Does the ‘averagely perfect’ meeting room exist, and if so what defines it?
My definition of the averagely perfect meeting room or space is a space that has been designed with the minimal number of compromises to achieve the best experience for the intended use cases.
The reality, is that most meeting spaces contain some level of compromise, which may be due to architectural, technology or budget constraints. When we add video conferencing to these spaces, we introduce an additional level of complexity and – in many cases – compromises.
We design meeting rooms for the local participants. We design video conferencing spaces for the best possible experience for the people who will most likely never see the room (if we get it right). The reality is that most organisations build meeting rooms, and not dedicated video conferencing rooms. Video conferencing vendors provide video conferencing solutions – not meeting room solutions. In many cases, all-in-one video conferencing solutions will meet the use case requirements for smaller meeting rooms, but not for larger and multi-purpose spaces. Placing an all-in-one system in these type of spaces is ALWAYS a compromise.
In practice, knowledge is often gained about one second after you needed it when it comes to real life experience. We learn from our mistakes, but wouldn’t it be so much better – and cost effective – to ‘head those mistakes off at the pass?
Here are some of the things I have learned that have influenced how I approach integrating video into meeting rooms:
It’s easier to move walls and pull cables on paper
If at all possible audio visual and video conferencing requirements should be designed into the space at the earliest phase of development. Having an understanding of the use cases and their required technology should inform and – where possible – be accommodated in the design of the space. Room aesthetics, architectural finishes, and engineering requirements may still result in compromise, but the earlier this is addressed and understood the better.
Try these on for size:
Try and adopt the mindset of the intended users of the room, and also the remote participants if including video conferencing.
Where would you prefer to sit, why? Where is your least preferable seating position and why? What can I do to improve the experience from this position? It may be as easy as increasing the size (of) or raising the screen, or changing the shape of the table or room orientation.
When you add video conferencing you need to also consider the remote participants experience: can they see and hear everyone clearly? Is it a worthwhile experience from their perspective?
Could your grandparents use it?
We sometimes forget that employers don’t ever advertise for ‘users of technology’ as a key component of every job description – unless, of course, it’s a role in IT! It’s our job to make the role people were hired for easier – not harder. The use of technology must be intuitive and our language on control systems and labeling must be common place. Over the years I have walked in to many meeting rooms and have been presented with multiple cables on the desk (none of which were labelled!), or a control panel with ‘techno speak’. If I myself, as someone who does this for a living, struggled to use them, what hope does an infrequent user have?
The “how long is a cable” question?
This is something I see more and more these days with the advent of the all-in-one off the shelf packages. The length of the supplied cable should not dictate the seating position. The preferred seating position should dictate the length of the cable. A straightforward fix, but often overlooked, and results in a compromised user experience.
‘Easy’ takes up space
It doesn’t have to cost tens of thousands to add ‘easy’ to an AV enabled meeting space, but it does take additional ‘magic boxes’ that need to be accommodated in that space. It’s best not to have these items on show as it can intimidate some users and attract unwanted attention from others.
“The magic doesn’t work anymore, do something!”
So you created the easiest and most popular room in your organisation. As is the case with technology, it fails sometimes. How quickly can the ‘magic’ be restored? This is the key to maintaining adoption. Most of us remember the extended wait for the coffee – no matter how good the coffee was once we got it – and in most cases would prefer not to have to go back to that coffee shop again. You must design serviceability into your meeting spaces to maintain adoption. Yes, you can fit a lot of technology behind a 65” screen, but how easy is it to replace?
Much of what I have outlined is common sense, but experience has shown me that common sense in many cases gets blinded by technology. If I were to distill my experience down to one statement it would be: “Is the space inviting and fit for purpose?”
A space that is fit for purpose that people want to use is perfection!
Create meeting spaces people use because they want to, not because they have to!