Smarter Meeting Rooms

Meeting Room Tablet in-situ

A version of this was first published on the AnalogFolk Blog

Like many companies AnalogFolk have an ever expanding roster of meeting rooms as well as a growing number of staff, making the mundane task of managing and booking meeting rooms even more laborious. Not being the types to just watch this problem worsen, we set out to make the booking process better.

The first and most immediate problem was that it was hard to organise off the cuff meetings, so we wanted a way to quickly book a meeting room while grabbing a few of our colleagues on the go.

Being a Slack house, our first port of call was to integrate a Slack App into all of our channels that could help with this problem. That way we would get to spend even more time in this awesome chat client! Also, integrating a Slack App into your team’s channels is relatively simple, you can pick what is known as a slash command (a slash followed by a keyword) and then choose where to send this command to; in this case, a web app that will connect us to the Google Calendar API. We decided on using the slash command /rooms to initiate the app. This means that our Slack users can type in /rooms to see which meeting rooms are currently free at that moment, they can then book their chosen meeting room for the intended duration (60 min default) by simply clicking on the name of the meeting room that they wanted.

One of the insights we found with the tool was that sometimes users found themselves in situations where they didn’t have access to Slack, so we decided to extend our little web app outside of the chat interface. Utilising the same Google Calendar integration, we built a small interface for a number of small tablets that will be mounted outside of each meeting room. That way, if you find yourself walking past a meeting room without your computer or your smartphone (rare, I know!), then you’ll be able to see if that meeting room is free and if it is, be able to book it immediately. Obviously, we also wanted this interface to look great and be attention grabbing, so we also implemented unique animations depending on the current status of the room and which meeting was taking place.

As well as these more complex queries, there was one last thing we built into the app. As I’m sure a lot of places experience, we had a small problem with people inconsiderately booking rooms “Just in Case” and then never actually using them. To try and curb this habit, we have a Slack Bot that will message the user that booked the room out 30 minutes before the meeting takes place and asks them if they still need the room. If not, that meeting is cancelled and the room is once again free to use. The interface for this is similar to the previous situation where the user just needs to click the button in the chat interface.

As well as the room booking service, we also installed some modified Amazon Dash buttons (as you can see in the lead image) which allowed users to alert the Office staff that the room was out of coffee, biscuits or champagne (obviously).