When more than 4,000 event professionals arrived in San Francisco for PCMA Convening Leaders in January, they couldn’t simply hang their name badges over their heads and leave thoughts of their regular lives behind. Instead, they had to balance their roles as conference attendees with personal and professional responsibilities — the same way attendees at their own events do.
“People at conferences have to connect with work and it’s a stressor if they don’t,” Kim Condon, event strategist at Steelcase Event Experiences, told Convene. “And they need to connect with people at home.”
They also need a convenient space to connect with each other, Condon said, and the Steelcase Work Lounge was designed to make all of it happen without leaving the Moscone Center. The layout of the lounge included a mix of semi-private and open social spaces. Individual work pods mirrored a plane’s business-class seating to offer privacy and living-room-like cubes were outfitted with comfy couches and chairs for group meetings. Long tables with plenty of charging outlets felt similar to a co-working café environment.
Condon estimated that the lounge was at or over capacity approximately 75 percent of the time during the course of Convening Leaders. The fact that it was so well populated, she said, “spoke to the need for this kind of an environment for attendees.”
The semi-private rooms proved to be especially popular. While the Steelcase team initially planned to offer those spaces on a first-come, first-served basis, demand was higher than expected. “We ended up managing [reservations] in an Excel spreadsheet,” Condon said. “We only had three spaces available, so it was manageable. But we are exploring making changes to make the reservation system easier for the user. Instead of walking up, we are exploring some different tech products to make the user experience easy.”
Condon believes an automated reservation system integrated within a conference mobile app may be one of the potential solutions. However, the lounge concept is still rooted in human connection. A concierge offered help with reservations, recommendations for meals in the area, and personal comforts like Tylenol and office supplies. “People love a concierge,” Condon said. “It’s a source of comfort and a de-stressor.”
The focus on de-stressing echoed in the aesthetics of the environment. Pillows, rugs, library books, and other homey design elements helped its inhabitants take a physical and mental break from the bustle of the rest of the venue. Steelcase has been presenting the lounge concept — which is priced at $51,000, plus installation fees — to other event organizers, emphasizing its sponsorable nature. There are five different areas for prominent display activations, Condon said, and the system is built to easily plug in logos and messaging.
While the Convening Leaders audience is a unique crowd — event organizers at an event — Condon pointed out that Steelcase research supports the idea that all conference participants are looking for similar environments that enable them “to connect with each other, with work, and with home,” she said. “These activities happen at every conference, regardless of the industry.”
David McMillin is an associate editor at Convene.