Can’t live with them; can’t live without them. In a word: Meetings. Yes, they are an essential tool in any company's success, albeit a trying one at times, but making the most of meeting spaces need not be a headache nor expensive. Alan C. Brawn, founder of Vista, CA-based Brawn Consulting (www.brawnconsulting.com) - which is dedicated to providing market intelligence to manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and consultants in the audiovisual (AV) and IT industries - offers insight on conference tools.
Buildings: With an open mind to what conferencing means to corporate America - for both formal and informal, internal and external meetings - what are the key results that a facilities professional should seek when setting up “well-rounded” and “flexible” conference spaces in a facility?
Brawn: The results involve providing spaces that not only can be used, but will be used. In the airline industry, [when] ROI on an airplane is measured, the time it is not used is lost money and time. This is true with conference rooms as well. A full conference room with communication going on all the time is making you money. Setting up such rooms that are inviting to use and are not counter-productive is a must. It’s imperative that FMs keep the technology out of the faces of users; yet, provide the tools that are needed to facilitate the meetings that will be taking place.
Buildings: In general, and depending upon budget, which specific systems or tools are absolutely necessary for an optimal conference space?
Brawn: First and foremost, look at the space as it relates to human factors: the size and shape of a room, adequate ventilation/HVAC, air movement, lighting, electrical connections, good chairs, etc.; in other words, comfort and convenience. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small, medium, or large room, you tailor the spaces from a human-factors, ergonomic point of view so they do not impede communication or take away from focus on the meeting. Time is money: You can buy more [widgets], you can make more money, but you can’t make more time.
Irrespective of the size of a room, next is to provide enough technology in the room so people don’t have to interrupt [the meeting flow] by getting a whiteboard, flipchart, projector, etc. In a rudimentary sense, make sure you have a whiteboard or writing surface so somebody can immediately illustrate the discussion - these tools don’t need to be expensive. Additionally, consider a display device with easy hook-up to laptops (maximum view is 6X screen width) to project on to a wall, screen, or whiteboard. If your business requires that you share a lot of documents, consider a document camera. The key for all systems is “simple to use.”
Probably the next most important thing is the whole issue of networking. Start with infrastructure; on the network, you should have both Internet (external) and intranet (internal) access. Where appropriate, videoconferencing is becoming the next big wave of things that are going to be phenomenally useful.
The surprising thing is that this can all be done very inexpensively. A typical small conference room can be designed and built for less than $10,000 per room - and half of that, if the furniture already exists. If you’re going to use the one-size-fits-all approach across all meeting spaces, make sure the technology and training are the same so users don’t have to “think” about the specifics of one meeting area vs. another.
Linda K. Monroe (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.