Changing face of meetings. © WeWork

+ An organisation needs to have a digital workplace masterplan for the way it expects to be communicating in the future, looking at the technologies it will be expecting to use

I believe that the goal for any building project has to change. We shouldn’t approach meeting space design in isolation. In fact we need an overarching vision that embraces the building’s spatial qualities, its technology and how these two factors enable interactions between people, helping them to conduct more effective business.

Go back twenty years and ‘meeting’ was simple: everyone turned up at the same place at the appointed time. Meetings were more formal and scheduled well in advance. Meeting spaces were simple affairs with simple equipment. Fast forward to today and we have seen the ‘meetings’ landscape change dramatically and still evolving at a phenomenal rate, continually embracing new digital communications and multimedia technologies. The way we work is ever-changing; the single office location as the place of work is no longer the paradigm. 

This poses important questions when designing a new building or refurbishing existing spaces. How will meeting spaces support staff interaction and collaboration today and into the future? How will board meetings and senior management meetings happen? Ad-hoc, informal staff huddles as well as formal meetings with external visitors? The auditorium for the large formal conference with remote participation and proceedings streamed across the enterprise? What effect does all this have on the building design process and how many spaces do I really need?

Designing together

Technology plays an integral part in our working life, in the way we communicate and collaborate. We cannot ignore it. So the effective design of working environments should not be a job just for the space designer alone, but in conjunction with a multimedia and communications specialist. It requires the input from the organisation’s IT department alongside their estate or facilities management department. It is about how the building plays its part in the greater scheme of things.

And to do that, an organisation needs to have a digital workplace masterplan for the way it expects to be communicating in the future, looking at the technologies it will be expecting to use and the roadmap to get there. It should cover all needs of staff at all levels from the boardroom downwards. Yes, formal rooms will still be needed. But what about informal spaces, spaces where staff can brainstorm together, spaces where they can collaborate with staff in other locations and with external companies? And how will rooms be booked? Ad hoc as well as scheduled multi-site conferences? 

All of this impacts the building design process. Should the boardroom be squarer in shape to facilitate communication to remote participants, become more of a communications hub? What about acoustic treatment to improve the quality of sound picked up by microphones? Acoustic isolation between spaces to minimise the leakage of amplified sound? Lighting designed to work with video conferencing and webcams?  

Technology used to best effect has to assume a properly designed built environment. The converse is also true: poorly designed environments will stand out.

Invest time in a digital workplace masterplan – it will be time well spent. Or bring someone in to help do it. I’d be interested to hear your experiences.