The Room Where It Happens Matters: The Best Conference Room Designs To Help Your Hybrid Team Succeed

  • Today’s workers need conference rooms to fit their changing needs, spaces that are useful for both those in the office and those working remotely.
  • NeoCon 2022, a commercial interior design convention, shared some ways meeting rooms are beginning to evolve, and why it’s important.
  • Meeting room design trends include preparing for asymmetric video meetings, adding varied seating and zones to encourage creativity. 

Work has changed. The office has changed. Now, meeting rooms need to catch up.

Our workplaces are being asked to step up to the new demands of today’s workers, and conference rooms are an important part of meeting those needs. NeoCon 2022, a commercial interior design convention, revealed some of the ways our meeting rooms are beginning to evolve.

The boardroom didn’t see much innovation in the last 50 years; slide projectors were replaced by monitors, then those monitors got bigger and slimmer. Cameras were added to connect one beige conference room to another conference room, just in a different building.

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But the shape of these rooms stayed the same: Rectangular and exactly wide enough to comfortably fit a racetrack-shaped, oval table typically surrounded by 8-12 chairs. These rooms, historically, have featured leather seats and were oversized to impress visitors.

The best of these spaces are usually accented by an undemocratic amount of the building’s natural light along one wall and opaque glass on the other to tease any passerby to the fun being had inside. If they lack a window, an Ansel Adams photograph will suffice.

Now, as workers have more choice about where work happens, they increasingly ask the question posed by cheeky coffee mugs everywhere: “Could this meeting have been an email?” A well-designed meeting room can turn that answer into an easier “no.

One of the most consistent trends emerging in meeting room design is preparing for asymmetric video meetings. Not surprisingly, video (be it via Zoom, Skype, Teams, or whatever comes next) is here to stay. But what is changing is who is at home and who is back in the office. 

Rooms showcased at NeoCon were created to support the different combinations of here-alone, there-alone, here-together, and there-together. These design considerations reflect how in-person participants are oriented and which way they face.  

For example, putting the video monitor on the long wall instead of behind the head of the table. Then, hava all attendees sit on the same side of the table, giving everyone in that room an equal presence on the screen. One wide angle includes everyone at once with no one in the rear.  This is even more impactful if the software and monitor orientation is set up so those on video are of equal size and position to create the sense of everyone sitting at a round table. 

Meetings are often long sometimes too long in an uncomfortable chair. The posture we have when attending meetings will change in the future to support the different activities that may occur during a meeting. Being seated is the standard posture for meetings, but often creativity can be spurred by movement. Standing or perching can help teams brainstorm and add energy to their creative process. It’s also easier for all team members to share ideas visually if everyone is already standing.

Creating zones for this type of creativity within the same space as a meeting can increase the participation, speed, and quality of problem solving. Almost inversely, taking a physical and metaphorical step-back from an influx of information can help meeting attendees take it all in. 

Often a more relaxed posture, such as sitting in a lower lounge chair can be just the change in energy needed to let the stellar ideas shine through. Creating these zones for ideation and reflection – while still accommodating the virtual team members — is the evolving challenge that will be met with technology and protocols.

All of these room reorientations and additional postures do, however, have one important drawback: They take up more space, so the conference room needs to grow. This is aided by two factors, though — both pandemic related. 

First, meetings were held in spaces originally considered to be intended for at least two to four times as many attendees. Meeting participants left chairs between them and did their best to socially distance themselves while being required to be in a confined space. Anyone who has ever had to downsize their home, or had an empty workstation next to them become occupied, knows that free space is a vacuum that gets filled quickly and then is really hard to give back later. Folks are used to extra space for their meetings and won’t be happy being asked to move back into little boxes. 

The other factor at play is that as the great return to the office is unfolding, office spaces are adapting — mainly by allocating spaces originally meant for individual work (that can now be better accomplished at home) to more group areas and meeting spaces. Workspaces created today and in the near future will surely have more meeting spaces with larger footprints. 

This balancing of in-person and remote will make it even more essential for project spaces to be able to continuously display key elements and progress status for the duration of the project. 

Therefore, dedicated project spaces will take up more and more space within the new floorplans. On any given day, any number of team members may be in the space, and having all of a project’s status and pending questions visually displayed will help them quickly get oriented to the most pressing tasks, as well as connect with what everyone may be working. 

Of course, NeoCon2022 also showed that we aren’t leaving our plants behind when we’re working collaboratively. Just as biophilia has made its way into other parts of the office environment, plants are in conference rooms, too. Confined spaces can benefit the most from the addition of plants, and finding ways to add these bits of life to conference spaces is becoming a priority.

Larger spaces, various new postures, dedicated project rooms, and greener spaces will all help answer the age old question, “why are we meeting?”  

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