The new rules of meeting room etiquette
By Tony Booty
February 1 2018 - Meeting and conference rooms are an essential part of the fabric of most modern office spaces. With many businesses choosing to go open plan, they provide professional spaces for meeting with clients, collaboration hubs for co-workers and private work spaces when confidentiality is required.
As with any shared space, there are certain rules that need to be applied if they are to work well. But, while much common sense meeting room etiquette remains relevant, advances in technology mean that some of the old, more bureaucratic rules can be thrown out.
As space management consultants, we at Abintra work with hundreds of corporations all over the world to help employees get the most out of their office space. For us, the first rule of getting meeting rooms right is to really understand what's needed - something businesses can assess with precision these days thanks to advances in sensor and space monitoring technology.
With our Wisenet system, for example, businesses can see how their meetings rooms are being used, and then use that data to promote flexibility and collaboration in the workplace. For example, they may discover that instead of devoting large amounts of space to rigid meeting rooms, they can introduce new kinds of collaborative working spaces and breakout areas. Used well, it contributes to agile working and wellbeing.
So in a world where the nature of work and meetings is changing, what are the new rules of meeting room etiquette?
Do be spontaneous
The old rules would have said think carefully about whether you should have a meeting at all and then to make sure you book well in advance.
Ducking into a vacant room for an impromptu catch-up with colleagues would be a big no-no.
But there's a reason we've all been guilty of doing this - and that's because we like working this way. It makes sense to get together to discuss a pressing issue when it is, indeed pressing. Or to take the opportunity of everyone being in the office at the same time to catch up on a project.
Instead of rigid and bureaucratic systems, modern offices should support the way employees need to work. Flexibility and collaboration can be promoted by creating plenty of bookable and casual meeting spaces whose availability can be monitored by colleagues in real time via screens and apps.
Don't waste time managing complex booking systems
How many times have you been in trouble for not booking a meeting room properly or irritated colleagues for not cancelling it on the system when you no longer needed it? Or trawled through days of bookings to find a clear spot only to find the room sits empty because others haven't cancelled their bookings?
New sensor based technologies do away with the need for complex booking systems that require lots of proactive intervention from employees by auto detecting when meetings start and finish and releasing space if it is not being used.
If you need a room and one is free, you can just take it. The aim should be to allow people to work how they want rather than imposing rules that impede productivity and, frankly, cause high levels of frustration.
And, if you are to avoid awkward encounters with colleagues in the corridor, there are some old rules that still apply:
Do stick to a schedule
Make sure you allow enough time for your meeting, including setting up and clearing away, and make sure it doesn't overrun. Even if you don't cover everything on your agenda, vacate the room as soon as your time slot comes to an end. Your colleagues won't appreciate having to wait to start their meeting, especially if it's with important clients.
Don't hover at the door
"I found myself over-running by barely a minute before someone was knocking on the door. He muttered "I waited" in ill-concealed frustration as we left. It didn't look good in front of my clients!"
If you're early to your meeting, avoid hovering at the door. It will put unfair pressure on your colleagues to finish up before time and you should also be mindful that the meeting could be confidential. If the meeting is running late, be careful how you bring this to your colleagues' attention, remaining professional and courteous.
Do tidy up
As your mother might say, 'leave it as you would wish to find it'! Clear away coffee cups, water glasses and food, put away any equipment you have used and be sure to wipe clean whiteboards or clear flipcharts of your notes, plans or doodles!
Don't use a meeting room as your own private office
"I wouldn't want to mention any names, but certain, senior members of staff just use our meeting rooms like their private office."
If you work in an open plan environment, booking a meeting room can be a great way to get some quiet space to make a phone call, write a confidential report or focus on getting a piece of work completed. But blocking out a room for days on end and turning it into your own personal office is a no-no as it removes an important resource for your colleagues.
If you need a private office, make the case to your manager about getting the right space to meet your needs. He or she should be receptive. After all, it's in their interests to ensure you have the right work environment to be your most productive.
Tony Booty, Director, Abintra, workplace flexibility specialists.