Switch the boardroom for a breakout space

The traditional boardroom, used to host a weekly team brief and the directors meeting, can seem an anachronism. Despite their unpopularity among many, flexible open plan offices are here to stay. Does that mean the boardroom should be given the boot?

Is there still a place for a boardroom?

The traditional boardroom may have had its day, making way for ‘client collaboration spaces’. These “encourage less formal interaction and more genuine team-work” according to Sue Williams of Australian journal Commercial Real Estate.

In a recent project for PWC Sydney office, architect Futurespace incorporated both open and closed areas for meetings, workshops and more casual discussions. The award-winning design was conceived to encourage people to get involved and break down barriers. Visiting clients might meet staff they wouldn’t usually see, and staff might participate in a project they wouldn’t otherwise have been aware of.

PWC Sydney office by Futurespace

Are breakout areas a real alternative?

Breakout zones can be associated with open plan, which in turn sacrifices privacy. This can be a positive thing – after all, the idea of a breakout session is an impromptu meeting to share ideas. Allowing informal drop ins is part of this, and even better, it removes the need to enter the fraught negotiations to Book the Meeting Room…. Casual seating areas with a low table and sofas fit the bill perfectly. You could go for a minimalist standing area too equipped only with a high level table and whiteboard, popular for scrum meetings.

But what if there’s confidential information to discuss? This might well call for a more formal, enclosed space where you won’t be interrupted. Solutions such as high back seating like the Atom Meeting from Boss and acoustic panels still fit the open plan aesthetic but allow for private moments. You can set them up with essentials such as unobtrusive projectors and TV screens too.

Atom seating from Boss
Atom seating from Boss

Flexible meeting zones

Practical solutions such as mobile dividing walls and meeting pods on wheels turn any area into a collaboration space. This means you don’t necessarily need a permanent formal meeting room that you may only use infrequently.

“Flexibility (is) now also one of the most critical aspects of office buildings, for both the owner and the tenant.” says Ken Shuttleworth, the president of the British Council for Offices and founder of Make Architects who are redesigning Sydney’s Wynyard Station. “We’re tearing buildings down already that were just built in the 1980s. That’s ridiculous. We need to build them now to be useable for many, many years into the future.”

In fact the London office of Make is an example of a multipurpose use of space. A conversion of a former basement NCP car park, Make transformed the access ramp into a stepped platforms. They use the area for meetings and presentations and as a gallery to showcase their latest architectural models.

Even a more conventional area can be used in a flexible way. Our ThinkingWall range includes whiteboards on wheels so the meeting space can move with you. They range from smaller freestanding panels that will fit into almost any space and can easily be moved around by one person, to more robust wheeled dividers.

Make Architects
32 Cleveland St, head office of Make Architects

Use every space

You can turn the most unlikely space into a meeting area. For example, we’ve installed our ThinkingWall frameless panels to a corridor…

ThinkingWall Whiteboard

…and to make an under-utilised corner into a viable discussion space.

ThinkingWall Whiteboard

Photobox’s Herbal House HQ in East London even uses the central staircase for large team meetings, as does marketing company Yodle at their Manhattan office:

Even if building restrictions or space means you don’t have a wall available, you can still make use of a spare corner with a ThinkingWall Freestander whiteboard on wheels to encourage impromptu sharing of ideas. You really can use any area to foster creative thinking.

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