Everyone is talking about what is not happening in conventional meeting spaces and what is popping up in the most unexpected meeting places. Today’s meeting attendees are leaning in to more comfortable and informal gathering options to enhance their learning, networking and collaboration.
Steelcase, Inc. has been studying the way people work for over 100 years. And yes, meeting is just an “out of office” extension of working! People take their work habits and preferences out of the office environment and into the meeting environment, so just as people have moved away from singular offices or cubical into open space, meeting attendees are gravitating away from the ballroom and into foyers and lobbies.
I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to ask Mark Griener, Chief Experience Officer, Steelcase Inc. and John Fuhr, Sales Consultant, Steelcase Event Experiences, for some insight into their research and findings, and about how we should think about space design for a better participant experience.
TERRI: I’ve heard you say that experiences arise at the intersection of people, process and place? What exactly does that mean?
MARK: People, process and place are the three research domains that Steelcase studies which are the “who, what and where” ingredients that combine to create an experience. Finding the recipe for a great event experience requires a deeper understanding of the interaction of the physical space and that space matters. For example the “Who” is the group – the “What” is that they are collaborating –and the “Where” could be a meeting room or possibly a lobby area. There are options that go beyond the traditional meeting room setting that can create a different level of intimacy. We think space is an overlooked opportunity.
TERRI: What research insights, regarding how people work, translate to the meeting/event environment?
MARK: Research is at the core of what we do at Steelcase with decades of experience researching human behavior and understanding the science around work and the workplace. Leveraging our insights is what provides great products and services. This will be a great place to start our discussion because we need to understand what we mean when we use the word “work” in the context of conference planning and the research domains that make up the work experience. With a more mobile, cross-generational and multicultural workforce, the work experience has been changing dramatically. With that said, work is more than often taking place outside the office building. If you think about it, any off site event that is held at a hotel or convention center can be thought of as a place for work, even though the space is being used on a temporary basis.
TERRI: What do you see as the biggest obstacles meeting professionals face in applying innovative space design in their meeting environment?
JOHN: What we often hear concerns over is how do I get the buy in from my leadership and how do I get how do we pay for it. Meeting planning requires some risk taking and sometimes it’s easier to take baby steps and make incremental changes. We support innovation and the first step should be to clearly establish your meeting objectives and the purpose and performance you are demanding from the space you have contracted. When we consult with our customers regarding these goals it’s much easier for us to align our research and design insights with the space to achieve a greater participant experience and higher level of participant engagement.
Other times there could be just an overall fear to try something different, but it’s important to keep an eye on trends and what your attendees will be demanding. Traditional office workspace has certainly evolved over the years, but if you think about it, the industry as a whole has not moved very far away from traditional theater and classroom style meeting room set-ups.
TERRI: Those are great points! If someone doesn’t have the budget for design change or wants to start small, what three simple things could anyone do to make a difference in meeting engagement right away?
JOHN: Here are a few simple ideas that can make a difference no matter the size or complexity of your event.
Take the time to make observations of your participants during the event in key spaces to see if you are meeting their personal needs. For example, do attendees have to sit on the floor to do personal work because there are not other optional work areas at the convention center or hotel? Observation can turn into actions to add seating in key areas for the next event.
Look for opportunities to accommodate different postures. Adding a few high top tables is an easy way to begin new postures. Not everyone wants to sit down during meetings so consider using a mixture of different seating arrangements and options that could also include high top tables arranged at the back of a room for standing.
Start small by leveraging the venues assets and adding in additional elements or considering doing or testing one space at your next event. You will be amazed at the change you will see.
Steelcase Event Experiences is ushering in a new era of meetings. They have proven strategies to help you leverage attendee engagement through meeting space design. Using an insight-led approach, they design solutions for the many event spaces where learning and networking happens, from meeting and banquet rooms to in-between spaces and pre-function areas.
To learn more from John and his associate, Mark Greiner, Senior Vice President, Business Concept Design and Chief Experience Officer, Steelcase Inc., and hear about their research and thought process around meeting space design, we hope you will join us for our November webinar where they will be our guests.