Free to Move the Meeting Room About

Author: Barbara Palmer       

Bo Krüger, with the pile of furniture that greeted workshop participants at Bella Center Copenhagen.

I generally have my pre-meeting routine down pat —  grab a cup of coffee and then find a seat near, but not too near, the front of the room. But just at the beginning of  a two-day workshop on meeting innovation, event designer Bo Krüger stopped me and other workshop participants in our tracks. As we opened the door of a Bella Center Copenhagen meeting room, we faced a jumble of tables, stools, and cushions, all piled in a big stack in the middle of the room.

[pullquote]If we felt like we’d like another configuration, we should go for it.[/pullquote]

The very first thing on the day’s agenda, Krüger told us, would be for us, working in groups, to take the furnishings and arrange them however we wanted. And for next 20 minutes, we did just that, pulling small tables into in a U-shape facing the front, and creating areas for private conversations in the corners of the room. (And because this was in hygge-drenched Copenhagen, placing candles around the room.) The room design belonged to us, Krüger told us when we were finished. If at any time over the next two days, he added, we felt like we’d like another configuration, we should go for it.

We Thrive on Choice

That was more than three  years ago, but the details of that morning — and the workshop itself — are vivid while memories of other events have long since faded away. For one thing, working together to set up the room was more than an ice-breaker — it was an ice-melter. We strangers quickly bonded, first over the surprise of the novel beginning to the day, and then as a team. It’s hard to move a table all by yourself.

As the workshop progressed, I noticed that I felt comfortable and engaged much more quickly than I usually do in similar settings. Krüger, who once worked as an innovation and creativity expert at the Danish Institute of Technology, was tapping into a truth about physical spaces where people meet and work: People thrive when they can make choices.

“People flourish when they control their own space,” writes Tim Harford, author of Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Liveswhich argues that a little disorder and confusion actually enhances our creativity and ability to innovate.

In the book, Harford describes a wide range of the kinds of spaces that have a history of spawning world-changing ideas,  from the Google campus in Mountain View California, stocked with ping-pong tables and slides, to a “proper mess” of a building that once stood on the MIT campus and housed nine Nobel laureates. The common denominator, Harford wrote, was that building occupants had been given the freedom to choose their own work environments. According to research cited in the book, workers in offices where they were allowed some leeway in decorating their offices were 30 percent more productive than those who worked in spaces where a spartan aesthetic was enforced.

The idea of building our own room set worked well in Copenhagen at a workshop with a dozen or so attendees. But how could that idea be transferred to a meeting of thousands? 

Space at the Connection Lounge at Convening Leaders 2018.

Editor in Chief Michelle Russell offers one model, in the April cover story about the 1,772-square-foot Connection Lounge at PCMA Convening Leaders 2018 in Nashville. Meeting attendees weren’t asked to move any furniture, but they were given lots of leeway in choosing their environments, where they could work and meet in small groups, alone, or alone together.  

Read more about the spaces, what needs they were built to meet, and how they were used here