Room for improvement: the top nine challenges for Room Managers
EventMAP’s Chris Thornhill looks at some of the main room booking challenges faced by Room Managers.
Room Managers (or administration staff who manage meeting rooms) often, through no fault of their own, are faced with many difficult challenges when it comes to managing rooms. Usually when there is a problem, the Room Manager gets the blame – or at least must resolve the problem – which can be stressful and distracts them from other administrative duties. From researching this topic and working with many Room Managers over the years, I’ve been able to identify some of the most common issues related to room management. If you’re a Room Manager, let’s see how many of these chime with you:
1. Double Bookings
This is the most stressful issue and is often caused by a system with very loose controls (e.g. Google Calendar), which allows a double booking to exist. Another cause is a spreadsheet system which can be easily amended without any approval process or can be easily corrupted if shared over a network drive, leading to two people thinking they have booked a room at the same time. The other cause of this is people simply making a mistake – they book a room at a specific time and turn up at the wrong time. Whilst this is not a system problem and is easily dealt with, precious meeting time is usually wasted while the issue is being resolved.
2. Visibility of Rooms
I’ve often come across administrators who have not known that a meeting room existed in a building next to them. This often happens at larger organisations which have geo-located facilities and have local processes and procedures to manage rooms. This can lead to rooms being under-utilised and therefore represent poor value for money from an estate management perspective.
3. Visibility of Room Characteristics
I have myself walked over to another building at the other end of a site that I worked at just to look at a room to see whether it would meet my needs for a meeting. Whilst the room booking system (Outlook) told me some basic room information i.e. capacity of eight and a conference phone, I did not know how the room was laid out, whether it was wheelchair accessible, near the lifts, natural light etc. Hence to understand whether the room would meet the needs of the event I was trying to schedule I had to physically visit the room. When I have talked to Room Managers, they often tell me that they get phone calls or e-mails asking about room facilities which take time to respond to.
A common complaint I hear is that all the rooms are booked but half of them are empty. This is a common issue no matter which room booking system is used. There are a couple of main causes and it primarily is down to attitudes and behaviours – i.e. people just don’t cancel room bookings. The other cause is that people can book, particularly recurring bookings, too far into the future and then leave or move on without cancelling their bookings. To overcome this a system can only ever be part of the solution, i.e. making it very easy to cancel, sending out meeting reminders, limiting how far into the future a user can book, make it easy to report and empty room. The other part must come from a clearly communicated space management policy and the important financial reason why it is important not to waste resources.
5. Senior Management Prioritisation
I often hear of a Room Manager being asked to clear a room because the Senior Managers want to hold a meeting. Room Managers are often faced with the unenviable task of ringing up people and having to deal with their disappointment, especially if there is not another room at the desired time. From my experience people can be quite tolerant of this if there is another room for them to go to with similar size and facility characteristics.
6. Privileged Users
Some administration staff are executive or personal assistants to senior executives or management and are regular users of the room booking system as part of their role to manage work diaries for these people. Often, they either wish direct access to the system to book rooms without the need of approval by the room manager or they control a room that can only be used by senior management. This can often fly in the face of a space management policy, but never the less is seen as necessary.
7. Inefficient Use of Rooms
Room efficiency is a factor of how often a room is used for in the normal working day and how many people used the room compared to the capacity – this is often termed as ‘utilisation’. Room booking systems can provide (export) the planned or expected utilisation figures but they need to work with other clever devices that can count people in a room to get actual usage. Room booking systems can help increase efficiency by providing users with search results for rooms which closely match their needs. By having a space management policy that specifies all rooms are visible in your room booking system, users are more likely to find rooms that best suits their needs at the time they need it.
8. Room Condition
When I talk to Room Managers and they tell me how disappointed they are when they find their rooms left in a poor state, as often they are left to tidy it up themselves. The ability to contact the Room Manager to report an issue or poor conditions can help to narrow down the culprit(s) as well as acting as a deterrent.
9. Layout Changes
Some rooms and spaces are flexible, and assistance is needed to rearrange furniture to meet the requirements of the event that is being hosted. Reconfiguration may need the assistance of somebody who has been on a manual handling course, hence it is important that these events are highlighted so that they are serviced adequately.
Did any of those sound painfully familiar? Probably… but if you are in the market for a new or replacement room booking system that solves a lot (or all) of these issues, it can be incredibly difficult to choose between one glossy product or another. Often as a Solution Architect or an IT Manager you’ll be looking for tangibles such as API integration, cloud-based technology, mobile platforms, etc. which most Room Booking products provide. But it’s not so easy to choose a system with confidence that you know has been designed to work around the real-world, systemic problems that end-users must deal with.
EventMAP’s Booker product was developed using a user centric design approach, starting with looking at the biggest challenges users have (highest business value). We then developed a feature-rich solution to solve those problems with a focus on providing a great user experience. A good user experience is an intangible characteristic that can be more difficult to measure, but never the less should be a significant factor in your decision process.
If you are carrying out a review as part of a procurement for a room booking system try using the nine challenges listed above to help you differentiate between a product that functionally works and one that also addresses these challenges and is easy to learn and use. You will find a product with a good user experience that can address these common challenges is more easily adopted than one that is functionally good but is less intuitive, even if, on paper, it seems to provide more capabilities.
Chris Thornhill is EventMAP’s Portfolio Manager and has successfully worked in project management for around 20 years for organisations such as the University of Cambridge and HP. He’s spent the last four years focusing on problems in space utilisation in room booking and timetabling.