Smart Work Center

Smart Work Center Mockup (Source:

It’s easy to dismiss the recent chatter about the growing "mobile workforce" as hype. While the images of developers hacking away in the corner of a hip local coffee shop , or of 20-something startup founders teleconferencing from their one-bedroom apartments have become ubiquitous, this is the the exception rather than the norm. The reality for most people working at a traditional company job is still the commute, the cubicle, and the conference room.

That’s the reality now, but will it change? To answer this question we reached out to experts in the field of workspace innovation and got in touch with Gordon Feller, Director of Urban Innovation at Cisco. Feller provided us with some convincing arguments for why the mobile workforce is poised to become a much more significant percentage of the working population, and that this change will come about sooner than we think.

What's Holding The Mobile Workforce Back?

The fact of the matter is that today we already have the tools to enable a mobile workforce. The availability of mobile devices, cloud computing and cheap teleconferencing solutions make it not just possible, but easy.

The problem, says Feller, is that "Big companies have a cultural bias toward 'Let's get our people into a shared space which is secure.'" It's this bias that keeps employees chained to their desks, spending 1 to 2 hours each day on the road and in traffic jams while their vehicles spew an untold amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The reasons for this bias are easy to understand. First, there are concerns about the security of proprietary data. If employees could access sensitive data remotely, the chances of this data falling into the wrong hands would naturally increase. Second, requiring employees to arrive and leave work at predetermined hours guarantees a certain baseline of productivity. Finally, there's a certain amount of synergy that is lost when members of a team don't meet daily in the same space.

The Missing Ingredient: Smart Workspaces

Smart Work Center Commons Area

A Smart Work Center Commons Area

These are valid points, and as far as a large company's needs are concerned, a local coffee shop with free wifi doesn't cut it. This is where the "Smart Workspace" comes in.

A "Smart Workspace," as Feller defines it, is "a space that could provide something that was uniquely suited to the hyperproductive worker who was dropping in sometimes at odd hours and wanted services available whether it was broadband connectivity, conference services, cafe services, child care services, or high definition video conferencing services that were affordable and accessible."

If enough of these smart workspaces were established in suburban areas, then not only would the daily commute become less of an ordeal, but the ability to share ideas freely with other bright professionals from different companies could lead to breakthroughs in productivity.

"There are companies like Google and Cisco," says Feller, "who have decided that 'we want to encourage our people to be in mixed spaces where we rub elbows with folks who don't have the same color badge…We want to enable [this]because we think that people are happier and more innovative and more intelligent rubbing elbows with people who are different and not in the same company.'"

One question that always comes up when it comes to smart workspaces is data security. Could employees in mixed spaces be a security risk? While this is a valid concern, there are ways to mitigate these risks.

According to Feller, in the case of Google, the employees are in workspaces separated by non-Google people. So while certain floors are secure and may require some form of ID, there are other areas that are shared spaces. The whole space, however, is designed for a more collaborative work environment. This is where people can bring work that’s not proprietary and not requiring a higher level of security.

The Push Toward the Smart Workspace

Of course, companies like Google with deep pockets have always sought out new and creative ways to keep their employees happy and productive. But, just because Google is doing something different, doesn’t mean that other companies will.

What makes the push towards having more Smart Workspaces different is demand. The talented millennials who refuse to be chained to a desk will naturally migrate to companies who begin to provide Smart Workspaces. And, it’s not just millennials either who are driving the change.

The commute, the cubicle and the conference room which, says Feller, "were once staples of our work lives…[are] going the way of the rotary phone. And companies around the world, not just Cisco and other technology companies [but] really every kind of company in the world are embracing the kind of technology that lets their employees do their jobs…from anywhere at any time and that means not just higher productivity but a different experience of work itself and a different work-life balance. And everybody wants that even if you're not 20-something."

Smart Work Centers: Early Successes

While Smart Workspaces have a ways to go in the states, they have already proven to be successful in Korea and the Netherlands.


"Korea had the benefit of some push from the top," Feller says, "The Prime Minister's office launched a national smart work strategy…and said to Hyundai and to LG and to Samsung and said to others that traffic flows in and around our cities are getting to be severely congested. Our people are being overworked by the commute, and it's not a productive use of our human capital." The solution then was to use the abundance of available real estate in suburban areas and to create smart work centers away from city centers. So far, the experiment has proven to be a success, and has provided a better quality of life for the employees who have taken advantage of it.

According to a report sent to us by Tony Kim, who has been spearheading smart work initiatives in Korea, so far 310,000 (10%) of Korean government officials did work (at least once a week per month) at 10 government smart work centers, and the target is 940,000 (30%) consistently doing smart work by 2015. This change alone should save 170M USD in business travel cost per year.

The Netherlands

Netherlands Smart Work Centers

Smart Work Centers in the Netherlands (via

In the Netherlands, the growth was more "bottom up", thanks to the work of Bas Boorsma in Amsterdam, Feller's other key colleague. Bas and Tony Kim have been global spearheads for Cisco's rapid push forward on "Work/Life Innovation." The mayor of the city of Almeer, a residential suburb of Amsterdam, set up one of the first smart work centers. After the success of that experiment, the Double U network, a collaboration between Cisco and the city of Amsterdam, set about their goal of "Providing every professional in the Netherlands with a highly professional and socially conducive work place within 15 minutes bicycle distance." So far so good, as there are now more than 120 smart work centers and counting.

The Importance of Aggregation Services

If and when the Smart Workspaces movement does take off worldwide, one issue that will arise is fragmentation. A company that once only had to oversee a few buildings of employees would have to keep track of their employees scattered over a myriad of suburban Smart Workspaces. It’s aggregation services like Worksnug in the UK and eVenues in the US that are poised to help employers deal with the increasing complexity of finding and securing reliable work and meeting spaces.

"If I'm the employer and I have a distributed and scattered and fragmented workforce I'd like to be able to push my people to use that common platform for reservation and for rating and for site comparisons because I as the employer would like to know what's the uptake…[and] the benefit," says Feller.

Feller also mentions that these aggregation tools could provide analytics and reporting on "how many millions of tons per year of reduced greenhouse gas emissions or how many billions of miles per year of reduced road travel" can result when a company implements a smart work program.

The Smart Work Movement: Just a Matter of Time?

Smart Workspaces provide a "third place” - unique from either home or the office. They can offer a host of unique services under one roof like a luxury hotel, but also a social culture that makes them more appealing than being a lone employee telecommuting from home.

Changes that have already taken root in both Korea and the Netherlands offer hope and momentum. Highly sought after talent are continuing to demand Smart Workspaces and the companies that don’t cater to these demands are going to lose out. Innovative companies like Google and Cisco are already leading the way, and it’s just a matter of time before others follow. Finally, the tools that that make Smart Workspaces possible continue to be developed and refined.

Want to learn more about smart work?

If you want to learn more about the smart work movement, and the recent developments in Smart workspaces, check out the blog at On the site you'll also find information about the "Meeting of the Minds" conference where smart work related topics will be discussed. This year the conference will be in Toronto from September 9th through the 11th. It's an annual invitation only leadership summit where debates related to the future of smart work and the smart city is taking place. The whole event will also be webcast live.

Gordon FellerAbout Gordon Feller: Gordon Feller is Director at Cisco Systems, based at their global HQ in San Jose, California. As the Convenor of "Meeting of the Minds" he's bringing together in September a group of leaders to Toronto for discussions about such topics as smart work. The unique group of sponsoring organizations includes: tech leaders (Toyota, Cisco, IBM, Philips, Schneider, Itron, Jones Lang LaSalle); engineering / design leaders (HOK, Golder); a non-profit innovator, 1 university and 3 foundations (Evergreen, Ryerson Univ., Annie E Casey Fdn., Ford Fdn., Lincoln Institute for Land Policy), government leaders (Inst. On Governance); and publishers (Governing Magazine; IT in Canada Magazine; Renew Canada Magazine).

Mike Penney, a pro photographer, recently took some photos of a $500,000 boat. It was sold sight unseen within 48 hours based on the pictures alone.

Not only that, but it turns out that this boat had been on the market for a year with somebody else's cell phone photos and nobody would even look at it. "All we had to do," says Mike "was show people what the boat really looked like."

Of course, showing people what a boat or a fancy event space or a two million dollar condo really looks like is easier said than done. We had a chat with Mike, a veteran in the industry who has done countless photos for hotels, real estate, and events, as well as large corporate clients like Microsoft and Angie's List about just what goes into a pro photo, and why if you're selling anything online that has real value, why hiring a pro may be your best option.

What's in a pro photo?

I know what you're thinking. How hard can it be? What makes photos taken by a professional besides the fact that they might have better, more expensive equipment? Can't you just take your handheld camera, read a few tips from some photography blogs and get something that comes close?

If you think you can, you might want to check out this photo below.

The WAMU Theater Charity Event

WAMU Theatre

What it took to make this photo:

  • This above image of the WAMU theater in Seattle looks like just one picture, but that's actually misleading. It's actually more like a combination of five different exposures combined in Photoshop.
  • Each exposure is taken from the same point and captures the detail of the white and blue in the overhead fabric.
  • The tables are actually much darker than the ceiling so a separate exposure was need to capture that.
  • Finally, the floors were painted darker in Photoshop to show a pool of light at each table.

The result is a scene fit for a charity fundraiser event that aimed to raise a million dollars for pediatric hospitals. Not a bad picture for a space that's essentially a parking garage under a football stadium. Try to do this with a cell phone.

Washington State University Dinner

WSU Alumni Dinner

This photo above was taken for a Washington State University Alumni dinner

What it took to make this photo:

  • This is actually a basketball court… in the dark behind the curtains are rows and rows of seats.
  • This was done with one 15 second long exposure. Except the video screens were cut from another much shorter exposure or they would be pure white.
  • During the 15 second exposure I am painting, with a hand held spot light, the front 3 tables to lighten up the flowers, dishes and chairs.
  • It took several attempts to get everything perfectly exposed and without the work crew showing up. You can still see a couple of ghost workers if you look closely; the long exposure usually renders them transparent.

5th Avenue Theater Event

5th Avenue Theatre

The stage is set up for a dessert service after the annual gala auction. The picture needs to show something of the theatre, of course, yet it has to stop the action of the people in the shot.

What it took to make this photo:

  • The camera iso is set higher than normal at 640
  • f is set to 4.5 for a little depth of focus
  • the shutter is 1/40th of a second
  • the flash is set to under-expose by 1 stop
  • And, of course, you have to hold the camera still. Mike does that AND shoots 3 to 5 shots quickly to make sure he has a good one.

Before You Hire a Pro: Some Things You Can Do Yourself

We've established that professional photos really do make a difference when presenting a meeting room or event space, but we know that many of the venue owners who use our site may not be prepared to invest in photos just yet. We asked Mike about this and he offered some tips.

Tip #1: Know Your Customer
"My first question to a lot of people–and you'd be surprised how many people cannot answer this question–is: ‘who are we selling to?" After all someone who wants to do a wedding will have completely different ideas than the corporate event planner.

If we're after the corporate event planner, for example, then the room needs to be a little bit on the sparse side in terms of decoration with perhaps the idea that you can serve coffee and water. If your photo is marketing toward the the wedding professional, however, you may want to add more colorful decorations.

Tip #2: Remove Junk and Clutter
"A lot of times I see too much junk in the room," says Mike, "The client doesn't care about your personal decorating tastes. They're coming there for a meeting and they're going to bring what they want to bring."

Do your best to make your space clean and neat. Be sure to take all wastebaskets, loose power cords, and stacks of paper out of view. Also, make sure that all chairs are at the same level.

Tip #3: Put Something Interesting on the Table
"Some of the better hotels and meeting room places…have their own corporate identity on their writing pads and ballpoint pens. They may even have their own labeled bottled water." says Mike.

The point is, a lot of meeting rooms look the same. "It's a lot of beige and brown" says Mike. Putting a vase of flowers in the middle of can really add a lot.

Tip #4: Choose The Right Time of Day
If a room is going to be used in the evening, take the picture in the evening. If the room will be used in the afternoon, then take the picture in the afternoon. You want to present a room in such a way that it feels as though someone can step right in and use it.

Making the Investment

Obviously there's a lot that goes into venue photography and the above tips will only go so far. If you're really serious about selling, whether you are renting out your space on eVenues or listing a house on a real estate website, investing in photography can be on the most important things you can do. Great photos that sell require years of skill, experience as well as the right equipment in order to show a venue as it really is. And that's the name of the game.

Recycling bins ready to go at the 2008 Democratic National Convention

Over the past year, we've noticed that the blogs and the trade magazines have used terms like "Green Meetings," "Green Event Planning," and "Sustainable Event Management" with increasing frequency.

But just what does it mean to produce a "green" meeting? Are there any real standards that meeting planners need to follow in order to call their meetings and events "green," or is it all just "Greenwashing"? Is it a PR ploy to make the companies and organizations producing meetings and events seem more environmentally conscious, when in their day to day operations they may not actually be practicing what they preach?

To get a better perspective on this issue, we reached out to some folks in the meetings industry, and had a chat with Jaime Nack, president of Three Squares Inc., an environmental consulting agency that helped out with such large events as Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, and the Democratic National Conventions in 2012 and 2008. Jaime and her team also did the logistics and greening for the last two conferences for the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC). Says Tamara Kennedy, executive director of GMIC, Jaime's team was "Phenomenal and helped us exceed some of our greening goals by working with the local team" at the conference. From her, we learned a lot about just what it means to put on green meetings and events.

Jaime Nack

First of all, green meetings and events aren't just greenwashing. While there may indeed be some greenwashing out there, sustainable event management goes far beyond the surface PR ploy. In fact, according to what we found, many companies actually want to keep their green agendas private.

"For a lot of [our] clients," says Jaime, "It's just something that's part of their internal fiber or their corporate culture and so they want to make sure that they're walking the talk and they're doing it right. But it might not be something that they want to promote externally for fear that if they promote that they're doing X someone might try to dig deeper and say 'Well, what about Y and Z?'"

Many organizations may want to be more sustainable and more green, but they may not be able to comply with all the rigorous industry standards all at once. Thus, smaller gestures like producing a green event can be misinterpreted by the press who say that ABC Corp. is greenwashing when really they're just taking the first small steps toward sustainability. Because of this, many companies and organizations will keep their green initiatives, including their green events, private affairs.

The Lasting Impact of Green Meetings and Events

"That's all well and good," you might say. "But what kind of lasting impact do green meetings and events actually have?" After all, an event is a one-off deal, and while it's nice to produce one sustainable event, what about all the other events out there that aren't sustainable? Couldn't our efforts be better directed elsewhere?

Colorado Convention Center Recycling Station

When talking with Jaime, however, we found that one of the most rewarding aspects of her job was actually the lasting impact her events had. By showing venue staff, (kitchen staff, housekeeping staff, facilities staff, etc.) easy ways to make their event more sustainable, they were then able to adopt those practices for future events regardless of whether or not those future events were planned with sustainability in mind. It's this very light bulb going off, this idea that venue staff and even the people attending the meeting can adopt the same sustainability practices themselves, that is most rewarding for the green event planner.

As Three Squares continues to produce events, the more impact they have. The Colorado Convention Center, for example, kept compost stations on as part of their system ever since the Democratic Convention there in 2008, an event where Jaime and her team helped manage sustainability practices. Also, several smaller hotels whose staff Jaime's team trained decided to keep doing what they were advised to do simply because it made sense as far as sustainability was concerned.

"[Event professionals] live and thrive on that rush of the events coming up--but then when it's over, it's over, and we move on to the next one" says Jaime. "We kind of wish that we had a little bit more impact than the couple of hours when folks were there on-site at the event. So I think this allows you to have that impact…and leave a legacy behind."

What Can Planners Do to Make Their Meetings and Events More Sustainable?

We've covered the "why" of green meetings and events, but what about the "how?" If you're an event planner and you're reading this, how do you get started making your events more sustainable?

We put this question to Jaime and she said that that the key to starting out in the sustainability biz is research. Look at the industry standards that are out there and start to familiarize yourself with those standards and with the tools and resources that are available online.

Once you've familiarized yourself with the standards, "You're able to make choices," says Jaime, "Simple choices: food that you order for menus and choosing not to buy materials that are made thousands and thousands of miles away and shipped over with maybe not fair labor laws in that country. You have the choice and the way of making recommendations and finding and sourcing locally and being able to even price match."

When choosing a meeting space, consider sustainable venues like the io/LA meeting space pictured above. Just so you know, you can use eVenues' advanced search feature to find sustainable and LEED certified venues in the cities where we list venues ;)

Jaime emphasizes that planners are the ones spending money, either "their money or spending their clients money, and they can do it in a way where it's having a positive impact." Having the right knowledge is the way to begin making this impact.

Sustainable Meetings and Events: How the Pros Do It

Green event planners are generally hired to do two things: Plan green events or meetings from the ground up, or to be brought in to manage the sustainability aspect of larger events.

Obviously, when planning an event from the ground up, a lot of the decisions you make will be the same. Now, however, you'll be adding sustainability to the list of criteria you have when making a decision about this or that venue and this or that supplier.

In these situations, Jaime and her team are essentially setting the tone from the venue RFP (Request for Proposal) stage on out. They write their specs into the venue RFP and then once they get proposals back from hotels or convention centers they have site visits with those that rank highest according to their own criteria.

On those site visits, they look at everything: from energy, waste, water and transportation to the distance of the venue to the airport. They have a process of doing a site assessment and diving into those details with whomever the venue contact might be so that the venues can follow the correct practices that they need to have in place in order to earn their business.

For those managing just the sustainability aspect of an event, on the other hand, the job is very similar. Planners will most likely be in the conversations about sustainability practices with whomever the lead is on the planning or production side rather than with the suppliers themselves.

While the event planner may be making sure that they're providing enough food for everyone in the room, a sustainability consultant will be looking at what types what type of food is being served. Is it local produce? What types of fish are on the menu? They'll have language that they'll advise their clients to write into all of the BEOs (Banquet Event Orders) which provides bulleted lists of the the types of items that are preferred, like actual spoons instead of wooden stir sticks for coffee, and linen napkins instead of paper napkins. Furthermore, they'll be working hand in hand with the banquet staff to ensure all waste is being cleared in a way that's in line with sustainability standards.

A Bigger Impact Than You Think

Considering that it contributes nearly a trillion dollars to the U.S. economy, the meetings industry is no small potato. Considering how much water, electricity, and fuel gets consumed and how much waste gets produced for all these meetings and events to run smoothly, the consequences to the environment can't be small.

Because of this, it's important that event planners start thinking about sustainability. Planners have the power to encourage venues and suppliers to adopt sustainability practices, practices which will remain in place long after whatever event they happened to have planned is over. Now is the time for planners to to utilize this power and educate more and more people about sustainability and its importance.

Don't know where to start? Try some of these resources:

The 2012 Tampa Republican National Convention

The 2012 Republican National Convention

Televised debates, political rallies, straw polls, town hall meetings, $10,000 a plate fundraisers, and national conventions can be a logistical nightmare. It takes real skill, focus and years of experience to successfully plan for all contingencies and organize all the details.

With the presidential elections just around the corner, we decided to investigate just what goes into a political event, what makes them so challenging, and what it takes to successfully pull one off.

We reached out through our network here at eVenues and got in touch with Julie Ann Schmidt, meeting planner and managing partner at Lithium Logistics. In addition to many state and city level political events, Julie Ann has done work for the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll, as well as managing logistics for the South Dakota Delegation to the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

Julie Ann Schmidt

Julie Ann Schmidt, CMP, CMM

We chatted over the phone and Julie Ann was kind enough to share with us her considerable knowledge of political events. We talked about how she got involved with political events, and discussed just what makes political events different from “regular” events. Finally, Julie Ann also shared some war stories about hurricanes and attempted glitter bombings–more about those below.

Getting Involved in Political Events

While Julie Ann had experience in politics in Wayzata, a smaller city in Minnesota, the job was largely apolitical. Because she wanted to get involved in more politically oriented events, however, she eventually passed up on a promotion and started pitching her services to officials within the party she affiliated herself with.

She told them: “I can door knock. I can work the phone bank just like anyone else, but I can be of more value to you if I’m helping you save money on your events, reduce the risk on your events [and] plan more logistically tight events…Let me bring you the skill set I have because you don’t have that resource as in-depth on your team.”

And that’s how it all started. through her local government connections and by promoting her services as a planner, Julie Ann was given an opportunity in 2008 to work for the RNC in the capacity of the committee on arrangements (COA). The COA is the company that gets formed to execute the RNC every four years. For Democrats it’s the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC). These entities get formed in the city where where a convention is to take place. They hire staff, they employ them, they run the business, then after the convention happens, they close the business.

For Julie, Ann working for the COA was a “Phenomenal opportunity. I knew at the time it was once in a lifetime and I look back and it was THE once in a lifetime [opportunity]…When you work on something that big it’s it’s a big, very big event. I really think the only thing bigger is an Olympics. But yet it’s not as big as an Olympics so that you can still understand the whole event and get to know every part of it,” says Julie Ann.

Political Events: It’s all about connections

As far as doing work for political events, one opportunity has lead to the next. “You work on something, you meet somebody, and all of a sudden there’s another opportunity,” says Julie. Ann

All of Julie Ann’s political business has been referral. She gave one example of how she did some work for the Republican Party of Minnesota’s State Conventions. It just so happened that one of the people she worked with on a State convention became the executive director for South Dakota. Through that connection she was later hired to do their conventions as well.

What Makes Political Events Different?

Political events are a special breed, and while many elements of planning a political event are the same as they are for regular events, there are a few differences. The main areas where differences can be seen are with security, press, the agendas and flow of the events, and it goes without saying, the politics.


Political event planners will often look at security in a different way. For a State Convention the main floor space is just for voting delegates or alternates, so the space needs to be controlled This requires security to control a few access points and it helps keep people who are not credentialed off the floor.

Votes are oftentimes voice votes. If a vote count is needed, people will be asked to stand up and have their vote counted manually. State conventions want to ensure that only the elected delegates or their alternates get to vote, so they’ll often have their own security people doing things in addition to what you think of as traditional security tasks.

Glitter bombing, or the act of dumping glitter on a candidate or political figure as a form of protest, can also be a concern. In fact, during the midwest leadership conference in 2011 that Julie Ann planned, they had had a number of high level speakers and an awareness of potential glitter bombers and they even had pictures of who those people were.

At this particular event, they had someone try to glitter Karl Rove. Since security was on the alert for them, they knew kind of what signs to look for. The glitter bomber approached Karl with a Triscuit box full of glitter but because they were watching, they were able to stop him, knock the box of glitter down, and none of it got on Karl Rove.

After the attempted glittering, they were able to then contain the person and ask Karl, the client putting on the event, and the venue if they wanted to press charges, which, says Julie “is something you’d never do at a corporate event.” The outcome of that was that Karl and the client didn’t press charges but the venue did press trespassing charges because the glitterer had hit somebody else at their building before, “Because,” explains Julie, ”from their point of view as a venue, he’s being dangerous and disruptive [and] could make clients not want to come.”

The Press

The press is another element for meeting planners to be aware of. “Rarely do you have press show up at a corporate annual meeting and you certainly don’t have press risers and mult boxes at the back for multiple cameras or a sectioned-off area of the floor for press,” says Julie Ann.

If you’re doing a convention or similar event you’ll be giving space on the floor to press and that’s something you’ll have to plan for. If you’re doing something in a more open area like the Iowa Straw Poll, however, you’re not controlling a space for press, but they’ll be present at the event. They might be coming to your space and interviewing people and things like that, and that’s something to be aware of.

Agendas and Flow

Corporate events follow a pretty much set pattern. There’s a general session, breakouts, another general session and then meals afterwards. For the most part the audience is there to learn and hear material, not to discuss any issues or make a proposal. With the exception of Q&A, it’s pretty much one sided.

Political events, on the other hand, can be quite different. “With state conventions, more so than national conventions,” says Julie Ann, “[there is] a little more of a give and take with the audience and the presenters, so agendas can be different and have a different style and flow…You’re having reports on rules and dialogue from the floor [and] proposals” This give-and-take aspect can make the agendas very different than a regular event.

The Politics (Of Course)

Another thing for planners to watch out for that Julie Ann mentioned is that individual personalities tend to be a bit stronger in a political environment than what you might encounter in a more toned down corporate or association environment. While there may be some politics involved in planning a corporate or association event, rarely do you have three candidates who are running for the same spot staying in the same hotel. The question of course arises as to who gets which suite and how to make everything seem fair.

The 2012 RNC: A “Perfect Storm” of Challenges

Hurricane Isaac Approaching Tampa before the 2012 RNC

As you may know, being an event planner is all about planning for contingencies and putting out fires, and with events the size of a national convention, the scale of these fires can increase to epic proportions.

The 2012 Tampa RNC was no exception. There was a lot of reworking of the agenda due to the potential of Hurricane Isaac coming to town. “That was a real challenge,” says Julie Ann, “cancelling buses, moving bus times, and everyone’s doing it…the bus company’s getting 40 phone calls from people…different state delegations that need to move their buses.”

Because of the bus problem Julie Ann and her team also had to rework a lot of the details in the agenda they had prepared for their delegation. “All the plans we had kind of went out the window,” says Julie Ann, “and you’re just reacting to things as they happen…It was challenging but everything really worked out and given me and my team’s experience, we were able to really give our clients the best and advice and make the best changes…and react to the different changes that were happening day to day.”

Who Really Makes it Happen?

In the coming weeks when you watch the televised presidential debates and other poltical events, take a moment to think about all the work that went behind the scenes. What did it take to bring all those people together? Where did those thousands of red, white, and blue balloons come from? Who sold them? Who ordered them? Who put the security in place? Who prepared for the press? Who organized hotel rooms and meals for the thousands of people attending? Behind the fanfare and spectacle, there are hundreds and hundreds of phone calls being made, RFPs being submitted, contracts being signed, rooms being reserved, and tickets being bought. It’s the meeting planner who makes all that happen. Take a moment to think about that.

One of The Woods Coffee shops with a room listed on eVenues

Ever since the days of the Ottoman Empire, coffeehouses have had a rich history as meeting places. These coffeehouses made their money by providing a beautiful free space for people to meet and to work--provided that they bought a beverage or some baked goods. Customers enjoyed the luxury of these "free" spaces with the understanding that the cost of using the space was included in the price of each cup.

This business model has been the standard deal for nearly five hundred years. So when Wes Herman, the founder of  The Woods Coffee, started charging customers to use a room in one of his shops, it seemed unthinkable.

So far, however, it's proven to be a success.

Story of The Woods Coffee

Wes HermanWes Herman

The Woods Coffee is a chain started by Wes Herman, his wife, and their four teenagers. Over the last ten years they've become a fixture in Bellingham, WA (Pop. 81,000) having built over 12 stores (it'll be 14 by the year's end) within a 20-mile radius from eachother. They have, in Wes' words, "become the local go-to product that allows people to have an alternative to some of the bigger coffee giants."

Of those 12 shops, the Boulevard Park coffee shop, is one that they're most well known for.  It's located in a public park 10 feet from the Pacific Ocean and has been considered by some of the leading coffee trade magazines as one of the best coffee shops in the world.

An Extra Revenue Stream 

While most coffee shops are considered free meeting places (provided that you get a muffin or mocha, of course), Wes decided to convert the Kiln Room at the Boulevard Park shop into a private conference room, because, says Wes, "it was so close to the water and such a unique site that people would want to come down and utilize this space. So we created it in such a way where it's completely private." Wes set the room up with a large table, 12 leather reclining chairs, as well as a 42-inch screen with hookups for whatever presentations might be needed.

View of the Ocean from the Kiln Room

So far this experiment has proven to be a success. In addition to the extra revenue from rental fees, those utilizing the space usually order drinks and food from the shop. Thus, it becomes a two-way opportunity to generate income.

Benefits to the Community

And it's not just The Woods Coffee that has benefited from having this meeting space, but the local community as a whole. "We get emails from folks that say they love the space because it's so unique," says Wes. "It allows them to kind of unwind--get away from the regular pace. We've actually used the room for small weddings. People have multiple day events there where they'll be there for three straight days staying at a hotel nearby."

Wait a minute...weddings? It was hard to believe a wedding would ever happen in such small space.

Wes explained: "A coffee shop is one of those places where people meet for the first time because it's an easy first date and sometimes it turns into a lifelong relationship and they want to culminate that with a wedding in our space because that's where they first met."

Yes. More than one wedding has been held here.

Managing the Space with eVenues

Despite the benefits, both to the business and to the community. Managing a meeting space is, after all, a distraction from the day to day business of running a successful local coffee chain. This had led Wes to look for an online service that would allow him to easily manage bookings. "We didn't necessarily want to take phone calls during the day. We didn't want to have to deal with the collection of money. So eVenues was a solution that allowed us to completely do it without any effort on our part. It allowed us to run a smooth operation as opposed to breaking up our normal routines," says Wes.

Wes told us that they typically have the store manager overseeing the bookings. They log on to eVenues to see when it's booked and then, says Wes, "it's just a matter of greeting the guests and setting them up with the space."

When I asked Wes about any issues they've had with eVenues, he said that overall his experience has been "great," but there has been the minor issue of educating customers and non-profits about discounting programs they might be offering but that overall, "It's been so easy. We don't have to worry about it...We get a check from eVenues and it's all good."

More Meetings, Not Enough Spaces

Tools like Eventbrite,, Plancast, and Facebook's Event Calendar have shown that technology, instead of limiting face-to-face interactions, has done quite the opposite. The one thing missing, however, are the actual spaces where all these events can take place. While happy hour gatherings might be okay for a single's party or a networking event, the lack of privacy can be a little distracting for those who need to make decisions, engage in discussions, and get things done.

Savvy business people like Wes Herman taken advantage this trend by creating private, rentable conference rooms in a places where people usually meet for free. While it's clear that Wes could have probably taken care of all the details himself, eVenues' scheduling and booking services has allowed him to focus on more important things like managing his business. In fact, when you go to the Woods Coffee website to book the kiln room, the link goes straight to its eVenues profile page.

With the growth in small meetings, there just aren't enough meeting spaces to go around. There's no reason why small business owners can't advantage of this trend.


Related Article: A Brief History of Coffee Houses as Meeting Places