Meeting expectations

Today's boardrooms are flexible, ergonomic and embrace technological solutions.

Buro 45 chooses dark woods for these rectangular conference tables.
Buro 45 chooses dark woods for these rectangular conference tables.

Traditional austere boardrooms that are the sole domain of directors and board members are a thing of the past. Research by office furniture manufacturers and ergonomic specialists has proven that today's meeting rooms are flexible; accessible to all and filled with cable and wire management that makes integrating technology easy.

Chris Morley, design manager, Herman Miller, asserts that meeting rooms are now, "multi-functional rooms where one day it's used for high level meetings, the next it's a training room, the next it could be a global video conference suite." He continues, "generally, in the past there would be one meeting space for every 25 employees, today it can be one meeting space for every 10 employees, and we are suggesting that in the future this may go down to one meeting space for every five members of staff, so the meeting space is becoming more and more important and resembling less like traditional meeting rooms."

George Bocti, from German firm Sedus Stoll agrees: "Old meeting rooms were more static, tables were big and bulky and rarely used except for monthly, quarterly and maybe annual meetings. Today meeting rooms are more dynamic, used frequently for team feedback, training, presentations etc...the furniture used is more flexible and easy to arrange and reorganise to fit the demand."

Glen Foster, marketing director, Haworth Asia Pacific, Middle East and Latin America cites the focus for meeting rooms is to promote productivity and innovation and encouragement/facilitation of ideas and meaningful discussions. "DEGW finds that employees spend only 30% of their time at their desk. More time is spent in collaborative situations such as conference and meeting rooms." Therefore the design and furniture decisions can affect the success and productivity of the employees and the company's balance sheets.

Technology

Offices are now made up of multi-purpose zones and areas of interaction: places for the exchange of information and brainstorming. If a whole team takes their laptops into the conference room, a spaghetti wire mess is inevitable, which is why cable management was top of Bene's priorities when designing its new meeting room concept, the AL conference table system (Media Room) which won the Red Dot award for the best design. The Media Room concept by Bene and :3C! vidision was designed to be a complete package, integrating contemporary presentation and multimedia technology.

"Technology should be easy to understand and, if at all possible, be invisible," says Thomas Bene from the board of Bene AG. With the Media Room, 16 laptops can be connected to the central concealed cable box running the length of the table. An integrated projection box holds a video projector. At the push of a button, a sophisticated two-way mirror system projects the desired presentation onto a screen that automatically unfolds.

All stored and integrated devices - including laptops, monitors, projector, air conditioning equipment, lighting, extensible screen or flat screen - communicate via a central, radio technology based Media Port system. It is all centrally controlled via a special Smart Touch Wireless Lan remote control system.

Rachel Elliott, project designer for CitySpace says: "Embracing new technology is arguably the biggest design influencer. Wireless systems are prevalent because they keep the space uncluttered. There are moves to integrate technology into furniture such as the Wilkhahn InteracTable, which incorporates a large-format interactive screen integrated into the table work surface for use by project groups. Cable management solutions again provide a neater finish and improved accessibility to the AV system connections. Today's knowledge workers require more visual information in meetings, so we often find ourselves specifying plasma or LCD screens with integrated audio - in addition to a data projector. We could call this a need for multiple multi-media solutions."

Haworth is introducing the Planes collection of tables, carts, credenzas and podiums at Neocon in Chicago this month. Designed by Haworth's Design Studio and Daniel Figueroa in Bad Munder Germany, the collection features five top options - round, square, pebble, rectangle and hexagon, with the ability to flip, store, share, conceal, connect and plug in.

It includes concealed wire and cable management options, mobility to reconfigure for collaborative environments and multiple power and data options. Foster, Haworth says: "Sophisticated multi-location conferencing requires accessible utilities and raised access floors can provide a flexible, under-floor system of support. This platform, combined with modular electrical, voice and data distribution systems, creates a modular grid that can integrate and meet the needs of increased audio-visual and multimedia equipment usage."
 

It is important that the IT devices are specified early on in the office fit out as Rajesh Iyer, sales manager, Designers Hub, distributor of Knoll explains: "This allows for any furniture customisation in order to meet the technical requirements. When ordering a boardroom table with a built in IT box, it is essential to specify the number of power / voice or data services that may be required on the table. The location of this box should also be defined bearing in mind the location of its power source."

Elliott, CitySpace suggests that technology can be employed to even book the meeting rooms in the first place. For example, touch screens can be embedded into doors to book and display the room availability. Another fantastic innovation showcased at the recent Milan furniture fair used colour LED technology in door handles, such as: red light for ‘busy', and green light for available.

Colour

Colour therapy - how colours affect our mood and energy levels - is a hot topic in USA, says Elliott, CitySpace. "Companies such as Dulux and Miliken proactively predict colour trends and textures, and perhaps there is a case to take a fresh look at how we design and decorate conference rooms." Foster, Haworth agrees: "Our research from DEGW has shown that colour is increasingly important to innovation. It is recognised that colour and design impact emotions and engagements within a conference environment."

The range of colours and materials designed for use in the commercial sector is immense.

Mohammed Muktadeer, showroom manager, Office Land, Al Aqili, says: "The most popular colours are mainly natural wooden brown, Ebony, Walnut or Zebrano or Leather colours such as brown, sand colour, beige etc. which gives a touch of luxury and complements the use of leather and metals. Our latest collection for meeting/boardrooms is from i4Mariani(Italy) designed by Luca Schachetti. We can provide conference tables in wood veneer tops in Ebony, Zebrano or Walnut finishes or with tops fully covered in saddle leather with an option of 24 different colours."

In addition to Bene's existing veneer range (beech and cherry wood), finishes are now available in light-colour Canadian maple; open-pore, more intensively grained oak in the three colours Sylt, Amaretto and Vulcano; warm natural, unstained American nut wood; striped Zebrano and premium-quality Makassar wood.

Flooring

The multi-purpose aspect of a conference room has affected the selection of flooring choices. Mohit Ahuja, business development manager, Kinnarps suggests that designers need to consider noise, maintenance and general ease of upkeep. "Specifying a broadloom carpet is not advisable, as any spillage or damage may prove difficult to repair or clean. Carpet tiles would be a better solution. Parquet or solid floors can also prove troublesome, with wheeled chairs producing substantial noise and/or damage on these surfaces."

Shiraz Rizvi, from Egetaeper represented by Gemaco, points out that carpet for boardrooms is the perfect vehicle to promote the company's brand image with custom designs, logos or motifs. If this is a room where the company will be hosting presentations to clients, this is the ideal space to inject additional branding.

He also emphasises the technical specifications the carpet must be able to provide: "It needs to have a high absorption of acoustics and reduce noise levels. It should be rated for castor chair use (keeping in view that most of the chairs used in the meeting rooms have castors), it should be fire retardant, permanently antistatic (to avoid uneasy shocks), should be anti-soiling treated, should be of heavy wear/extra - heavy wear classification." In addition, Egetaeper has a special backing called ‘contact latex backing' (cl backing) which ensures very high acoustic values and provides extra underfoot comfort.

Lighting

The key to effective lighting systems in conference rooms is adjustability, as well as the balance of light, says Elliott, CitySpace. Designers should also think about the light quality - whether it is more white or yellow in colour. Multiple lighting sources with centrally controlled switches and dimmers are helpful in creating the right ambience and brightness/lux level depending on whether a video conference is taking place or just a round-table discussion.

"In general isolatable and dimmable halogen ceiling spots provide good general light, but should not be angled towards a video or plasma screen as it dims the visual information. A pendant system across the centre of a conference table works well as task lighting, while an up-lighter in the corner of the room could be an interesting feature to break up the rigid lines of the room and add a warmer feel. Finally, fibre optics could be an interesting solution as they can create a colour wash effect against the walls to change the mood and the ambience. This is a good solution when people have to spend a long time in one environment," she explains.

Clients are still choosing to position conference rooms with an external view. Windows can pose a challenge with harsh daylight streaming in. There are now shades and black-out blinds that mimic natural daylight, or adjust themselves on a timer system according to the natural position of the sun such as blinds systems developed by MechoShade.

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