Before COVID-19, heading into the office every day got billed as an unfortunate reality of working life. Now, after months of stay-at-home orders, many who once longed to work from home find themselves actually looking forward to the idea of transitioning back to the workplace. Tempering the excitement, however, is the reality that returning to the office may increase the risk of exposure.
Every return-to-work game plan is complicated and every workplace is different. Across conversations we’ve had with different organizations about their plans, one of the biggest questions remains: What do we do about the meeting rooms?
It’s an understandable concern; safe physical distancing measures and the all-together-now vibe of office meeting spaces seem directly at odds. But your employees need meeting rooms. These community spaces encourage the type of collaboration, brainstorming, and teamwork that drives business forward.
Meeting in the middle
For teams who rely on collaboration to ensure good outcomes, meeting spaces are essential. What’s more, these spaces give colleagues the chance to safely socialize and enjoy the watercooler aspects of the office we once took for granted. In fact, over 50% of respondents in a recent Gensler survey said scheduled or impromptu meetings, and socializing are the main reasons they want to come back to the office.
With these statistics in mind, the question isn’t “What do we do about meeting rooms?” but rather, “How do we make our meeting spaces the best they can be?”
To jumpstart that process, check out our conference room setup checklists for the post-pandemic office below.
Revisiting conference room booking etiquette
In a post-COVID workplace, it’s vitally important to overcome old, bad habits such as meeting room abandonment, over- or under-booking, and squatting. Communications about meeting spaces should encourage your organization to view them as a both a finite and fragile resource deserving of good management. Doing so will ensure that meeting spaces can remain central to your operations while maintaining safety.
Meeting room booking etiquette best practices for employees returning to the workplace:
Keep meetings brief and to point. Create a meeting agenda that can be covered in as brief a time as possible, keeping in mind that social distancing in part relies on minimizing ongoing contact between individuals. Select the parts of the meeting that absolutely must occur in person, and outline others in an agenda or collaboration document/whiteboard that can be further pursued remotely.
Practice good booking etiquette. Use a meeting room booking tool to ensure that people know which areas are currently available, and which will best serve their needs in terms of resources and capacity.
Plan well for just the space you need. If two or three stakeholders need to be present, be sure to book a small-capacity room, and invite others to participate remotely. Optimizing for hybrid experiences will allow larger meetings to stay safely distanced and encourage best use of spaces.
Avoid ghosting meetings. If calendar tetris was an issue before it certainly will be post-pandemic with the added complexity of cleaning and staggering. Only book meetings room if you can show up and cancel and meetings you can’t attend (some conference room scheduling tools can do that for you).
End the perception of meetings rooms as crash zones. Where once the meeting room was a place you could steal an hour or two of uninterrupted work time, the limitations on meeting areas going forward make it necessary to sunset this practice. To combat this habit, be sure to provide single-person focus areas like ventilated pods.
Revisiting meeting space setups and policies
Using the physical meeting space correctly is of the utmost importance for keeping teams safe. As people readjust to life in the office, the potential exists for unintentionally softening regard for distance and capacity; continuous communication will be necessary in order to keep these spaces functioning properly.
Policy and space changes for meetings rooms may look something like:
Signage (ideally digital and interactive) that shows room availability, capacity, and usage. The cleaning schedule of the space should also be available. Room display signage is ideal for this purpose, as it can provide realtime information about booking and cleaning schedules.
If possible, outline policies regarding what departments and/or teams will have access to certain meeting areas or zones, and practice cohorting of teams where possible to limit inter-team exposure. Neighborhood approaches to space design can aid in this practice.
Upgrade ventilation to MERV 13 in order to increase particle filtration, and install temp/humidity monitoring in meeting spaces.
Create clear distancing visuals and usage expectations indicating how many people/chairs are allowed in a space, and for how long. This should include chair placement, capacity reminders, and hygiene/cleaning guidelines.
Quick example: Update meeting room names to show intended capacity Greenwich -> Greenwich (6)
Provide easy (in-room) access to cleaning supplies, and communicate the need to wipe down and refresh surfaces before exiting the meeting space. This can minimize the potential for infection and help reduce the burden on facilities staff to keep spaces sanitary.
Create touchless options where possible. (For instance, checking into meetings from a mobile app or motion-detecting switches for lighting and temperature controls).
Revisiting conference room technology
Much of the concern over meeting rooms stems from their reputation as high-headcount, high-touch spaces that make it hard to distance. But there are effective ways to reduce interaction and overcrowding during meetings and discussions. Embracing these digital solutions is a relatively low-cost way to keep meeting spaces safe and highly effective.
Improve meeting rooms by installing or upgrading video conferencing tools like the Meeting Owl to expand your meeting potential without gathering everyone into a small space. For instance, two or three stakeholders meeting in-person can broadcast the meeting to remote contributors, lessening the health impact while keeping collaboration strong.
Use digital meeting room management to easily toggle rooms on or off for cleaning, staggering usage, or limiting overall use time for the day.
Keep notes and images digital by opening a shared document or collaboration tool such as Google Documents or Notion, limiting the need for handwritten notes and whiteboard use.
If whiteboarding is a must, try digital versions (like Jamboard), video conferencing whiteboarding tools (like Zoom Whiteboard) or online digital solutions (like Miro or Mural). Set expectations for their use, and be sure to provide training and certification so that every employee feels confident and empowered.
Meeting the moment
Using these guidelines and practices, everyone can take advantage of the power of meeting spaces with confidence. Promoting a community commitment to the health and safety of your teams, and reiterating that good use of these spaces is truly a team effort, will allow your teams to enjoy the benefits of valuable in-person collaboration (or even just a great chat with a colleague in the break room) safely.
Trying to figure out how to get the most out of your conference rooms? Talk to a workplace specialist today.