11 essential questions to ask when selecting a meeting room

With digital transformation in full swing, new technology can be called upon to optimize work processes and increase productivity. No wonder the industry of meeting room signage is exploding, with electronic signs cropping up on every corner like artisan coffee shops. At the moment there are over 40 room-booking signs available on the market, five times as many than a year ago, and the trend shows no signs (pardon the pun) of slowing down.

With so many options available, the choice of meeting room booking is anything but simple. And yet all the lists in the world will not aid in your choice if you don't know what to look out for. Here is the checklist of the things a company should consider when looking for a meeting room booking solution. Thinking about the following before making a purchase will ensure a good fit and a happy office.

1. How would you like to schedule your meetings?

Would you like to schedule your meetings on a mobile app, a desktop, or on a display attached to your meeting room door? If you opt for scheduling software, you'll be able to book your conference rooms and pull up the meeting schedule on your mobile, tablet or PC. That will give you a lot of freedom to organize your meetings wherever you are.

If you prefer to have that information displayed at the door as well so you can quickly check what's coming up as you walk past the door, you'll need to purchase a display like an iPad or something similar to go with the software. An iPad though can be better employed for something else than merely displaying meeting room status. Purchasing meeting room displays that have the software built right in, will give you the best of both worlds -- the ability to schedule on the go and on the spot.

2. Which type of content will your meeting room sign display?

If you need the meeting room scheduling display to show basic meeting information and if the room is free or in use, you don't need a spaceship. It's just going to slow you down. The best option here is going to be a digital door display with only the above key features and, if you don't have the option of plugging in the device directly, a long battery life.

If you want to display demanding graphics or video, LCDs will be your only option. That will require wiring, which is an eyesore, or requires the office to be modified in some way to hide it away. You can avoid that by choosing a conference room display with power over Ethernet or a wireless option.

3. How will the meeting room sign be powered?

Most of the solutions on the market are battery-powered, which solves the problem of not having an available electrical outlet. The battery on wireless LCD displays will drain out relatively quickly because of the screen's power consumption and someone will need to be tasked with charging them every day or two.

On the other hand, electronic paper displays that give the feel of regular paper use less energy compared to LCDs and offer months of autonomy. E-paper is currently the most energy efficient option on the market, so if green is something you think about when choosing new office tech, you can't go greener than that.

E-paper meeting room displays will also prove a really good fit if you intend to only display basic meeting information rather than stream video or display a slideshow. Having power over Ethernet is another option, though it's not without its challenges.

4. Which surface will the meeting room sign be mounted on?

Glass meeting rooms are becoming increasingly popular due to their aesthetic appeal and affordability. Mounting devices on glass, however, is somewhat trickier since it requires brackets, which need to be installed with care not to shatter the glass. Furthermore, if the devices require a direct source of power, there will be cables going from the device to the power source.

Easy-stick solutions will get everything up and running much quicker than displays requiring cables. Plus, you'll be able to move the devices if you miss the Wi-Fi hotspot or simply decide you need the display somewhere else.

If you're in the process of moving offices, you can plan these things in advance. Otherwise, cordless, easily attachable solutions with a long battery life and wireless connectivity are worth exploring since in the long-run, these options will save overhead time and money.

The choice of connectivity type is crucial: While RF modules, for example, use little power, they will require dedicated routing equipment, adding to overall maintenance and upkeep costs. A Wi-Fi meeting room manager, on the other hand, can easily integrate into the existing connectivity features of an office.

Selecting conference room displays with a wide viewing angle will also be beneficial. That way you won't need to walk right up to the door to check which meeting is going on or when it ends, but you'll be able to see that from an angle. This will make locating the right room easier and quicker.

5. What about design?

While it might seem unimportant at first, good design is actually key when selecting a conference room schedule display. A well-designed product will join together form and function and create the best user experience possible. In digital meeting room labels, this means a product which is simple to use and is uncluttered. Key in this is user friendliness and a seamless integration with the office space. Nobody wants a device with a clumsy, complicated user interface that above all emits light pollution. Choosing among the booking systems awarded for their design will guarantee you won't regret the product down the line. To find the right meeting scheduler for your office, first establish what your company's needs are and spend some time researching the options.

6. How do you want to interact with the room booking solution?

If your employees are always on the move, they'll probably want to schedule on the move too, so checking if the room scheduler can be controlled by a mobile app is crucial. It will give your team more freedom and streamline the process. On the other hand, if your employees are mostly found in-office, they'll want to have the option of walking up to a room, checking when a room is going to become available, and booking on the spot. That means a touchscreen display will be the way to go.

Some providers offer localized user interfaces, which is an added bonus. Not everyone speaks English and there's no need to force English-only devices onto people if they prefer their own mother tongue. A number of providers offer meeting room management system with advanced sensors and analytics, which can be a really great addition if there's a person assigned to monitor them and take action that ultimately saves the company money. Otherwise, they're just an added cost.

7. Which calendars will the room booking solution support?

Going with the guideline of keeping things simple, it is worth exploring solutions, which integrate with the technology you are already using. Checking whether the chosen room manager supports the calendaring options your company already uses will save a lot of headache and complex integrations. Look for compatibility with Google Apps, Office 365, Microsoft Exchange, iCal, and other calendaring solutions to avoid having to learn a completely new scheduling system, costing the office time, efficiency and money.

8. How will the room booking solution be hosted?

There are two types of hosting: on-premise and cloud-based. Today, everything is moving to the cloud. It's a very popular option for companies, big and small, to use the provider's servers to run the scheduling software. But for some organizations, usually large ones, on-premise hosting is still obligatory. They consider it highly important since they want to keep all of their data in house, stored on their own servers with their IT departments looking over the matter.

If you don't already have your own servers, opting for on-premise hosting will result in a hefty bill since you'll first need to set up the servers and possibly even employ an IT specialist to maintain them. Plug and play solutions hosted in the cloud are quicker to implement and won't need a specialist to take care of them. Also, if you intend to scale the system, the cloud will minimize your workload, with provider subscriptions often ending up being cheaper than paying for overhead company IT. On the other hand, on-premises infrastructure may be what is necessary for your company to comply with the security and encryption demands set. The key takeaway here: Know your company requirements and abilities before settling on hosting.

9. Will the room booking system be implemented in one or in many locations?

Managing offices in different locations, especially around the world, can pose a problem for your IT department. Software solutions usually aren't too complex to set up and use, but if you want to display the meeting information at the meeting room door, you'll need to first install the scheduling software on the display of choice before you can have them shipped to your branches.

The other option is choosing a wireless conference room scheduling display with the software built in. This way you can simply have them shipped to multiple locations, where an office assistant can put them up and you don't need to worry about integrating the display with the scheduling software.

10. What's your budget?

A big part of every decision is based on the available budget. What's key here is looking at the hidden costs. Buying software-only solutions will entail purchasing some sort of display as well, which is an important element to factor in. Choosing devices that were developed for meeting room booking purposes means you have the software built in already. This eliminates unnecessary costs and can prove to be more cost effective than mixing and matching by yourself. Plus, there's no need to set up the software on the device.

It's also vital that you align the competition so you're not talking apples and oranges. With providers who offer a one-time cost, pricing is straightforward, however, some providers charge by room or by the size of your team, some charge you annually, some monthly. Be sure you're looking at the same set of factors across providers before you make your final decision.

11. Who will support your room booking system?

Finally, it's good to decide in advance who's going to maintain the meeting room booking system. Is this going to be the office manager, an assistant, the IT department or someone else? If the room booking solution is complex, it's a good idea to consider the drain on resources before continuing with your selection process.

Also important is the support your solution provider will offer if anything goes amiss. Every provider wants to give you the best product possible, but sometimes fails when it comes to customer support. And when there's a problem, waiting for an email is just plain inefficient. Direct contact and a responsive support team will save you time and ultimately money.

Software updates are also important here. Responsive (and responsible) companies will keep you covered on that end and let you know when new updates are ready, what they do and why they're important for you.

It isn't easy to choose a new tech solution to bring into your office, so it's important to first establish what you need.

Researching the market is vital so you can make a confident decision and choose the solution that suits your company the best. The key here is to choose a meeting room schedule display that has been developed as digital signage for offices from the ground up. It wasn't just repurposed to do the job, but was created for the specific purpose of scheduling.

Matej Zalar is the CEO of Visionect and an office productivity expert. The company's flagship product, Joan Meeting Room Assistant, is a digital door label and meeting room scheduling solution with impeccable energy efficiency.

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