It’s 2019 and, still, meetings are seen as a necessary evil, and the rooms where they take place are regarded as being in a vacuum. Apart from the parts of our day we are forced to sit inside one, we avoid thinking about meeting rooms. They are like the storage room nobody wants to tidy.

But meetings, whether long or short, big or small, are crucial to any business. To function well, companies must provide employees with well-designed daily spaces for collaboration.

Promoting engagement and participation in meetings builds a positive company culture. Meeting room design matters.

Companies are increasingly recognizing this, partly in response to the demands of a new generation of employees. The millennial workforce looks for flexibility and creativity from workspaces, which has meant a shift in office design. For meeting rooms, this means setting aside quality spaces which are adaptable and convenient, not an afterthought.

Here is an overview of the key trends:

1. Shrink and multiply

The size of a meeting room should conform to its function. So, while vast conference rooms are appropriate for impressing guests or for holding large-scale presentations, they are unsuited to the majority of day-to-day needs. Instead, businesses are recognizing the value of smaller rooms that can be scattered throughout an office.

In terms of floorspace, small meeting rooms are much more efficient, allowing companies to maximize their area by turning nooks and crannies into useful space. Having several such rooms available also cuts down waiting time for people who need a room.

These small meeting rooms benefit from glass walls or doors, which let people outside see if the space is free or not, and also prevents users inside from feeling cooped up or detached from the surrounding office.

They also can have a clarifying effect on meetings themselves, keeping meetings short, sharp and focused. For a phone call, an appraisal, an interview or an informal chat, a focus room can give privacy and concentration for one or two people at a time.

Focus rooms further benefit from sound-proofing, to block out external distractions. Huddle rooms are the next step for small team meetings of up to five or six people. They offer free space for a team to meet spontaneously for informal and outcome-oriented discussions.

2. Prioritize user comfort

If a meeting room will be used with clients, then making a professional impression is important. At the same time, too much emphasis on slick corporate style can be a turn-off for employees. High-backed chairs and imposing steel tables suggest hierarchy and distance, which gets in the way of working together.

This is especially true when a lighter touch is needed, such as when teams are meeting to brainstorm new ideas or discuss a project. Putting people at ease in a meeting room helps them to open up and speak their mind to get ideas flowing more naturally.

Companies are now investing in recreating the casual, cozy atmosphere of a favorite café, for example, rather than the formality of the boardroom. This can be achieved with softer lighting and unconventional furniture, like sofas and beanbags, which let users spread out and relax during a meeting.

Interior colors can also have a powerful effect. Shades of blue or green are conducive to calm, while warmer shades of orange or yellow can raise energy levels up a notch.

The emphasis on making people comfortable in meeting rooms is not about giving them a place to slob out — but about making space for them to feel informal and relaxed, not stifled by an “at-work” feeling.

3. Make space flexible

Just as comfort is becoming more important in meeting room design, so too is flexibility. There is growing recognition that people benefit from feeling they can own a meeting space and adapt it to their immediate needs, be it a video call, a presentation or a team huddle.

A lot of this has to do with furniture. Rigid seating plans, like bulky tables and high-backed chairs, can lock down the room and prevent participants from getting into the swing of their meeting. It forecloses new possibilities: to break into smaller teams or to shift from one activity to another.

A more flexible setup encourages activity to reflect the dynamic ways we work nowadays, moving between different tasks and skills. Companies can accommodate this with lightweight furniture that offers freedom of maneuver.

Chairs and small tables on wheels let people reposition themselves and swivel. Screens and partition walls are also useful tools to divide a large single space into different areas for different task groups.

This also has clear economic advantages. A space that can be reconfigured in a minute or two like this yields better possibilities for collaboration and can be customized for different teams.

4. Select the right tech

The more tech, the better? Not necessarily. Technical issues can kill meetings, wasting time and energy for everyone involved. Common problems like a bad Wi-Fi connection or missing HDMI cable can ruin the most painstaking of preparations.

A raft of new technologies is poised to make such awkward moments a thing of the past, however, and offer new ways of working together (especially useful when not everyone can be in the same office at once).

If meetings are about sharing information, AV equipment is an extremely important tool. Especially in large format meetings with big audiences, images must be clear and sharp and visible to everyone. Though projectors are becoming more sophisticated, large format displays tend to offer better visuals and combined with touch capabilities, offer a smoother and more natural level of interactivity.

These include new collaborative tools like interactive whiteboards and smart surfaces. Whatever gets drawn or written is captured digitally and can be shared instantly across different displays for real-time editing that makes presentations more interactive and shared documents accessible.

Powerful, interactive displays are being combined with enhanced video conferencing software, so that people working remotely are able to feel more integrated into team meetings. Meanwhile, multiple displays make it easier to do many things at once, across screens, together. It means meeting rooms are getting closer to a point at which users can seamlessly view, present and engage with content across different platforms.

Managing all these different gadgets, fortunately, is also getting easier. New systems are available that centralize the control of a room’s functions from the AV equipment to lighting and room temperature to a single unit. Wireless connectivity helps keep meetings tangle-free and streamlined.

Prices for these new technologies are coming down but investment is still necessary. So, it is best to be selective. As with any aspect of meeting room design, it comes down to understanding the key requirements of a room in order to equip it with the most relevant tools for its users.