“The Jetsons.” “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “Back to the Future Part 2.”
These iconic titles depicted scenes of the future, but one thing is painfully clear: We still don’t have robot maids or flying cars, and a robot chauffeur driving a flying car just seems like a pipe dream.
Those movies/shows didn’t take place in a hotel or conference-center meeting room, though, so we’re free to dream without any prior influences. It shouldn’t be necessary to explain why a hotel meeting space is not the ideal setting for a sci-fi movie.
Hollywood hasn’t yet forged any preconceived notions of what the meeting room of the future will look like, but we all know what most currently offer. There’s usually a display. A white screen and projector or a flat-screen TV set with dangling cords waiting for your computer. Finding reliable Internet access can be like spinning a giant game-show wheel. Sometimes there’s a Polycom in the middle
of a long boardroom-type table. Other times, tables and chairs are arranged so at least most of the audience can group around a presenter. There are always cords duct-taped to the carpet and a locked thermostat set three degrees too cold.
In the news
A fantastic piece in Hotel News Now spotlights a handful of hotels trying to shape the future of meeting spaces. Hoteliers are adding “DIY tech” to meeting rooms. In a nutshell, DIY tech gives attendees or presenters the ability to control aspects of the room through devices such as iPads embedded in walls and tables. Videoconferencing equipment is integrated into the space rather than being an afterthought, and Wi-Fi is fast and reliable. Yeah, that’s pretty cool, but it just gets the ball rolling. So, what does the meeting room of the future look like?
In everyday work life, we use collaborative tools to work together as a group. In my office, we use Google Docs to take notes during meetings, make comments and guarantee everyone has access to them later. In a standard meeting room, everyone takes notes and makes comments in their own little silos.
The meeting room of the future has built-in workstations. Users can already be logged into the same network. The silos are gone. At the end of the meeting, you can email notes and comments made by the group to yourself as a Word Doc or share it directly to your own Google Drive where the discussion can continue long after the meeting has ended.
Some might say it would be more of a distraction to have everyone commenting and taking notes rather than listening to the person speaking. When the distraction is immediately relevant to the subject matter, is it really a distraction? I think it’s what you’d call “engaged.”
It’s good to share
Whether the meeting room is a board setting or a presentation, the objective is to pass knowledge between people. The meeting space itself is paramount to that exchange. I’ll leave it to the feng shui experts to provide ideas for lighting and room arrangement, but this is how technology will help balance the yin and the yang.
Aside from sticky residue, duct tape also leaves a meeting room in state of fixation. Once the cords are taped down, the room is in its “optimal” configuration. The presenter is tethered to the podium and seating is arranged accordingly.
The problem is this “optimal” configuration is determined long before attendees fill the space. This inhibits interaction, creates major roadblocks if you’re breaking into smaller groups and leaves some latecomers in what would be the stadium version of an obstructed-view nosebleed seat. Technology is making cords disappear, creating highly configurable spaces that can be rearranged on the fly. Built-in workstations and inexpensive flat-screen displays may not take everyone out of the nosebleeds, but at least now they can see the Jumbotron.
The meeting-room evaluation will be centered on the idea that everyone has something valuable to share. Hotels and conference centers are not yet installing magnificent glowing orbs that can read and transfer human thoughts, but they are closer than you might think. Instead, they’re flat, have touchscreens and are as powerful and your imagination.
What do you think of today’s meeting rooms? How do you envision the meeting rooms of the future? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.