No matter how much office space standards evolve (largely as the result of technological advancements that allow us to work in different ways), many aspects of the traditional work environment continue to be relevant, and the conference room is one of the most important. For startups and global corporations alike, the conference room is a central location in an office space where important client meetings, training sessions, and executive decisions take place. It’s a room used by both employees and clients to exchange ideas, have productive discussions, and build meaningful partnerships.
Let’s take a look at the different ways you can set up your conference room and some tips on how to increase focus and productivity of your workers without breaking the bank.
Conference Room: Different Layouts and Styles
U-Shape: Series of conference tables set in the shape of letter U, with chairs set all around the outside perimeter.
It’s ideal for: Small to medium groups of up to 50 people who participate in discussions, training sessions, speaker presentations, committee meetings, breakout sessions, and other formats that positions a leader in the middle of the U. It’s also suitable for focus groups.
Benefits: Encourages greater participation of the public; no preferential seating.
Boardroom Style: A rectangle or oval table with chairs around all sides for groups of up to 12 of fewer. For larger groups, four conference tables can be combined to form a solid square or a rectangle.
It’s ideal for: board meetings, committee meetings, discussion/focus groups, and other smaller functions.
Benefits: Easy interaction between participants, ensures good working space, good atmosphere.
Hollow Square: Four conference tables arranged in a square or rectangle, in which the middle is empty. This setting is sometimes referred to as a closed ‘U.’
It’s ideal for: Small groups of maximum 30 people, seated on the three sides of the setup, with the group leader at the head of the setup. Large committee or board meetings of 15-30 people are typical formats for this setting, as it promotes and encourages interaction between participants.
Benefits: This setup avoids preferential seating as each participant has the same amount of space and can easily see and interact with each other.
Classroom Style: Row of narrow tables are lined up facing the speaker at front.
It’s ideal for: Groups of 10 to 150 participants, especially for formats where the leader of the discussion is expected to do most of the talking while participants take notes, consult materials, or work on their laptops. This is the most convenient setup for long sessions.
Benefits: Allows the introduction of team projects by having participants at every other group of tables turn to form smaller discussion groups.
Design Considerations for a Functional Conference Room
When setting up a room that will make your employees comfortable working together and give your guests a great first impression, you should keep in mind to:
Integrate technology, but don’t overdo it. When they’re trying to improve the functionality of their conference rooms, many office environments forget about usability. While each of the devices typically used in a conference room, whether it is a display, a teleconferencing system, a projector, or a whiteboard, has its importance, it is essential to prevent too much technology from making the design impractical and crowded. Make sure to provide technological support for everyday tasks (talking on the phone, using a laptop computer) and support employees’ different ways of working, but without turning it into an impractical space.
Keep it clean and neat: Your conference room must be a distraction-free environment that invites people to focus and feel comfortable while doing it. For many, a cluttered workspace does exactly the opposite: it increases anxiety and stress levels and puts the individual in an agitated state. Loose cords, racks overflowing with equipment, and piles of documents will cause headaches in most people, so make sure to keep the room clean and functional.
Minimize distractions: Wobbly tables, fluorescent lights, noise air vents, and other such things can keep people from concentrating on the task at hand. It’s important to make sure there are sufficient chairs and table space for all attendees to ensure everyone is comfortable and not worrying about their surroundings.
An effectively designed conference room enables participants to be more productive and creative when working in groups. To ensure this, your conference room needs to have good design, comfortable ergonomic office furniture, and the right equipment to ensure collaboration and meaningful interaction. With the help of an experienced office space planner who can let you in on the do’s and don’ts of setting up a conference room, you will be able to utilize the space at its full potential and make sure your employees are fully engaged.
Lynne Lemieux, Founder and President of Alliance Interiors Inc., has devoted more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing growth opportunities for some of Canada's leading office furniture dealers. Her ability to provide clients with inspiring and versatile interior solutions for both business and home office environments has garnered her title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year in the city of Toronto for 2012. In her spare time, Lynne takes an active interest in politics, public speaking, and philanthropy, but also enjoys gardening, interior decorating, cooking, yoga, and traveling.