by By Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | January 01, 2004

While on site, the command post of any meeting is the planner’s control center. Hotels’ full-service business centers often can be opened after hours, but sometimes circumstances or economics make it necessary to set up your own headquarters.
   The most valuable on-site offices are not necessarily the best equipped; rather they are well organized and multipurpose, offering functionality, practicality, economic prudence and even sanctuary.

If you answer yes to more than two of the following, you would benefit from such an on-site office.
   Touchy subjects. Do you have VIP participants? Will you be handling proprietary documents? Do you need a fine touch for high-end management or clients?
Proximity. Is the business center far from the meeting? Is it shared by too many groups? Will the distance cause delays as you solve crises?
Piles of copies. Are you often at Kinkos at 3 a.m.? Can the business center match the cost of a do-it-yourself center? Will you have ample staff to cover your own office?

Next, consider various equipment scenarios and their costs. What machines do you have at your home office that you’ll need on site? What have you used at meetings in the past? Will you need Internet access? Does the venue have affordable wireless solutions?
   Items you could ship to the venue include laptops, small printers, stationery and other office supplies, and walkie-talkies or radios.
Generally, it costs less to rent copy machines, fax machines, high-volume printers and scanners.
   When working on an overseas meeting, it is rarely worth the hassle to ship electronics, because of shipping costs, potential customs delays and other delivery issues. And keep power needs in mind, as there can be problems with adapting to different voltages used overseas.

Choose an area close to your meeting that is soundproof and securable. 
   In your site inspection, inquire about security and then ink your needs in the contract. Will you need to hire a guard for expensive equipment? How many venue staff members will have keys? A spacious, well-lighted breakout room adjacent to your registration is ideal. More space is better than less: You’ll have room to move around. 
   Do you need to keep the location of the center private? For some VIP meetings, it’s nice to offer faxing and copying capabilities to attendees, but in most cases, planners don’t want guests to know where they’ve set up, so they aren’t bombarded with requests to use the equipment.

Here are a few issues to watch for as you choose the room you’ll use as your office and then negotiate for its services. 
   Power. Be sure the room has enough outlets for the equipment you’ll be using.
   Noise. Be sure noise won’t bleed into a nearby meeting and vice versa.
Internet access. If the cost seems outrageous, see if you can negotiate it down.
   Phones. Be sure the space has ample phone jacks and phones with ringer-volume control. 
   Dead spots. Check to see if your radios and cell phones work in the room.

As you move in, keep the office organized. Unpack boxes right away, label items, map out a logical work flow. 
   This office can be a war room as well as an inspiring sanctuary from stressful days and nights. Bring healthy snacks, water, and a basket of toys for brainstorming or simple relaxation.