We all have the same idea of what a boardroom should look like. There might be some variation between the traditional wood-panelled walls where the portraits of past chairmen hang and the modern minimalist banks of windows. We know there is a large table around which between 12 and 20 chairs are arranged.
The seriousness of the space is built into the design. Boardrooms are not like other meeting rooms, although they are often used as such when the board is not in session. They are the physical centre of any corporate entity where decisions are made and legal obligations met.
Discussions about corporate governance, the financial health of the company, the signing of confidential agreements and contracts, and the determination of long-term company strategy are held in these soundproof rooms by leaders and advisors who may not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the company, but who maintain an objective expertise designed to oversee executive activities. In the past, a dedicated boardroom was considered essential to protect corporate confidentiality and project respect for authority. Today, the emphasis is on a room that supports productivity and functionality.
A room with a conference table surrounded by chairs does not necessarily a boardroom make. There are several other factors to consider.
Seating Comfort & Temperature
Boardrooms, like other meeting rooms, shouldn’t be too comfortable. While chairs have to be cushiony enough to sustain up to two hours of uninterrupted seating, they also have to be firm enough to support good posture.
Good posture, it has to be noted, supports alertness. Remember that members of the board will often be reading, re-drafting and discussing highly complex legal, technical and financial documentation. Fatigue is the enemy of the detail-oriented attention required by these issues.
To further encourage alertness, boardrooms also have to have sensitive heating and cooling systems to be warm enough upon welcome and cooler as negotiations and discussions proceed.
Comfortable, but not too comfortable seating, with sensitive temperature control, eliminate the threat of drifting off to sleep in the boardroom.
If adequate attention to these two factors is paid, then the primary use of the boardroom, as a place for the board to have high-level discussions, will be supported and that function will not interfere with any other way the room might be used.
Technology & Flexibility
Video conferencing, screens and projectors for viewing presentations, secure Wi-Fi and network access and telephone conferencing systems are just some of the technologies that have to be built into the design of a boardroom. Any visible or chaotic mix of cords and cables would reflect badly on the company’s organizational and technical skills.
At the same time, the space has to be flexible and serve other uses. Many, if not most, small companies and start-ups can’t afford to have a space dedicated to meetings that are held only 4 to 12 times per year. While brainstorming sessions and other formative ideation meetings are not traditionally held in boardrooms, many companies need to use all of their space all of the time. Solutions like whiteboard paint, which bring new meaning to the term “the writing is on the wall”, enhance the flexibility of the space. Wiping away the marker once it has been photographed with a cell phone, immediately returns the room to its primary purpose.
Light Sources & Light Control
Light sources, like seating and temperature control, work to prevent fatigue and strain during long meetings. In addition to overhead lighting that does not produce glare, there is a need for adjustable lighting at each seat. Traditionally, each position at the boardroom table had its own lamp that only the seated member could control, but the sightlines required for presentation and conferencing technology have made that simple solution difficult to realize. LED lights embedded in tabletop surfaces started to appear but interfered with the work surface when the room and table were used for other purposes. The use of cell phone, lap top and tablet lights in boardrooms are the most flexible and popular options for raising the level of lighting available to individuals.
Natural lighting has to be controlled too. Banks of windows are a necessity in winter, but in summer can turn the boardroom into a sauna. Quick and automatic access to window shade levels should be treated as a priority.
Tables & Artwork
The table is the centre piece of the boardroom. All the seated members of the board must be able to see and hear each other perfectly, and that stability of the table does reflect upon the stability of the company. While a solid mahogany antique conference table, now worth tens of thousands of dollars, might be perfect for a bank or law firm, it isn’t necessarily right for a bio-tech firm or a mobile telecom. That said, cheap and cheerful furniture that is delivered in a flat pack and put together with an Allen key isn’t necessarily appropriate either. For something in-between, review our inventory of used and refurbished conference tables.
Artwork is difficult feature to master in boardroom design. It should occupy the mind and inspire the imagination when being examined, but not distract from the task at hand while meetings are in session. It should reflect on the goals, traditions and values of the company. Many corporations with access to collections change their artwork on a regular basis while others select pieces that will become permanent features of the room.
While our collective image of a boardroom hasn’t changed in decades, the rooms now offer access to technologies, temperature and lighting control and design options that the traditional image conceals. Flexibility of space usage and the priority of primary purpose are both achievable when all the factors are considered and planned for. Together, they create a boardroom that is productive and functional for all concerned.