the communal dynamic, accommodate various uses and postures and allow ideas to flow.

Soft-seating designs with a residential feel are increasing in popularity, as progressive companies understand the propensity for brainstorming sessions, spontaneous one-on-ones, and informal presentations to feel more natural and personal when on a comfortable office lounge.

Supporting different working styles and offering choice within the workplace is also a priority of organisations seeking to address the modern needs of multi-generational employees. Companies with ancillary areas are adjusting to this shift by providing diverse options and encouraging people to work where they feel most inspired.

In an era where operational excellence is related to process efficiencies such as speed of group decision making and innovation, the need for creativity to be nurtured through informal and social interactions is greater than ever. This emerging enterprise need, combined with shifting employee expectations of group work experience, are driving the charge towards a greater variety of collaborative workspaces.

Which begs the question – is the traditional boardroom still relevant in the modern workplace?

Zoe Humphries is a Senior Workplace Consultant at Steelcase and has worked with the brand for over nine years. Zoe works with leading global organisations to align their business and real estate strategies. She designs and implements workplace strategies for high change projects by balancing the desire to drive business efficiencies and increase the effectiveness of the people.