Photo: WeAreBoutique

Believe it or not, despite the rise of technology that facilitates virtual collaboration between remote-working teams, a trend is emerging for small businesses to rent additional meeting rooms and break-out spaces.

While larger businesses may struggle to cut down on the number of meetings – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has recently revealed his unconventional methods for holding more productive meetings for instance – smaller businesses are seeing the value in building strong connections and clear face-to-face communications with employees, partners, suppliers and customers.

Sometimes technology can get in the way of communication, building barriers rather than bridges.

With the powerful tools that are available, it can be easier to automate and mechanise communications, but does the short-term convenience stifle long-term growth?

Isolate or Innovate?

Many companies are now recognising the challenges of technology and how it can sometimes do the opposite of what it intends, isolating employees and customers rather than improving relationships.

As email and automated systems begin to place barriers between people, businesses are changing their workspaces to get the most from their employees. Beyond communication, companies are talking about collaboration, and creating spaces that allow their employees to come together to discuss, reinvent and innovate.

Recent research from Futuresource Consulting shows that many companies are adding more meeting rooms and huddle spaces to their offices.

According to the study, over the next four to five years, one in four companies expect to add additional meeting rooms and huddle spaces. Many of these spaces are being added by companies in the 1 to 19 employee range, where a significant portion of businesses are expecting to grow their workforce in the short to mid-term.

Companies are physically adding more rooms by renting more space, either by factoring it in when they move premises or simply by leasing extra rooms if they are in a multi-let office space.

According to UK-based workspace design agency, Space Solutions:

  • Silo mentality, where groups or departments refuse to share information, can be reduced by using the right tools and systems, including workspace improvements
  • Inefficiencies through duplicated activities, which lead to conflict over ownership of information and its use, can be widespread through companies of all sizes
  • Increasing office densities (more people per unit area) can increase cost efficiencies, but can also have a significant negative impact on the effectiveness of a workplace environment
  • Open plan office spaces don’t necessarily result in increased collaboration or more efficient working and can reduce business performance

Space Solutions’ research shows that the success of any workplace is to offer staff a flexible environment, enabling them to select the most suitable way to work for a particular task. In the modern business environment, this can mean multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Solo vs. group working

There are four different ways that people can work in a business: learning, collaborating, socialising and focusing. All of these are likely to be taking place in your office right now, and three out of these four ways of working require two people or more. This emphasises the amount of employee engagement that has to occur every day to share knowledge and help a business perform.

The good news is that team-based working is being driven from both ends of the business spectrum. According to Space Solutions, three in four business owners rate collaboration as ‘very important’, whereas research from Futuresource Consulting shows that companies are adding more meeting rooms because workforces are demanding it.

Technology Lends a Hand

Collaboration is moving beyond people sitting around a table. Collaborative technologies are on the increase, with Wi-Fi-enabled flat screen displays and projectors in meeting rooms, employees using laptops instead of desktops, and wireless networks allowing everyone to be connected, converging AV and IT in an ecosystem of data and idea sharing.

Improvements in web conferencing tools also mean that companies can present a better image to clients when they conduct a video call in a quiet meeting room rather than in an open plan office, regardless of the size of the company.

Simon Bollon, Managing Director of the media comms agency We Are Boutique says:

‘As collaboration and complexity of process become more prevalent in businesses, it is critical that clarity and transparency are seen in working practices. That requires a need for more face-to-face time. We moved into a new office in 2016 which doubled our square footage, and 100% of that increased space is used for team meetings, strategizing, collaboration and huddles.’

Futuresource Consulting’s research shows that AV equipment, whether a flat panel display or a projector, takes up more than 50% of meeting room budgets. However, with 8% of employees surveyed working from home three or more days a week, the role of the corporate meeting room continues to evolve, with a move toward faster, smaller and more efficient meetings, often with somebody dialling in from another location.

So, beyond adding meeting rooms and huddle spaces, which technologies need to be evaluated to make the most of collaborative work environments? Here are just a few examples of technologies for consideration.

Doodle

Doodle is a great way to find the best time for a meeting when you have multiple attendees. Rather than sending out a calendar invite and having many attendees decline, Doodle allows a meeting organiser to suggest a number of times and invite participants to select their preferences. It is also compatible with a wide range of apps and office tools.

Asana

Asana is a flexible workplace collaboration tool which helps teams to track their work through a range of features, from to-do lists to project management monitoring. As the platform allows for heavy customisation, it is probably better suited to tech-savvy companies that have the time to personalise it.

Slack

Probably the most well-known workplace collaboration tool, Slack acts as a messaging app, a scheduling tool and a file sharing platform. It also allows users to create different working groups and projects, with various levels of responsibility assigned to each group member. If you haven’t tried using Slack yet, it’s definitely worth a look.

GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting is a screen sharing and video conferencing tool that integrates easily with a range of other apps, including Outlook, Google Calendar and most Microsoft Office products. It has an impressive list of features, allowing the organiser to change presenters, share desktops, incorporate a whiteboard and annotate, as well as a number of meeting invitation options. It also allows for up to 100 people to be on a call at once. Google Hangouts could be considered instead, but it doesn’t feel as professional.

The future of the meeting room

Workforce collaboration in meeting rooms and huddle spaces is a powerful tool for all business owners, regardless of the sector or type of business. As We Are Boutique’s Bollon sees it:

‘Apparently in the not-too-distant future, humans will be made redundant by robots. I think agencies like ours are case in point that this won’t happen across the board. Our business is built on people and collective collaboration – something you can’t emulate with robots. People power = productivity!’

The good news is that collaboration doesn’t need a significant amount of time or financial investment. It eliminates unnecessary processes and bottlenecks, opening up discussion and helping people to do their jobs better, faster and with more satisfaction. It’s something to bear in mind when planning the next office space reorganisation.

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