Smarter Meeting Rooms

Google calendar room bookingsBy Rick Smith and Hugo Fonseca

Like many companies we 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. You can see this in action below:

Room bot slack

In addition to typing /rooms, the user could type more complex commands, such as day, and time they would like to book a room. For example, /rooms tomorrow 1700 would tell you which rooms at 5pm tomorrow are free or /rooms now 30, would show available rooms right now for 30 min.

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 have 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.

Room bot booking

As a whole, we have found this chat interface a much more pleasant experience than using the Google Calendar web interface when booking quick meetings, and it was quickly adopted by many people in the agency including some Slack hold outs. Many converts were so excited by the new tool that we have found ourselves inundated with feature requests and future improvements.

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.

Meeting room booking display

To make sure no one fiddled around with the tablets, we also installed a kiosk mode app onto the tablets, and then loaded the web app onto their respective devices. You can see this in-situ below.

Meeting room booking digital display

But we aren’t finished yet, as always we are continually looking to improve our work and already have a few new features / upgrades planned, maybe involving more hardware next time. So hopefully we will have more to share with you in the coming months.