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Room on the outside

With square footage at a premium in many locations, organisations are under pressure to review their use of space. Cyril Parsons of Office Principles makes the case for utilising external meeting facilities

The concept of regularly using external space to host company meetings, helping to avoid excess spend on commercial space, is fast becoming a reality for many corporates – which makes sense on many levels. It is far more cost-effective to save the expense of in-house office space that might be underused, instead renting rooms on a ‘need only’ basis that are a good fit for the planned event.

Choosing a meeting space to suit each individual occasion has its merits. It makes no sense to accommodate four people in a room designed for 40, or cram 20 people into a room better suited to a party of six. There are property companies that now specialise in providing meeting facilities to meet a range of needs, from vast, elegant conference rooms to private and informal meeting space.

Such providers take space in areas where big multinationals are located, offering serviced rooms, often by the hour, to help businesses organise meetings. This is particularly helpful in situations where the meeting is at short notice, attendees may be flying in from overseas, and internal space is limited or booked up.

The model has other potential applications, from conducting interviews and sensitive discussions to ‘town hall’ gatherings and offsite training. There is plenty of flexibility in the design concept, ranging from a boutique hotel vibe to traditional corporate style.

The quality of the facilities is central to sourcing the ideal offsite meeting space. When researching the options it’s important to look for clean, spacious bathrooms and flexible catering options. These basics may feel secondary but they form a major part of the overall experience and will impact on how attendees judge the host company. First impressions can be lasting.

Washrooms should be considered not just from a practical point of view but as an opportunity to enhance the corporate image. Clearly there should be an adequate number of cubicles and basins, as most attendees will want to use the facilities at the same time during breaks. But cleanliness and elegant design will positively affect visitors’ perceptions.

The same is true of refreshments. Typically, most offsite meeting rooms come with tea, coffee and a choice of still or sparkling water. However, catering choices are another opportunity to enhance the experience of visitors, particularly if the event is a lengthy one.

Catering offerings vary from onsite chefs to the option to phone in for a cold buffet or plates of sandwiches. The quality of the food served helps to shape impressions of the host company. A good-quality, tasty and varied menu implies that thought and attention has been given to the wellbeing and enjoyment of attendees. Good onsite catering also ensures that no time is wasted travelling to a restaurant or leaving people to make their own arrangements.

The quality of the seating is another significant factor. If people are sitting and required to concentrate for a prolonged period of time, well-designed, comfortable seating will help to avoid stiffness and back pain and improve the quality of the experience. Where important events and high-profile visitors are involved, specifying a touch of luxury in the seating would not harm the company’s cause.

However, important as these factors are, it can all be undone if the correct technology isn’t in place. The real must-have is appropriate technical support –audiovisual equipment, wi-fi, whiteboards and so on. These are the necessary tools of the trade when it comes to pitching and presentations. Some providers offer their own technical support, with trained staff on hand to help with any difficulties. This is a big tick in the provider’s favour, as great food and luxurious surrounds will not make up for the embarrassment of a failure of technology.

Sometimes a change of environment simply for change’s sake can perk up employees. Team building or brainstorming exercises, for example, can benefit from taking place away from familiar office surroundings. However, it’s important to choose an environment with the right facilities and technology to ensure no time is wasted in setting up – particularly where the space is rented by the hour and cost is an issue.

There’s another reason why external meeting space has been growing in popularity. After an initial flurry of interest, virtual meetings are beginning to take a back seat as businesses gravitate back to personal interaction, integration and collaboration. We are social animals, and although the technology now exists to allow most meetings to happen remotely, we like to look people in the eye and press the flesh when there are matters to resolve.

As more of us move towards flexible ways of working, we are becoming less dependent on place and spending more time either at home or on the move. This means that time spent with colleagues and co-workers is becoming more valued. It is more important than ever to ensure the time spent in meetings is time well spent. Working with external meeting room providers helps to ensure a venue that is fit for purpose.

To sum up, the advantages of using outside meeting room spaces are many and varied, ranging from better management of business costs and space needs to providing beneficial time away from the office and ‘trading up’ when hosting clients and guests. The model also fits with the trend towards flexible working.

We are no longer tied to one location – and nor does our business have to be tied to, or defined by, any given space.

About Sarah OBeirne

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