What is the Future Landscape for Corporate Boardrooms in a Post-Pandemic World?
By John Doyle, CTS-D | Senior Audio Visual Consultant
Long before Adam Smith’s invisible hand of a free-market economy began wielding the meeting gavel, boardrooms have served as a gathering place for business owners, C-suite level executives, stakeholders, prospective clients, and the like. The classically designed boardroom also provides a larger space for major project team meetings where ideas are shared, content is presented, and brainstorming big business decisions take place. For many business leaders and the architects who serve them, the design and function of the traditional boardroom continues to be viewed through this aging and somewhat myopic lens.
Now ask yourself, why do we continue to design spaces with long tables where participants struggle to hear and see each other? What do uniformly spaced chairs add to interpersonal communication? And why does everything have to smell like furniture polish?
In this article, I hope to challenge some of the more entrenched aspects of the boardroom and offer a different view of what they can be. What new technology is available? How can these spaces be made healthier and more efficient? In the wake of a business-transforming pandemic, the time is right to redefine the borders of corporate boardrooms.
If we were to evaluate boardrooms from a usability standpoint, we would see the traditional boardroom layout is much more form than function. A space designed to gather a large group of high-stakes players in one location should enable them to see one another with proper sightlines. And shouldn’t such an environment enable all the players to have an equal voice and ability to share ideas more freely? Why should it be so difficult for participants to connect and engage with one another?
The modern meeting room is evolving beyond a simple boardroom with table and chairs to become a more functional, efficiently designed, technology-enabled space. One approach is to outfit the boardroom with more modernized, moveable furniture that is easily reconfigurable and gives a sense of spatial freedom. Some furniture manufacturers have taken up the technology mantle to make the table the focus of advances in smart tech, configured to wirelessly charge devices and control presentation displays in the room.
In addition to integrating the latest technology, such as interactive displays, multiple monitors to host virtual attendees, and state of the art acoustic design to maximize audibility for both in-person and remote participants, the next stage in boardroom design must include a seat for Mother Nature.
Architecture is often a reflection of society captured in a time capsule. A snapshot of a specific period in time and the people and values who are part of it. The design of a boardroom is no different. Its layout can say a great deal about the power dynamics and hierarchy of an organization. Modern boardroom design can also demonstrate how well a company is in tune with changes in society.
The recent resurgence in the call for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion is getting greater attention from C-level executives. There is a push for more diverse boards. According to a recent study, the demand for him-for-her referrals “to female board candidates nearly quadrupled in the last quarter of 2020 compared with a year prior” (Techcrunch.com). In that same report, among the new directors appointed during this period, one quarter identified as black or African American.
With this as a backdrop, designers of the built environment need to consider what this more diverse user base will want from a user-experience standpoint. This might include such considerations as gender-neutral bathrooms in close proximity to the boardroom as well as a more equalized furniture layout to enable everyone to have a voice in the room.
In short, the modern boardroom should facilitate true equality and collaboration while providing participants in the room with a better feeling of safety and engagement. Here are some factors to consider that can help accomplish these societal goals while still retaining the “Wow!” factor of an impressive boardroom:
One of the biggest drivers in technology decisions tends to be cost. Many organizations initially aim to achieve every nuance of their use cases and room functionality options only to experience sticker shock when a basis of design document reaches their desk for review. Over the past few years, the AV industry has made significant strides to accommodate many of the “typical” functions of a meeting room at a more affordable price. This, however, comes at a different price.
At the moment, however, we foresee this roadblock disappearing in the near future through software updates from the given UC application. These software companies are beginning to see the light that end users have been saying for over ten years now, “why can’t these platforms just play nice with each other?”
Which system is right for you? It depends. By electing to go with an RBM system, you are ensuring your organization has a reliable, sophisticated system that is simple to install and use. You may not be able to connect external parties without access to your platform unless you pay for that interop license, but you will have a consistent user experience from room to room. If your organization finds the demand for interop increases, you can always add that capability through licensing. In this way, room uses can be determined and optimized and budgets can be controlled.
Boardrooms and other more complex spaces (multi-purpose rooms, divisible/combinable training rooms, etc.) may be good candidates for more extensive (and expensive) customizations. These spaces are not so easily accommodated by the simple RBM system. The complexity inherent with reconfiguring rooms along with the need for multiple cameras and display locations breaks the boundaries of easy and cheap for most applications. The best approach is to knock out simple rooms on the cheap and focus the lion’s share of the budget on bigger spaces that will see larger audiences and require more advanced feature sets.
Boardrooms will continue to reflect the changing needs and requirements of an evolving world. Working with an experienced design engineer can help identify the best strategy for meeting your boardroom meeting goals.
Senior Audio Visual Consultant John Doyle is professionally invested in pursuing ESD’s mission to improve society through the built environment.
For more information on how to adapt technology to the post-COVID workplace, reach out to John.