Conference Furniture | Why & How

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“How do I create a boardroom that isn’t boring?” In this guide, we’re going to explore the why and how of conference furniture. First, why effective conference room settings are worth investing in. Then, how to make the most of your meeting space with tips for conference furniture: conference tables, conference seating and meeting accessories.

Why Buy Conference Furniture?

Effective Conference Furniture Can Be Catalyzing

Environments have an effect on the conversations that take place there. While traditional boardrooms may be a fading bastion of old-school business, modern meeting spaces still serve as a resource to be leveraged during those conversations. Increasing your chance of a successful conversation by tailoring the environment is idealistic, but feasible with forethought and thorough examination.

After interviewing the innovation leads at three top organizations, a design CEO concluded that “the [conference] room is the place where innovation starts to grow up. Instead of being a place to play or model or ideate, the room creates rules…that require you to take innovation seriously every time…and, eventually, become a core part of your company’s culture from the bottom to the top.”

Conference Room Complaints

An architecture firm’s 2014 study suggested meeting spaces were too large, citing the average utilization as a relatively low 29%. In the same year, WSJ reports a shortage crisis, claiming that “meetings are multiplying while private office space shrinks”. However, trends in fewer designated workstations may point to the scramble for conference space being symptomatic of broader feelings of displacement.

Frustrations aside, a 2017 study found that employees waste an undue amount of time finding places to meet – 160 million days per year in the United States alone. Similarly, a 2014 study found that “$60 million – 20 percent of the total cost of meetings – was squandered in unproductive activity.” Many articles exist that expound such statistics to demonstrate the hidden costs of lost time to organizations. The bottom line is that effective conference rooms are accessible and enable productivity. Now, let’s take a look at how to make the most of your meeting space.

How Should I Buy Conference Furniture?

“Conference rooms send all kind of signals about what kind of conversations are appropriate…the formality of the table and chairs and whiteboard…tells everyone what the meeting will be like and how it will unfold.” First, determine the purpose of your meeting space. That purpose should provide the direction for all other decisions about your workspace.

Tips for Conference Tables

Conference Table Shape

Rectangular conference tables come in a wide range of widths and depths, meaning a tailored fit for your conference room can often be achieved. They define a clear “head” of the table, which introduces a power element to the conference setting. This can be appropriate when a more formal boardroom environment is desired. Because the rectilinear shape is the easiest to fabricate, rectangular conference tables will often be the most economic option.

Square conference tables are slightly more formal than round ones, but offer the same collaborative benefit of having equilateral sides. Square conference tables also come in compact configurations, perfect for private office settings. Another benefit to square conference tables is the ability to reconfigure multiple into a rectangular conference table when need be.

Boat-shaped conference tables can also occupy space efficiently, and set a similar tone with the head of the table. The unique benefit of boat-shaped conference tables, however, is that the bowed shaped allows clear sight lines to either end for everyone seated. Boat-shaped conference tables are ideal in spaces that leverage visual presentations.

Racetrack conference tables are one of the most common shapes, despite using space less efficiently than rectangular. Racetrack conference tables’ rounded ends can allow a few more attendees to crowd at either end, but ultimately afford less usable workspace than 90° corners.

Round conference tables rarely use space efficiently – while they offer more seating space, the ratio of workspace to footprint occupied is less than a rectangular or square table. However, compact round conference tables can be optimal for smaller, less formal meeting settings. Round conference tables are synonymous with collaboration because, with equilateral sides, they give everyone an even standing.

Furniture manufacturers have come out with a virtually-infinite number of custom conference table shapes, and there are still other organizations that have their conference furniture fabricated. This list is hardly comprehensive, but should give you a solid starting point for your decision on conference table shape. Now, let’s look at guidelines for conference table size.

Conference Table Size

Broadly generalized rule of thumb: the linear length of a conference table equals the number of people it will seat. Of course, that doesn’t make much sense with a 5′ rectangle. Allotting 30″ per person for linear space is typically a comfortable fit, depending on your conference chairs.

Aside from the number of people your conference table will seat, you have to consider the constraints posed by your office space. Another broadly generalized rule of thumb: you need minimum 36″ of clearance between your conference table and the wall (or other conference furniture!). We suggest allowing 48″ between your table and the wall, and a full 60″ for any type of main aisle. Keep in mind that groups will be shuffling in and out of this room.

Since we’re talking about measurements, we’ll consolidate the guidelines for other conference furniture and accessories here. When pushed in, chairs that are 16″ from the wall will allow attendees to squeeze through sideways. A 24″ gap will allow people to pass without turning. Roughly 60″ between a whiteboard or mobile presentation board and the table will allow attendees to view the materials comfortably. 36″ or so of free space will help facilitate a presenter displaying materials on the wall.

Conference Table Bases

Slab base conference tables are some of the most common, and are exactly what they sound like. Rectangular uprights support sections of the conference table, and can extend all the way to the edge. Most manufacturers avoid this, but it has the potential to block a seated position near supports.

Pedestal base conference tables have at least two uprights that don’t extend to the edge of the table, and give rooms a more formal look and feel. The most common shapes are cylinder and cube bases. A trestle sometimes connects the uprights, bearing the weight between them, and can be used for cable management.

Traditional leg (or post leg) conference tables have supports near corners and connections – often columns, traditional table legs or more modern conference table bases. While “table” legs may conjure images of an old dining room set, many modern conference tables are making use of traditional leg conference tables because of the visual accessibility post legs offer.

Aside from shapes and general configuration, many modern conference tables feature flip-top, mobile and adjustable height bases. The move away from the stuffy boardroom toward collaborative spaces has resulted in an emphasis placed on versatility. Thus, many training table-type products have emerged to address the need for greater functionality.

Conference Table Style

Traditional conference tables generally place an emphasis on impressive presence and intricate details, reminiscent of Victorian-era furniture. Most often wood or veneer, traditional conference tables typically come in deeply stained wood finishes and meticulously-crafted inlay patterns.

Transitional conference tables are probably the most common on the market, and are an easily-standardized middle ground. Simple lines and fundamental shapes paired with traditional or contemporary finishes, often laminate, achieve a comfortable balance of budget and aesthetic.

Modern conference tables prioritize clean, minimalistic lines and visual accessibility. They most often feature polished surfaces and sharp angles. Metal, glass and acrylic are typically what comes to mind (or an image search), but many contemporary laminate and wood options are also available.

Tips for Conference Chairs:

Comfort and Versatility

Consider the time spent in your conference room and, more importantly, in your conference furniture. While comfort is often cited as a priority, how long do you really want attendees to stay in the room? This sounds callous, but a trick used by healthcare facilities in busy waiting rooms is to get rigid guest seating (such that people don’t want to linger). We’re not saying you should keep people uncomfortable, but time is money.

Another important thing to note is to include a variety of chairs in your conference settings, especially if the room has multiple purposes. Combining your chosen conference room chairs with guest or training room chairs, either stored or set against the wall, is an effective solution for overflow seating.

Conference Chair Style

Traditional conference chairs are most often characterized by fixed arms and fewer ergonomic adjustments than for a dedicated workstation. You can, however, expect tilt and swivel functions for slight bounce and mobility. These factors (theoretically) keeps employees focused but away from fidgeting during meetings.

Training room chairs are a flexible alternative to traditional conference room seating, leveraging mobility and storage functions to make meeting spaces more versatile. These chairs are typically characterized by stacking or nesting in a small storage footprint. Training room chairs often also have mobile casters to make reconfiguring multipurpose spaces easy.

Executive conference chairs are fundamentally similar to a basic conference chair, but are typically heavier-duty, high-back and leather-upholstered. Expect tufted buttons, wood frames and (hopefully) an old-fashioned.

Conference Chair Size

It’s important to make sure your chairs are the proper size, and that’s not just for executive seating. Standard chairs are generally rated to hold 250lbs, while heavy duty conference chairs are rated to hold upwards of 350lbs. Also, standing- and adjustable-height conference tables will need different seating to accommodate the change in elevation. Standard seating (for 30″ high work surfaces) measures 18″. Counter-height (36″) seating measures 24″ high. Bar-height (42″) seating measures 30″ high.

Conference Chair Upholstery

Fabric conference chairs are available in a nearly infinite range of upholstery colors, making it easy to balance budget constraints and the aesthetic quality of your conference space. Routine cleaning and spot treatment will keep fabric conference chairs in shape for years. Leather conference chairs have either top- or full-grain, both of which require diligent maintenance. Top-grain is simply sanded full-grain to remove natural imperfections. Bonded leather conference chairs offer a similarly refined appearance as genuine leather with a much lower price point and level of maintenance. Mesh conference chairs are very comfortable because of their breathability, but the porous material can be difficult to clean.

Now, let’s take a look at the other implements to make your meeting space more effective.

Tips for Meeting Room Accessories:

First and foremost, protect your conference furniture! Invest in some writing pads and coasters in the interest of your conference table’s longevity. Chair mats will help preserve your fancy boardroom floor covering.

Conference Table Accessories are available for providing electrical access and cable management without extraneous furniture and wires. Modules with power, data and voice outlets can be dropped into the surface of conference tables to streamline connectivity. Power strips can also be configured underneath to keep the table clear.

Presentation Accessories are vital for visual communication. Both mounted and mobile whiteboards are available with options for magnetic, glass and colored surfaces. Also, if your visual presentations typically feature a live speaker, we highly recommend investing in podiums and pointers.

Storage Furniture for your meeting room is often an afterthought, which can be the downfall of an effective conference space. Just remember to figure in a 36″ berth between conference table and your storage furniture. Storage credenzas, cabinets and mobile carts are favorites for facilitating meetings without loose clutter.

Thanks for Reading!

Make the Most of Your Meeting Space

We can’t help you plan, engage and delegate around your meetings. But, we can help you cultivate an environment that puts people in the right frame of mind. Below is a button that will show you some idea starters for conference furniture. There are sections: tables, seating and accessories. If you find something that speaks to you, let us know! Or, you can tell us about your project here. Thanks again!

See Idea Starters!
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