Joan: An interesting solution to the meeting room availability nightmare

It took Bob almost two weeks to get his product planning meeting together. Wrangling participants from Engineering, Sales, and Product Marketing, coordinating schedules, and finding a meeting room was, in his words, "a full-on clusterf#$%." 

Then it happened. Five minutes into his meeting, he and his fellow conferees got kicked out. Janet, the VP of International Sales had a guest and needed a meeting room. Since Risa (conference rooms in his company are named after Star Trek planets, because of course they are) was next to her office, she claimed it. Now, Bob and his group had to go on a conference room hunt, finally finding a free space three floors down. 

Of the hour booked for their meeting, 20 minutes was wasted. There was no way now that they'd be able to get things together enough to reach consensus in this meeting. Another would have to be scheduled. 

Bob's experience is not unusual. According to the Wall Street Journal, "40% of employees wasting up to 30 minutes a day looking for meeting space." The Wall Street Journal even has a name for victims of this phenomenon: conference room evictee. 

There are roughly 11 million meetings a day in the United States, and if you figure that many of these meetings are delayed or interrupted by conference room scheduling snafus, we're looking at a tremendous waste of time. Because the average meeting costs a company $338 in terms of salary dollars, we are also facing a lot of money lost simply because of poor scheduling. 


To solve this problem, many companies have taken to software. G Suite and Office 365 both have robust meeting scheduling systems that also allow for meeting room reservations. It doesn't work. 

Do you know why it doesn't work? Because the scheduling software isn't plastered up on the conference room door. Folks looking for a free conference room look in the room, not at their online calendars or by launching an app on their phones. 

I know you've seen it. Packs of roving meeting attendees on the prowl, popping open conference room doors and exchanging the universal corporate greeting, "Is this room taken?" 

Not only are some scheduled or impromptu meetings blocked from happening, the meetings that are actually productively moving forward regularly get interrupted. 


Enter Joan, a signage and software solution that its creator, Visionect, thinks might solve the problems I outlined above. I was sent two Joan units for testing by Wellbots, a partner company who supports the ZDNet DIY-IT discovery series for both desktop fabrication and robotics. 

I was sent a Joan Executive display. This is a $499 six-inch unit that's meant to be mounted outside meeting room doors.

These are battery powered e-ink displays that mount to the wall with a magnetic plate. They're very much like Kindles in that they use very little power and can run for months without needing a recharge. Mine has been running for weeks now. The benefit of this is that you can mount it on a wall without worrying about wires. 

Each Joan device connects to the cloud over Wi-Fi. They only support 2.4Ghz, but most routers support both 2.4 and 5Ghz, so it's not a big deal. I had no problem connecting the Joan units to my network because I finally have pretty strong Wi-Fi throughout my environment. 

The Joan devices talk to the Joan portal. This is an $8.99/month service that coordinates the various Joan devices you have at your meeting rooms, and provides meeting coordination and notification services.