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Meeting Rooms in the Era of the Hard Stop


A photo of team members working together
Image: fizkes -
Some people will tell you Albert Einstein was the most brilliant person who ever lived. Others will hold out for Stephen Hawking. My money has always been on whoever invented the phrase, “hard stop” -- two words, one syllable each. Say these magic words and you have put everyone in the meeting on notice: This thing is not going to drag on, because I have another thing I have to do. As long as you say it apologetically rather than imperiously, those to whom the phrase is directed are likely to be relieved to hear it. It means we can all get out of here on time and on to the next thing.
While I hear the phrase “hard stop” deployed most regularly during a call, recently, I feel like I’m witnessing a similar development in the world of physical-space meetings. It seems like, more often than not, when I’ve been on a visit to another company for meetings, my hosts have shown a stronger sense of urgency to conclude the meeting as the big hand nears the 12. And then, at the one-hour mark comes the IRL equivalent of “I’ve got a hard stop.” For those in meeting rooms, the phrase is usually some variation of: “Another group has the room.” And sure enough, when you emerge from the room you’re met by a group of murmuring engineers or marketers or whomever, shuffling with impatience, who proceed to barge straight past you like commuters on a subway platform pushing their way onto the train.
And, again, this is a good thing. The whole process adds a (usually) welcome sense of urgency to a meeting. It’s also a good sign, because it would seem to indicate that companies have deployed meeting-room scheduling software and are using these systems efficiently.
This blog post from Robin, a company that makes room scheduling software, describes some of the refinements and enhancements that are allowing meeting room software to continue to get better at its job. The biggest challenge in making meeting room scheduling work most efficiently, of course, is “abandoned meetings” -- i.e., scheduled meetings that in fact don’t take place for whatever reason. A room that’s been set aside for this meeting will go unused, and if this happens too often, inevitably people will be stranded without anywhere to meet, even though space is available.
Robin has functionality for participants to check into meeting rooms and, more importantly, provides this feature via in-app or in-room reminders, so that people don’t have to remember to go into their schedule and manually perform the function. That ensures the check-ins actually get done, which means you can release a room that hasn’t been checked into, without worrying about conflicts.
Those in the IT world live and breathe the whole concept of resource allocation. You rarely design a network for peak usage, because this would mean overdeploying (in other words, wasting) resources for the vast majority of the time the network is in use. The equivalent in the physical world would be figuring out how many meetings are being held at your peak time, and building that many meeting rooms—which would stand empty for most of the rest of the day.
So as meeting room software gets better and employees get more diligent about using it, we’ll have a few uncomfortable moments as we exit and enter our conference rooms. But it’s a small price to pay to have the resources we need—and to get out of meetings on time.