Your Conference Room Is An Idea Killer

“Let’s get a conference room; I will send out the invites.”

As I sat on the call and thought of going to this meeting and dreading the thought of it, I am asking why, why, why…

Useless real estate

The address in corporate America that has become wasted real estate, an innovation-free zone, a collaborative road block is the conference room. When I heard this conference room meeting suggestion on the call my eyes glazed over — 2nd meeting in and now the solution was the conference room, our “savior of decision-making.”

There was a line in the Jason Bourne movie where one of the big shots was mockingly told, “Well, why don’t you go upstairs and book a conference room. Maybe you can talk him to death.”

So let me get this straight, we bring all the “big thinkers” into the room, lock them down for an hour and viola, we arrive at consensus; case solved. If only it could happen that way.

When I was in the U.S. in December, my daughter invited me over to her office – a co-working space in NYC. As I got off the elevator I thought I had wandered into the wrong place. I was looking for an “office type environment.” However, what I found was a space that resembled a cross between a living room — and a cool one at that — and a diner with booths, cool kitchen; just an energized workspace.

Having never seen this type space before, I asked for a tour. As we were walking around, I marveled to my daughter that I could really enjoy coming to this space every day. Her response was that they can work from home, but she prefers to come in to this type space. Multiple companies share this space which is owned by We Work, whose motto is, “Look forward to Mondays with work space designed for new ideas.”

“I usually get one of the diner booths,” she told me when I asked her, “With all this cool space, where do you sit?”

As we walked around, I did notice one relic from the past, the staid old conference room. It looked so out of place.

“So, who uses this space?” She chuckled saying, “Nobody really. However when the old guys come to town, they use it. It is basically empty unless there is video conferencing.”

Real estate as a communication tool

We must move on in our thinking. Workplaces that were designed years ago are not going to enable your workforce to be productive in the years to come. Everything has changed — Wi-Fi, digitization, team based projects, younger workforce, etc. Improved communication, accelerated decision-making and a collaborative environment are not going to be achieved in your old office concept.

Companies must think of their space as a communication tool. What vibe is your space giving off? Are you creating a WOW factor when someone walks in? Does your space send the message that you are connected to this century and the new world of work?

A worldwide workspace reimagining

I visited a bank here in Dubai a few months ago and was totally astonished when the elevator door opened on the floor I was visiting. The space was employee-centric with cool colors, positive affirmations on all the walls and worker award photos. As I was taken on a tour, I saw a room full of pods. Workers were napping, some were on their phones or tablets. When I inquired, I was told it was the “nap room.” If you needed a few z’s, it was not viewed as lazy or slacker mentality.

“The most creative ideas aren’t going to come while sitting in front of your monitor,” says Scott Birnbaum, a vice president of Samsung Semiconductor. The company’s new building “is really designed to spark not just collaboration but that innovation you see when people collide.”

A 2011 Deskmag survey of more than 1,500 coworkers in 52 countries found that co-working and the new type office environments have a more positive impact than does working in a traditional office building or at home:

  • 75% reported an increase in productivity since joining their space.
  • 80% reported an increase in the size of their business network.
  • 92% reported an increase in the size of their social circle.
  • 86% reported a decrease in their sense of isolation.
  • 83% reported that they trusted others in their co-working space.

Workspaces becoming strategic

This new level of reimagining the workspace is now seen as a strategic tool for growth. If all of our work habits are changing in the new world of work, offices will have to reflect 21st century digital work and the way it happens

Ace Hotel lobby

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The first floor of Amazon’s new campus in Seattle is mostly co-working space. Ace Hotel actively markets the lobby of its New York flagship as a workspace. AT&T has created Foundry, a network of research centers in which its engineers work side-by-side with handpicked start-ups, corporate partners, and third-party developers to bring new products to market faster. Even bankers are doing it: Capital One has multiple Capital One 360 Cafés where its workers set up shop and interact with customers who can also use the space for work.

So as my daughter and I sat in the “diner booth” I realized that with the dynamics of the workforce changing, this is possibly the last vestige of the old world of work that is in for a major transformation.

As I opened my office in Dubai a few years ago, I noticed there were so many of these type spaces, each cooler than the other. So I jumped on the bandwagon and got a great space that I absolutely love to come to. Across from my space is a travel agent who arranges my international travel, Next to us is a business consultant who is an expert in new business setups. Our power huddles as we call them are always enriching.

So, next time someone says book a conference room, think twice. And if your organization is not yet there, find some space in the neighborhood, maybe a coffee shop, a hotel lobby,etc. You may find that you are able to walk away with a decision instead of yet another meeting.

Ace Hotel New York by James Scott

Ron Thomas

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.