I’m annoyed: Can someone please design a good meeting room?

From nonsense whiteboards to terrible technology to insufficient wall space - learn what drives facilitators nuts about meeting room design.

March 13, 2023

Warning: I’m going to go off a bit here.

This is a rant that has been building for some time. Is it a #firstworldproblem? Absolutely. But, it’s something that could be easily fixed, and would make my job so much easier. And I know I’m not alone. 

Meeting rooms. I spend a lot of time in meeting rooms. And I have yet to find one that I am happy with. (Check out the pictures at the bottom of this article for some examples)

I can hear you thinking: “Hmm… that sounds like a you problem, Robin.”

I know, and I hear you. But hear me out. Our clients hire us to create a collaborative environment and lead sometimes difficult discussions with often large groups of people. We use a suite of facilitation tools to pull information, insights and ideas from the minds of our participants. Everything from high-tech computer programs and equipment for hybrid meetings - to good ol’ whiteboards, paper rolls and sticky notes.  

We need room to move, space to put our stuff and flexibility to adjust on the fly. 

Call me Goldilocks:
Too much, not enough, rarely ‘just right’

Ten years ago, my beef with meeting rooms was very different. We would often arrive to find a projector plunked on a table. It may or may not have worked. There may or may not have been a screen to pull down. Whiteboards were more popular then, but at least we had a place to write / hang stuff. 

Today, we are all over the place with technology. Some older buildings are super behind. I’m sorry, but a 1980’s monitor on a rolling cart with a VCR just isn’t going to cut it anymore. We have hybrid stuff going on with people in the room and others working remotely. We bring some special gear, but we still need some basic hookups. 

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the geek squad setup with 27 screens, 19 microphones and 71 speakers. Absolutely no one knows how to use it, and all of that fancy equipment leaves no room for actual functioning work space.  

Rarely do we find a setup that makes us say “mmm, just right”. 

Things I hate. Please stop this. 

  • Priceless art all over the walls. Wall space is important to us, and it’s not helpful when every square inch of the walls is covered in priceless art. I can’t hang paper from priceless art and I certainly can’t write on top of it. Let’s keep the Mona Lisa in the hallway, shall we? 
  • Insane whiteboards. I’m a fan of whiteboards. I can write on them directly or use them to hang paper. What I’m not a fan of, are whiteboards that have been designed for a seven-foot tall human. One room in particular comes to mind, which features a good four-foot whiteboard, but the bottom is four feet off the ground. I need a rolling library ladder to work with that. Same goes for floor-to-ceiling whiteboards.  
  • All windows, no walls. Windows are certainly nice to have when you’re spending an entire day locked in a room working on a strategy or conflict resolution. But the truth is, windows take up precious working wall space. “Hey Robin, just hang stuff on the windows,” you say. Fair enough, but that doesn’t work because the windows are backlit and you can’t read a thing. I would sacrifice windows in a heartbeat in favour of a whiteboard or empty walls. 
  • Giant non-moveable boardroom tables. Some boardrooms are really beautiful - perfect wallspace and just the right amount of technology. Those giant oak tables are so shiny and beautiful. If we had it our way, we would take those beautiful tables straight to the dump and move in some folding tables that can be easily moved. We like to move people around, mix them up, and get their juices flowing. It’s hard to get past the idea that we sit in our chair and never move from our chair - in a boardroom setting. 
  • Stacks of extra tables and chairs. Thank you for providing extra tables and chairs. Can you please stack them somewhere else? They are in my way. I don’t want to climb a mountain of tables and chairs to reach my precious walls. 
  • THIS ONE IS A DOOZY: HOT ROOMS. Please, please, please. Give us temperature control. Have you ever spent an entire day with 10 people in a room that is 27 degrees? I have, and I was a hot sweaty mess. What’s worse is when there are fake controls in the room that make you feel like you have control, but they just don’t work. It is just plain miserable. 

The ideal room has some basic 21st century technology, lots of wall space to hang paper on, tables that can be easily moved around, and maybe a couple (but not too many) windows. 

Hey designers/venues: CALL MEEEEE!! 

Here’s what needs to happen. 

Meeting room designers: Please, please, just consult with someone who uses the damn rooms. Call me. Call anyone. Give some thought to how people will use the setup. 

Technical folks who are setting up the AV for these rooms: Talk to us. We have a lot of experience and could give some helpful insight (e.g., drop-down microphones are the worst). It would also be awesome if someone could follow up on the maintenance of the technology. So many times, the installation happens and that’s it. Nothing else. It’s a mess. 

Oh, and if you are going to set up the Star Trek Command Centre in your conference room, please make sure its MacOS compatible; and FOR SURE have IT support available for a tech check and throughout the entire meeting. We don’t know what you’ve got going on.

To our clients: Thank you for working with us to find the right setup for you. Watch for our next blog post, which will go through some key questions to ask when planning for a facilitation session. 

Allow me to demonstrate 

Here are a few examples of meeting rooms I’ve been in recently, with some constructive feedback. 

But seriously - meeting room renters… can you please, please, apply some user experience thinking?!

Ahhhh… I feel better now. Thank you for listening! 

P.S. Call out to the Indigo Room at the Alt Hotel in Caglary. With the exception of a mediocre projector - the room ticked most of our boxes!! 

Written by
Robin Parsons

Robin has more than twenty-five years of experience as an effective leader and strategic thinker. She helps organizations have better conversations that help them work together more effectively.

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Parsons Dialogue is based in Calgary, Canada, serving clients across North America. We design and facilitate strategic processes that help teams collaborate with clarity and confidence.

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