COVID-19 Conference Room Trends for 2021
After 2020, the long-term future of the office is very much in question. Maybe we won’t all be working at home forever, but a hybrid model with some remote working and some in-person attendance will be commonplace. That means it’s time to rethink the role of the office meeting room and the technology that supports it. Let’s dive into some of the emerging conference room trends.
It’s likely that the old model where everyone must sit shoulder-to-shoulder in one room will be a thing of the past. That’s partly because more staff will work remotely at least some of the time and partly because remote meetings have been found to be much more productive than many had assumed while providing significant cost savings from reduced travel expenses.
Instead, the meeting room is more likely to be the place where small groups of office-based staff can video-conference colleagues working remotely and clients without the noise, distractions, and lack of privacy in open-plan areas. Office space could even shift to more meeting rooms and fewer desks. That means a major rethink about the technology in dedicated meeting rooms.
With the right setup, real-time collaboration will be easier. Forget having multiple versions of the same document on the go or playing “charades” with the one person who has editing capabilities. Staff could instead use remote whiteboarding that gives everyone access to sharing content and ideas and editing documents.
The natural desire to avoid multiple people touching the same surface will become a key driver in tech decisions. One likely option is systems that allow users to control and contribute using their own devices such as smartphone apps. That applies not just to exchanging information but also to accessing and controlling equipment in the room.
In turn, the usability and reliability of tech communications systems will be more important than ever. Smaller groups in the meeting room could mean greater efficiency with more meetings during the day. That will require quick changeovers where staff can start using the technology right away without the social distancing headache of bringing in IT support staff.
Reliable systems with intuitive, simple controls will have a major advantage. Take Zoom for example. It’s far from the only or best videoconferencing tool—we’d be happy to recommend others—but the fact your Grandmother can click a single link and start talking is one of the reasons it became a household name during lockdowns.
Technology won’t have to be complex or sophisticated to make meeting rooms more effective. Simple motion sensors can start-up equipment or bring it out of standby mode so that staff doesn’t have to touch it when they are ready for a virtual meeting. Sensors can even keep track of the number of people in a room and their location to help maintain social distancing.
Between technical and physical limitations, devices and systems are going to have to justify their place in the meeting rooms of the future. It’s going to be a case of “(1) What do we need to do… and then (2) what lets us do it?” rather than the all-too-familiar tech model of “(1) What do we currently have… and (2) what can we do with it?”