The basics of booking conference rooms

“Sorry, are you in this room?”

It’s a familiar situation. You just stepped into a conference room for a quick aside with a coworker, a last-minute interview, or a private conversation on your cell. A couple of minutes later, someone is at the door. It’s no one’s fault, really — they booked the conference room, but you just didn’t know about it.

Conference rooms are a precious commodity in a busy work environment. Conversations need to happen on-the-fly, and as it turns out, every team likes Monday morning meetings. If you often find yourself (or your team) shuffling in and out of conference rooms somewhat shamefacedly, you should know that there’s a better way. Here are some basic steps you can take to help minimize conference room confusion.

Understand the problem

As with most things, it’s smart to start with the problem in mind. Here are some questions to consider when looking to improve conference room booking at your company:

  • What’s the problem? Too few rooms? People stealing rooms that aren’t booked? Certain conference rooms that are underutilized and others that are over utilized?
  • What does each room need for your team to maximize productivity? Is each room equipped with the proper conferencing and presentation tools for in-room and web meetings, or have some rooms been excluded?
  • Does everyone know which room is which, and where? Are they organized and labeled in a logical way?
  • How dispersed is your company? Do you need a solution that accounts for time zones and different offices? Are there set times reserved for meetings, and other times that are designated as meeting free?

Go for the easy wins

Whether it’s swapping out furniture or printing a set of labels, there are a number of changes you can make to your physical space that will result in some quick wins when it comes to booking conference rooms.

  • Name every conference room. You can go the Biggie–Tupac route, or the East–West way — it doesn’t matter as long as your team knows where each room is. Post a map on your company intranet and by the water cooler.
  • Connect your conference rooms to your calendars. If every conference room has a name, they can be booked from Outlook or Google Apps, and if each room is clearly labeled, there’s less likely to be confusion over who’s on first. You can also use an iPad or scheduling screen at each room to display its expected tenant, or color code red or green based on availability.
  • Keep your technology consistent. Make sure that all rooms are created equally when it comes to conferencing and presentation equipment, so that no rooms are consistently favored or overlooked.
  • Open your workspaces. Try glass conference rooms. If people can see into a room, they are less likely to interrupt you, or to steal a room when it’s not theirs. And if you have a more open floor plan, conversations can happen more easily without the need for a room.
  • Block rooms for walk-in only. Just like at a restaurant, you can make some spaces non-reservable, to make sure a last minute room is always available.
  • Create fluid, mixed-use spaces. In our office, we use couches and kitchen areas for impromptu asides, and try to reserve conference rooms for scheduled meetings.

Pick the right scheduling tool

There are a lot of schedulers to make booking conference rooms a more seamless experience. If your team is already using Google Apps at work, then Google Calendar is an obvious place to start. When you schedule a meeting, select a room in the drop down in the right sidebar. You can create a calendar for each meeting room and configure each calendar to auto-accept invitations, using this workaround.

As with any other internal IT solution, you need your team to actually use it. Spend some time thinking about what core functionality matters most. If you have a small team based out of one office, Google Calendar or Outlook might suffice, since your team is likely already using one or the other.

But, if you have a large team, spread across offices and time zones, you may need a more multi-functional tool, like YArooms, which offers a huge list of features, including a smart search tool that finds overlap among people and rooms, a cover picture for your rooms, and integration with tools like Google Apps or Outlook.

And, of course, if you need a very specialized conference room booking tool, you can build one — or build on one. Open source code bases like Meeting Room Booking System (MRBS), offered on SourceForge, can give you a code base to customize according to your needs.

Build it into the culture

If you’ve tried everything and your team is still pressed for real estate, this is where culture kicks in. Once you’ve picked or designed the process and tool that fit best, remember to build them into company onboarding, and urge managers to make them the norm among their teams. Embed a respect for people’s time and space into your culture, and remind your team to differentiate between essential meeting space (say for an interview) and non-essential. Consider writing these down, if it helps, but remember: it’s the team’s job to respect one another and self-police as needed.

Have you used other ideas or apps to solve this problem? Let us know on Twitter @HighfiveHQ.

Photo courtesy of Boor Bridges

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