An increased focus on flexibility and space efficiency has led to many organisations questioning the traditional meeting room and instead embracing more informal meeting spaces.

Adrian Norman

Head of Design

14th Mar 2016

In workplaces all over the UK, space isn’t being used efficiently. And with space at such a premium, it’s increasingly important to know how to make the most of it. As a result, organisations are looking at alternative options when it comes to office design.

It’s just not the case anymore (at least in most forward-thinking companies) that CEOs sit locked away, never to be bothered, except for the morning cuppa, unaware of what the rest of the workplace is doing. Today’s workspaces are increasingly all about communication, collaboration and flexibility.

And these days most companies hold a range of different types of meeting. You might have AGMs, one-to-one reviews, team meetings or just a need for one person to spread papers and designs out and pace up and down alone for a bit.

Moreover, freelancing is on the rise and the Office of National Statistics records that 13.9% of the working population work from home. This makes it hard to argue the case for fixed, formal spaces like meeting rooms, when you might not know from one day to the next who’s going to be using them or for how long.

More and more people are realising that the traditional open-plan working environment isn’t always ideal in terms of noise and distraction. Employees also complain of a lack of privacy and request quiet areas where they can concentrate on their work.

But moving back to the private-office model can result in a loss of interaction. And it can be costly. In capital cities such as central London, the cost of a desk per person per annum is somewhere between £12,000 and £14,000. So reducing the number of fixed and formal workstations can have a real impact on company finances.

Consequently, our design teams are starting to see a greater emphasis being placed on informal, wall-less meeting rooms, which are better for encouraging collaboration and are more adaptable to ad-hoc situations.

We are also witnessing a shift towards activity-based working practices, with workers benefiting from areas they can decamp to depending on the job in hand. We’re seeing a more evolved working environment, with quiet rooms, team spaces and spaces for informal collaboration.

These informal spaces need to be agile and able to accommodate groups of different sizes and in different ways. Introducing spaces like ‘huddle rooms’ can mean an increase in usable space elsewhere and the chance for workers to engage properly without having to shout across a boardroom. Likewise, phone booths can accommodate private calls but can also double as a quiet working space while standing workstations can encourage healthier bouts.

Using cafeterias and lounges as impromptu meeting spaces not only reduces the pressure on space but also encourages a more informal and collaborative working environment (after all, everyone’s easier to work with once they've got a muffin in their hand aren't they?). Having informal workspaces also means that there’s always somewhere unreservable and available at the last minute for when other meetings run over or when impromptu decisions need to be made.

It’s well documented that activity-based working has an impact on business outcomes and it’s no surprise. Doing 27 jobs at one desk, with all the attendant distractions is a daunting task. Letting staff break away in ad-hoc spaces helps their productivity, boosts morale and ultimately benefits everyone.