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How to make meetings more productive

THE INTERIORS DESIGN EXPERT’S VIEW
SAMANTHA HOUSE, 
SENIOR DESIGNER, AREA SQUARE

For a meeting to be effective, not just productive, everyone needs to know why there are there. So, before you even get to the design of the space you might be using you need an agenda and some rules of engagement. That might sound a bit authoritarian, but often there is too much time wasted at the beginning of a meeting. Yes, there’s time for some social preamble, but it helps if people know the objectives and there is some clear respect in terms of using the time well.

So small things like not answering your phone or looking at emails or social media, not speaking over each other but do say what you mean and turn up on time ready to contribute. Make the time constructive, don’t waste it and one way to do that is make sure one person is in charge, implementing the rules. That person is also going to have to take responsibility for making the most of the technology available. However, to do that you need to know how to operate the kit – again, we waste time by fiddling around with connectivity, linking to screens or complaining about skype. These tools work if you know how to use them. There’s an argument that face-to-face is always best, and it does help with social interaction and wellbeing, but in our fast-moving digital world sending a skype or conference link with meeting invite adds some flexibility. Using IT properly helps people to stay connected, it uses time well and allows people to work from home or travel less and reduces the organisations carbon footprint.

The actual space used for a meeting definitely affects the mood and the productivity. Let’s face it, sometimes we can struggle to get everyone in a room. The trend towards guaranteeing people more natural light often means meeting spaces are now nearer the core of a building, away from the windows. But access to light is just as important for a meeting as it is to an employee’s workstation. So, your meeting rooms need secondary light – sometimes softer or harsher, brighter depending on how that space might be used – but different types of glazing, lighting all help. No one likes a room with no natural light at all.

Equally no one likes a space where the layout is a mess. Furniture is critical to a meeting space and the dynamic of a meeting. High tables and no chairs, or maybe stools, allow people to stand and move around and add pace and creativity to a discussion. The feel of a meeting held whilst standing is totally different to one sat around a corporate table and far removed from one using easy chairs and low coffee tables. Change the heights of table, the general layout and style of chairs to reflect the nature of the meeting and people involved. You will see a change straightaway.

If the room layout is good and the lighting at the right level, then the final key point about the space itself is ventilation. Is there air con? Or does a window open? An overheated room makes for foggy thinking and the last thing anyone likes is a hot meeting room and people almost nodding off. Make sure you book a meeting room that is the correct size for the meeting that is taking place. After all, you wouldn’t want 10 people squeezing into a six-person room where the ventilation would have been designed for far less occupancy.

There is nothing worse than arriving for what you think is a well-planned meeting to find the space occupied. Or to have someone interrupt your conversation to announce they have booked the room. Those meeting rules we mentioned earlier must include booking systems. It doesn’t matter if the method is reliant on an efficient office manager and a paper diary, but you need a system you can rely upon. Modern, digital room booking systems are great when working in a large office and over several sites and add a robust online paper trail to prove you own that space when and if you are interrupted. 

THE CATERING EXPERT’S VIEW
SAM HURST,
FOUNDER, GRAZING

Don’t let food be an afterthought. It is hugely emotive and can massively impact the dynamic, mood, productivity and outcomes of a meeting. It can also encourage people to turn up to the meeting in the first place, acting as an incentive to come in for an early breakfast, or a lunch and learn session.

The number one priority for a good productive meeting spread should be variety. No one wants to eat the same thing day-in-day-out, in a meeting room or otherwise. That doesn’t just mean changing up the sandwich fillings; it’s about mixing up an offer with different types of food and different presentation styles. This keeps it exciting, piques the senses and feeds the mind, rather than sending it to sleep.

It’s important to consider the practicalities of what food works best under the circumstances. Thick deli sandwiches and crusty baguettes that drop crumbs everywhere simply aren’t fit for purpose for a working lunch, whereas easy to pick up and eat or fork food items are perfect. Small really is beautiful when it comes to meeting room food. And of course, it’s vital to meet the inevitable dietary and allergy requirements that result from a mixed group of people so that no one goes hungry.

Sandwiches remain the firm favourite for meetings (representing 60 per cent of our meeting food orders) but clients are getting more and more adventurous. Healthier salad options and on trend street food items are growing in popularity, with the emphasis on food being nice and light, rather than heavy and sleep-inducing. Sharing platters remain the way to go at meetings, rather than individual portions, because once people have broken bread together, it brings them closer and makes for a more productive meeting.

Speak to Dr Google about what’s best to eat to make people more productive and you’ll be hit by the usual berries, nuts chitter chatter. The truth is, people want variety. Make the food good, offer choice, and people will be engaged and motivated. This hasn’t changed since the beginning of time.

Some things have changed over the years. The food and flavour combinations have evolved to reflect high street trends while sustainability has rightfully become ever more important. There’s no room for single-use plastics in the meeting room these days. We try to go a step further by ensuring 100 per cent of our electricity is green and our vehicles are zero emissions. These efforts might not be ‘visible’ during meetings but they are important to us and our customers and form a crucial part of our offer. It creates a different perception about the food and how it has arrived on the table. This makes a difference.

Meeting food ordering has also evolved as the sector demands more in the way of agility and convenience. No longer are there cumbersome calls, faxes and endless pieces of paper with orders scribbled on, but everything is online. This inspired our online ordering business model a few years ago. Providing a quality food offer during meetings says a lot about the way in which an organisation values its attendees.

Forget to feed people or give them poor quality refreshments, and it sets the tone for every meeting. 

About Sarah OBeirne

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