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WORK DAZE: Squishy sofas in conference room supposed to lure workers back to office

by Bob Goldman | May 30, 2022 at 3:17 a.m.


Chances are, you've been in a meh meeting.

I'm talking about a meeting with fuzzy goals, an aimless agenda and endless hours of meandering mumbles from knuckleheads who never should have been invited in the first place, yourself included.

You probably have your own list of reasons why good meetings go meh, but I'll bet there are two explanations you've never even considered: the design and decor of the conference room. Yet these are exactly the issues on which managers around the country are focused as they try to make the idea of returning to the office more appealing.

If you don't believe me, wait until there is a bio break in your current meeting and read "Say Goodbye to the Boring Conference Room," a recent article by Jane Margolies in The New York Times.

"To help employees transition back to the office after more than two years working from their sofas and dining tables," Margolies writes, "companies are seeking to make their offices more welcoming and conducive to collaboration, conference rooms included."

One company that has really jumped on this concept is LinkedIn, where conference room tables have been eliminated to create "spaces that look more like lounges. Each has a squishy sofa with throw pillows, and plants and books abound." (Note to LinkedIn management -- a squishy sofa sounds appropriate for the squishy ideas that come out of most meetings, but be careful with the throw pillows. There are just too many annoying managers to throw them at.)

While I'm sure you champion the idea of improving office life, don't you somehow doubt your company is likely to care enough or spend enough to make your office truly welcoming?

"Hey, let's skip the beach this vacation," I really can't hear you say. "Let's go to the conference room and sit on the squishy sofa instead."

Another forward-thinking firm, Inspired Capital, was inspired to turn the look of their office over to "a designer who specializes in residential interiors." The result was a "charcoal conference room with a massive, gold-framed antique mirror leaning against a wall and a modernist oak table from Anthropologie placed on the diagonal."

It's a good start, but the designer did not go far enough. If companies want a smoother transition back to the office, they need conference rooms furnished with moth-eaten Barcaloungers artistically positioned on a floor strewn with crumpled pizza boxes and crushed beer cans. And if anything is leaning against a wall it should be a Sony 83-inch Class A90J Series OLED 4K UHD Smart Google TV.

In other words, the conference room should look exactly like your living room, only with a better TV.

It's a win-win! Your boss has you working in the office, and you think you're still working from home.

Another major change raises the question, "Honey, who shrunk the conference room table?" Yes, we are saying no to the traditional rectangular table with the boss at the end and the minions on the sides. (Which really is a shame. The shape worked so well for Henry VIII.) According to the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, it's hip to be square. Why? Because a square table in a square conference room is more "democratic. No more head of table."

Unfortunately, the democratic goal of the square table design will not work at your company. If you do get a square table, the C-level types will simply increase the height of their chairs. Hovering a full foot above the conference room table should be sufficient to satisfy the ego needs of your managers, at least until they grow wings and learn to fly.

Technology will also play an important part in your newly imagined conference room.

"Cameras and microphones have been mounted on walls and ceilings to capture responses of in-person attendees for the benefit of those working remotely," Margolies writes. "Many companies are using a 360-degree camera for the benefit of those working remotely."

Where there aren't cameras there will be screens -- giant screens on two, three or all four walls so that everyone sitting around the table can see everyone who is participating from home. And vice versa.

If you think having cameras on you from 9 to 5 will make you feel like you're in a high-tech horror movie, you're right. Don't be surprised if you look at a screen to see bloodthirsty maniacs in clown suits sneaking up behind you with cleavers in their hands.

But don't be afraid. It's only HR.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at

bob@bgplanning.com


Print Headline: Will a soft sofa bring you back to the office?

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