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Room to improve


When it comes to cutting costs across the workplace, room booking is often overlooked but, as Guy Moody discovers, trends in meeting room management are rapidly changing as businesses attempt to drive down costs.

 

By Guy Moody


22 April 2010

 

Times have been difficult over the past eighteen months, and despite electioneering talk from the politicians things could remain tough for the foreseeable future. It’s a situation that has forced many businesses to critically examine virtually every aspect of their overhead in order to protect profitability.
However, as Service Works Group MD Gary Watkins suggests, there may be one area of spend that has slipped under the radar. “The prevailing economic climate has forced businesses to make significant changes and scrutinise costs more closely than ever before,” he says. “Despite this, one area which is often overlooked is that of resource utilisation. The typical business faces day-to-day issues of double booked meeting rooms, often resulting in meetings being postponed or held at external meeting facilities.”

Additionally, points out Simon Willcox, product development manager at PeopleCube, many organisations have undertaken the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), which along with ever increasing lighting and heating costs, has put more pressure on managing meeting rooms to ensure that they are either fully utilised, or closed down when not in use.

The trend in meeting room management has been to facilitate this driving down of costs. Watkins says that systems are now very easy to use, have connectivity to building and visitor management systems, and can flexibly restrict user access to enable access in line with job role or geographic location. Making or cancelling a meeting becomes no more than a few mouse clicks for any employee. Because the system is so accessible, staff are encouraged to use it, and as a result of in-built reporting modules, businesses have a much clearer picture of meeting room utilisation.

Interrogate to accumulate

The importance of usable management data is reinforced by Willcox who says that property and facilities managers need to interrogate every aspect of the data provided, for example actual versus planned utilisation, or reviewing the differing room layouts requested. Good quality information enables workspace planners to determine the size and number of rooms, or to provide informal breakout areas as an alternative to formal meeting rooms.

Paul Statham, MD at RNM Condeco, believes that the problem of meeting room unavailability is simply one of perception in many organisations. “Often when we are invited into a company the first thing we will be told is that there are never any meeting rooms available,” he explains.  “People become very territorial about meeting rooms. It’s a very emotive subject”.

We know the score. If a meeting’s in doubt, someone will provisionally book three rooms on four different dates. The next person can’t get a room, the spiral tightens and external meeting rooms are booked. Statham suggests that there is often a disconnect with the budgets for external meeting rooms being held at departmental level, so that while the FM is funding a booked, but otherwise empty, meeting room, a team meeting may well be going on in a hotel just down the road. The trick is to break the circle and give people the confidence to know that rooms will be available on demand.

Condeco’s system uses display screens outside of the meeting room and users are required to check-in either by entering a PIN or by swiping their RFID security pass against the screen. Failure to do so and their meeting is ‘bumped’ with the room becoming available to other users. As Statham explains, “we are not asking people to make any changes in their behaviours except to sign in.” By freeing up unused meeting rooms people will gradually develop the confidence in knowing that a room will be available. The culture of defensive block booking disappears.

But Statham advises that moving to an electronic room booking system is not a fit and forget solution. He says there is a real need to use the reporting modules and manage the system together with the expectations of the users. For instance, meetings are traditionally booked between 10am to  12pm in the morning and 2pm and 4pm in the afternoon. Users must be encouraged to think outside of those time slots, and that he says, ‘can be a real challenge’. Statham also observes that video conferencing equipment tends to be placed in the largest rooms; this he questions.

Ian Gelling, sales director at MASS, believes the cost of an integrated room booking system is a major barrier to smaller companies and MASS is looking to make room booking available as a low cost stand-alone package. Gelling sees a gap at the lower end of the market and expects that their new product, using the functionality derived from their fully integrated systems will meet the need of a large number of SMEs. He says that the system will be easy to use as it incorporates ‘the sophisticated front end’ developed from existing products.

The system will be hosted on the web and to access it the user will only need internet access through a browser. Removing the need to buy a software package will be a big advantage in that no capital investment will be required; funding coming from the revenue budget. Additionally the company wouldn’t need to supply its own servers or IT expertise before using the system. This could prove an ideal solution for a small company with a large field force needing access to the company’s meeting rooms on an ad hoc basis.

Gelling sees a further development as the provision of room booking as ‘software as a service’, providing a room booking facility as required, for instance during a company’s early days to avoid high start-up costs.

Modern systems can tell you that a room booking has been taken up. Spot checks can identify abusers of the system. But how do you actually know that you’re still getting value for money and that staff are not holding an intimate soiree for two in a facility designed for 12? A new development from PeopleCube, the PeopleCounter, a discreet camera designed to check meeting room occupancy will tell you. That’s how.
 
Guy Moody is a freelance journalist




FM QUICK FACTS

•  Fully integrating meeting room and desk booking systems could reduce the premises space requirement by up to 30 per cent

• Installing real time display screens can increase room utilisation to almost 85 per cent

• 20 per cent of meeting rooms have video conferencing equipment

• The annual cost of an average sized meeting room in an area like docklands is around £25k per year


Case Study: BNY Mellon
Recently voted the Safest Bank in the US BNY Mellon is a global financial services company employing approximately 8,000 staff within the UK and Ireland alone.

BNY Mellon recently relocated their UK headquarters to Queen Victoria Street in Blackfriars, London. The building contains a significant number of meeting and conference rooms and it is the responsibility of BNY Mellon’s facilities department to ensure that the rooms are used to their full potential. According to facilities manager Chris King, “All meeting rooms had previously been booked via our facilities helpdesk which was a considerable administrative load. We wanted to ensure that the new building was run as efficiently as possible, and we needed a system that was flexible enough to cope with our demands.”

Each room had to be assigned a “permission level” to ensure that it could only be booked by the appropriate level of employee. In addition, BNY Mellon wanted to impose departmental and geographic restrictions to certain facilities.

BNY Mellon implemented Service Works’ QFM Room Bookings, in parallel with a major upgrade of their existing QFM system. A move to the web-based application made the system securely accessible to all European staff, irrespective of their location. Meeting rooms have been configured to conform to one of four differing permission levels, enabling BNY Mellon to flexibly restrict which staff can book shared meeting resources. Configurable layouts can be defined in the system, for example, BNY Mellon’s board room has nine possible layouts. The system also allows for custom reports specific to their business to manage cross charging for catering and other services relating to room bookings.