Why are there never enough meeting rooms?

Hanna Mansson
Hanna Mansson|Updated April 26th 2018

Imagine the scenario, you have just received an email with some important and sensitive information that you need to urgently communicate to your boss, face-to-face. You log in to your meeting room booking portal only to find that the next available slot is 4 days away.

What do you do? Maybe you go for a walk to check whether the meeting rooms are actually available, maybe you ask your boss for a chat in the staircase, or maybe you decide that you’ll have to pop down to the local cafe. None of these scenarios are ideal, yet we face them time after time. So why is it that in today’s coworking loving, open-plan offices there are never, ever, enough meeting rooms? And maybe more importantly, what can we do about it?

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The more you have, the more you fill

The first question we need to tackle is whether modern offices have simply under-calculated the need for meeting rooms and actually built too few of them? This is an interesting question because it appears that no matter how many meeting rooms there are in an office, they mysteriously seem to get booked up. Isn’t this a clear sign that we need more, some may ask? We need to explore a few other ideas before drawing such a conclusion.

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Legacy meetings

Legacy meetings are perhaps the one most common cause for fully booked meeting rooms. Staff book recurring meetings and then forget about them, even though the meetings are no longer actually taking place. To stop this from happening it’s a good idea to once every six months clear the meeting calendar and ask everyone to re-schedule the meetings they actually need. Give people plenty of notice though, and send several reminders so that everyone has a chance to complete the review and re-book the relevant slots. This procedure should help free up some time in the meeting room calendar.

Phone calls

As remote working and across time zones collaboration is becoming more and more common, the need for internal and external phone calls and conference calls has drastically increased. More often than not, employees prefer to do such calls in private, whether to avoid disturbing fellow colleagues or because of the need for silence due to bad lines or connections. Whilst this is absolutely understandable, it must be said that a meeting room is not the best use of space to host a single person and a remote worker. Many office providers have identified this and are building soundproof ‘pods’ where staff can hold calls without being disturbed, or disturbing anyone else, for a fraction of the space. These are often not bookable, so you can just pop in as needed.

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Concentration

When faced with a particularly difficult task that requires undisturbed focus, it’s understandable that one may want some quiet and peaceful space. However, the same logic as above applies – a meeting room is usually an awful lot of space for one person to inhabit. The ‘pods’ come in handy here, but there are certainly other things employers can do to help staff. One of those things is providing noise-cancelling headphones. With such headphones on, surrounding sounds are drastically minimised. And you don’t have to ‘drown out’ the chatter with music or radio, these headphones will cancel out noise even if left on silent. Another option is to have a flexible approach to working from home as this will allow employees to work undisturbed when particularly complex tasks are on the agenda.

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Needing a break from the desk

Taking a break from your desk can help with creativity and productivity. Very often when people feel stuck on a task, taking a break or changing environment is the first thing that comes to mind. Often, after an initial trip to the coffee machine, this will be heading to a meeting room. Having identified this issue a positive trend is emerging in office design – that of break-out spaces. Break out spaces are usually some sofas and chairs, or a desk, in an area of the office that is not connected either to the kitchen or the fixed desks. Here staff can take their laptop and sit in a more relaxed environment to crack on with the task at hand, without taking up a whole meeting room to do so.

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Do we really need a room?

When scheduling a meeting or catch up we often forget to consider whether we actually need a designated meeting room. Can we have this chat in a break-out space, in the kitchen, or even at our desks? Not all meetings will include more than two people, sensitive information or a screen and by re-wiring our mindset we can start making use of other space available. It’s amazing how much more efficient a meeting can become when relieved from the four walls, hour booked meeting room and held in a more relaxed environment.

To meet or not to meet

It is very easy to get into the habit of scheduling too many meetings, and most research shows that too many meetings make us less productive. If you’re scheduled in for back to back meetings you have no chance to prepare, or follow up, on the actions discussed and may end up at status quo. Start encouraging less meetings in the office by suggesting alternatives. Tech teams usually do a daily stand up where everyone stands up (this helps with energy and limits waste of time) and goes through the main tasks for the day as well as gives updates on the previous day’s work. This approach saves everyone’s time – as a manager you understand priorities and tasks at hand, as a colleague you understand what the rest of the team are working on. This makes for an excellent replacement for too many one-to-one meetings.

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Another alternative is to write some clear meeting and communication guidelines. Using software such as Skype or Slack means you can communicate with relevant people in no time, without leaving your desk. In addition, for quick answers, encouraging people to get up from their desks and simply chat one another is a great solution. You may want to communicate a ‘headphones policy’ whereby if someone has their headphones on this means ‘do not disturb’ to avoid breaking flows and causing disruption.

It’s probably not the meeting rooms that are the problem

Having explored why meeting rooms are often the go-to place for many employees we can summarise by saying that it is usually not a lack of meeting rooms that is the problem. By creating smart office layouts with break-out spaces and call pods you can create the best use of space whilst catering for people’s need of privacy, concentration and change of scenery. By writing meeting and communication guidelines you can change people’s mindsets of what actually requires a meeting room. It’s great to see how many offices have recognised this issue and have started catering for solutions – as the world of work is changing the space we inhabit will have to change as well.

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