Can technology make the expensive boardroom redundant?

Can technology make the expensive boardroom redundant? Photo: Peter Braig

Boardrooms say a lot about an organisation. In the past it was all about the view, the panelled walls and rare art collections.

The contemporary boardroom is more likely to possess the latest communications technology and in more and more cases a room for the board no longer exists.

“It is quite possible that in five to 10 years' time individuals will be sitting somewhere with an iPad-on-steroids rather than at a table,” interiors principal of HBO+EMTB, Simon Xiberras, says.

The architects recently worked with Microsoft to redesign some of its offices in Asia. As well as taking an activity-based working approach (ABW), they fitted offices with video conferencing, smart whiteboards, sophisticated touch-panel room-booking systems and many other automated controls.

Xiberras says it is clients in the legal, banking, financial and IT sectors who are embracing technology in the boardroom and meeting spaces more. However, while technology is important and there is a trend towards ABW, his clients still require private spaces.

“Hybrid solutions, where there is an interweaving of traditional, open-plan and ABW is a strong but less talked-about trend,” he says.

From the adoption of virtual workspaces, to teleconferencing and interactive document projectors, to stylus walls, there is a change in the way organisations are presenting their brand to clients and staff, according to Bates Smart associate director, Kellie Payne.

“Businesses are now more focused on getting their workplace to work harder for them. This involves reviewing the use of space and upgrading areas that are vacant or not used to capacity,” Payne says.

“The boardroom is a prime example of a space that is now working much harder. It has evolved from a stately room that was reserved solely for monthly meetings of the board of directors to a highly equipped, flexible, collaboration space available to all staff.”

And she says that where boardrooms in the past were given the top floor with a view, now many clients request this space be given to staff rest areas.

“One client, newly publicly listed, wanted to emphasise their transparent decision-making – the boardroom is a frameless, clear, glass box facing the reception,” she says.

Consulting firm Veldhoen + Company has worked with Macquarie Bank and the Commonwealth Bank on their ABW offices. Managing partner Luc Kamperman says a board of directors should be able to meet almost anywhere.

“If an organisation works digitally then it helps the overall transparency around information-sharing, which in itself supports the role that the board plays,” he says. “The latest technology shouldn't just be a gadget for the use of board.

“What we see with our clients is that they don't have a typical boardroom any more, [instead] there are a couple of meeting spaces that support boardroom meetings.”

Kamperman says that with the advent of new ways of communicating, especially social media in which virtual meeting places can be constructed, the boardroom will disappear.

“We need to empower the whole organisation in working digitally and helping them use new technologies that make work more productive,” he says.

“Less is more in this case. The focus will be on what type of meetings need to be supported and not so much providing the board with the latest technology.

"We think that more boardroom meetings will take place in the virtual world, rather than getting everyone together. The board can lead the way in how we can have fewer but more productive meetings."