At Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter in Richmond, graduate school for tomorrow’s advertising stars, classrooms are modeled after a hip New York creative shop. In Google’s Zurich office, “Zooglers” meet in ski gondolas. Inventionland, the 70,000-square-foot design studio of Pittsburgh-based Davison Design & Development, is a Wonka-esque wonderland of 15 themed workspaces, or sets, including a pirate ship and race track.
Perhaps whimsical-seeming but at the cutting edge of progress, reimagined learning and work environments mirror today’s corporate organizational structure: less hierarchy and fewer boundaries, more networking, collaboration, relationship-building and learning.
Sound familiar? These same themes are profoundly inspiring change in where and how we meet. With more than 375 member-venues in 28 countries around the globe, IACC has given the redesign a trademarked name: The Meeting Room of the Future.
Now entering its third year, the IACC-led initiative is surveying venue operators, suppliers and industry experts around the globe on physical meeting space and design, collaborative technologies, Internet infrastructure, F&B and other elements. Results to date reveal the shape of things to come—and many already here.
“Much of what we have learned so far affirms that transformation of the meetings experience is already in play,” said IACC Global President Alex Cabanas, also CEO of leading global meetings and hospitality player Benchmark. “Our continuing research for this brand-building initiative will be more future-forward.”
For venue operators and suppliers, however, the message is clear: The time to adapt is now.
Innovate or Lag
Ranking elements they see becoming more important over the next three to five years, nearly two-thirds of respondents to IACC’s second research study, introduced at IMEX America 2016, put “meeting space flexibility” and “access to interactive technology” first, followed by “multiple options for F&B service styles and spaces,” “increased/enhanced public space for socialization,” and “access to authentic local experiences.”
Many venue operators are already answering the call: 69 percent reported having three-quarters or more of their meeting rooms furnished and equipped for multiple flexible layouts. Among other findings, 55 percent acknowledged their role in providing “experience creation” for clients and delegates—another trend reshaping the industry.
“Cost of investment” was most cited as a barrier to creating more flexible spaces, but as Cabanas noted, not investing in change and continuing to set up meeting rooms “the old way” is not an option.
“The research validates what planners and delegates are asking for and increasingly expect,” he said. “Operators not answering these needs risk being seen not as thought leaders, but as behind the times.”
Among the initiative’s key partners is MPI.
“Attendees can no longer bear being stuck in a room listening (or not) to talking heads and mindless speeches,” said Jessie States, MPI’s manager of professional development, commenting on the research. “And meeting professionals are being much more strategic about the where, why and how of bringing people together. Meetings are for ‘meeting’ and not for ‘attending’. They are for ‘participating’ and not for ‘observing.’ Venues must provide spaces that encourage engagement, boost learning and enhance experiences that foster conversations and growth.”
While measurable change is underway in the U.S., Cabanas sees true transformation leaders abroad.
Launched at IMEX America 2015, the Future Meetings Space is an ongoing collaboration among the German Convention Bureau (GCB), European Association of Event Centres and famed Fraunhofer Institute of Industrial Engineering focused on technology, space design and other elements to make meetings more “futuristic.”
Adding to its online “Innovation Catalogue” and “Six Future Meeting Scenarios,” the group’s latest “toolbox,” the “Future Meeting Room,” features future scenarios around heightened engagement, knowledge sharing and creativity, some already in play in Nuremburg, Leipzig and Munich.
“The European market has been especially successful is translating future-forward ideas into functional new concepts,” Cabanas said. “Conference center design, for example, is trending to more of a residential, even family, feel, with more communal areas and self-service options for delegates.”