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The Science Behind Designing the Perfect Meeting Space

Posted August 4, 2016 By Andrea Duke

Every day, the space we occupy has a direct effect on how we behave. Given the fact that we spend up to 50 percent of our workday in meetings, it’s time to take a look at the space we occupy together, and how to optimize it for productivity, creativity and engagement.


Recent psychological and neuroscience findings have shed light on how specific design elements can significantly affect how we work in a meeting. From lighting to décor to temperature, here’s how to arrange your space to help boost your business.

Teamwork around a table with natural light and laptops

The Power of Plants

You’ve probably noticed that just by walking outside in the middle of the work day you feel rejuvenated. That phenomenon is known as biophilia, a concept formulated by biologist E. O. Wilson in the mid-1980s, which suggests there is an intrinsic bond between humans and other living systems. More specifically, biophilia suggests that we have an innate need to connect with nature and that nature can impact how we think, act and feel.

Recent research from Human Spaces, a biophilic design hub, revealed the psychological impacts of work environments and employee expectations on a global scale and found that the presence of plants had a significant impact on productivity and creativity in the workplace. People who worked surrounded by natural elements exhibited a 15 percent higher creativity level and six percent higher productivity level than those who didn’t.


The Subtleties of Sunshine

The benefits of natural elements in workplaces and meeting rooms doesn’t end with the corner ficus. According to a review by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, we’re affected both psychologically and physiologically but the different light spectra. “Daylighting has been associated with improved mood, enhanced morale, lower fatigue and reduced eyestrain” reports the authors. Daylight also satisfies the need for contact with the outside world.

Exposed to both natural light and plants in meeting spaces, participants are more likely to be productive, creative and focused on the task at hand.


The Weight of Warmth

Ever been in a freezing meeting room and found it significantly harder to concentrate? Well, there’s a scientific reason for that lethargy.

In a small field study, Cornell University ergonomics professor Alan Hedge found that workers are more efficient when they are warm. Why? As the temperature drops, our bodies naturally expend energy trying to keep us warm, making less energy available for concentration.

How warm should your meeting room be? A study out of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the “highest productivity is at temperatures of around 22 degrees Celsius”, or 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit.


The Strength of Sound

In an effort to design a sleeker meeting room, many modern workspaces incorporate glass walls into their room designs. And while glass walls, and even tile floors, are aesthetically pleasing, they are poor conductors for acoustics.

These hard surfaces reflect sound, causing echoes—a disaster in terms of intelligibility. Instead, consider acoustically absorptive elements like upholstered furniture, carpeted floors and upholstered tapestry to diminish resonance and reduce echoes. If you’re looking for modern design elements that are both aesthetically acceptable and acoustically sound, consider installing quadratic-residue diffusors, such as these PaperForms.


The Fundamentals of Finishes

As important as upholstery is for sound absorption, so are the finishes of meeting space furniture for mood and productivity. First and foremost, ditch the rectangular and hard-edged layout for something curvilinear. The latter has been linked to more positive emotions, which in turn facilitates creativity.

In a 2011 study, for example, more than one hundred undergraduates viewed computer-generated models of room interiors and rated those with rounded layouts more pleasing and inviting. In another study, Oshin Vartanian, a neuroscientist at the University of Toronto, found that research subjects “preferred curved spaces over rectilinear ones.” The suggested reason behind this is that most natural elements are rounded in some way; this promotes familiarity, which in turn promotes a harmonious and comforting effect.

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It’s too easy to dismiss the effect of our work environment on our individual and collaborative well-being (and, in turn, the success of our business). For more tips on how to optimize workspaces, read more in our recent interview with Gensler, where we discuss the future of office design.


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