We have all experienced the situation where we have had to reserve a room for an important meeting with a partner only to find that it is being occupied by a previous meeting that was extended. If you are a facility manager or a receptionist, managing these rooms, you would have also experienced inconsiderate users who fail to switch off the lights and air-conditioners and leave the projector on while rushing off for another meeting. All these small teething issues leads to tremendous frustration, grief and embarasment while causing companies millions in wasted dollars.
Last week, we received a call from a large hedge fund company that manages millions of dollars in assets under management. Their secretary had reached her wits end by having to juggle phone calls, senior management tasks and staff enquiries while at the same time, coordinate meeting rooms. Their Cloud based calendaring system performed a decent job with some basic reservation, but fell far short in terms of checking for double bookings or conflicts. So, they were looking for a meeting room booking system.
When we arrived at the reception, the secretary walked us to our designated meeting room only to find that it was occupied by some senior partners. We asked her how she normally reserves the room. She replied with a sense of frustration, "Oh. we use sticky notes and paste it outside the rooms." As she spoke, her gaze went through the floor and stopped at the yellow piece of sticky note that had flown under the flowerpot.
Meeting rooms are a scarce resource. There is always more demand for rooms than there is supply. With more and more people working together in a collaborative environment, there is a need for people to quickly come together to discuss ideas, plan and strategize business.
A lot of organizations face similar challenges as the case mentioned above of how to ensure that there is an adequate supply of meeting rooms and how they are put to maximum use.
Effective utilization of rooms comes from a combination of policies, technology and enforcement. Either one by itself may not prove very useful, but a combination of these can effectively control the wastefulness of rooms and thus improve utilization.
Put In Place Effective Policies
Policies are planned and set at the organizational level. These include dos and don'ts of usage of facilities. An effective policy can bring in the discipline in using and managing of meeting rooms.
Some key aspects of policy should include:
- Operating timings and dates of rooms
- Access rights and boundaries of facility usage
- Quota on usage
- Penalty in terms of monetary or non-monetary consequences
- Booking, cancellation and transfer policies
- Set-up/tear-down, catering, help desk and Facility usage policies
- Strict discipline in terms of meeting timings and agenda setting
The challenges in bringing strict policies into place is the huge amount of planning and buy-in that is needed from management. Aspects such as environmental, cultural and political issues come into play. But, this can be the most effective form of enforcement of efficient room usage if adhered to strictly. Strict policies can also help in the next area of control, which is technology.
Bring New Meeting Room Technologies
Technology in terms of hardware and software can play a key role in ensuring that policies are enacted and necessary business rules and controls are in place. Common business rules that can apply are:
- Timeslots and availability restrictions of rooms
- Charges for booking and cancellation
- Reminder to ensure bookings are confirmed
- Ease of cancellation when bookings are no longer needed
- Reports on cancellation frequency
Another aspect of technology is the automation and sensory technologies that can be put in place to further control usage. Today, there are sensors that are quite affordable to allow facilities to implement them at the rooms. With sensors, you can determine if and when the users are meeting and how to control the meeting when the sensors detect no presence or activity. Various tools such as proximity or motion-sensors can be used as a non-intrusive way of detecting meeting usage. Other areas can be integration with card scanning devices, QR-code based booking confirmation or cancellation that makes it easy for users to react to changes in meeting needs as well as display panel based controls give better control of meeting rooms.
Enforcement Through Automation Or Manual Eye-Keeping
Enforcement is the policing of the meeting rooms through physical as well as technological means. This is by far the most difficult aspect to control when it comes to maximizing usage. Enforcement is a very touchy area that should take into consideration existing culture, politics and other such aspects. Any policy is in-effective without the proper dissemination of the information and its strict enforcement. Strict enforcement is impossible without buy-in from the executive management. The executive management must first be convinced about the impact of the wastefulness and the poor utilization of your meeting rooms. Only with their blessings and strong support can any enforcement be put in place.
Policies should be clearly indicated to the users of the meeting room in the most obvious way such as printing and pasting it on the walls of the meeting or allowing the users to click on an "agree to terms and conditions" section before proceeding to confirm a booking.
Also, using technology, users can be provided with an avenue to confirm or release/cancel a booking. These can be accomplished through reminder notifications or automated business rules enforcement such as auto cancellation if not confirmed within a fixed duration.
Physical enforcement may include walk-abouts, spot checks and other means of reporting inappropriate usage by facilities or security staff. If need be, key persons who are responsible for meeting rooms in their buildings or floors can be tasked with the responsibility of ensuring enforcement.
No-Shows, that allow users to report non-usage has also become popular. This eliminates the need for walk-about or spot checks by the facilities team as vigilance and control is disseminated to the staff.
In conclusion, to effectively manage facilities software alone will not help. It requires a combination of policies, education as well as enforcement to ensure that their usage is optimal, fair and efficient. Proper utilization of meeting rooms can save organizations millions of dollars every year. Atleast, the next time when a visitor comes to the hedge fund office, the secretary will not be embarased by the primitive use of sticky notes to reserve meeting rooms.