South-Western - Management  
Button-Down Conference Rooms Loosen Up
Topic Managing Individuals and Teams
Key Words teams, workspace, conferencing
News Story

General Mills used to contain "a sea of desks surrounded by a few executive offices and one or two conference rooms on each floor." Now the company has a room with a basketball hoop and markings for half court on the floor; a space with cocktail lounge seating and a full kitchen; and space with a bright yellow bar serving cereal and milk.

A Los Angeles law firm has put an informal meeting space in a kitchen in the middle of the office and comfortable lounge seats.

Another company has replaced tables with overstuffed chairs with swiveling desk-arms.

All these changes reflect the way people work today - more collaboration and less hierarchy result in the need for more flexible work spaces. Conferences aren't just about sitting around a table and talking to each other. Employees who work in teams complained that they don't have enough space to work in a traditional conference room. Many rooms don't have data ports to support laptops, or sufficient white boards and projection screens.

New products are being developed to accommodate collaboration that takes place in teams. Virtual Ink sells a device that attaches to a whiteboard and digitally records notes for downloading later onto a PC or laptop. Most changes, however, relate to architectural innovations. Ad agency McCann-Erickson installed pivoting window panels to block out light during video presentations or to function as easels for huge rolls of butcher paper for note-taking. Omnicom Group has conference rooms with a basketball court, a grove of trees with picnic tables, and an area with pool tables and games.

A common problem at team-oriented companies is that groups are constantly in the conference room, setting up their materials and taking them down to make room for other teams. An office furniture maker developed a system of large whiteboard and tackboard panels mounted on tracks so they can be moved out of the way for the next group.

Other companies have installed all-glass conference rooms in unusual shapes, and scattered casual seating areas for informal meetings. This gets rid of the need to schedule a conference room every time for a meeting.

Questions
1.

What is a work team, and how does a team's communication needs differ from an individual's?

2.

Why is the shape or style of a conference room relevant to the productivity of a group?

Source "Button-Down Conference Rooms Loosen Up," Wall Street Journal October 16, 2002, p. B1.
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