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Modern workplace

What are hybrid meetings?

As we emerge from the pandemic, the way we work is likely to have changed forever.  The term ‘hybrid working’, reflects a now commonplace scenario where the workforce comprises a mix of remotely based and office-based colleagues.

Hybrid meetings are a new genre of meeting, where participants might be in the same physical meeting room OR connecting in from home or other satellite location over a video conference link.

Having good technology is an important component in facilitating such meetings:  A poor-quality microphone and lack of presentation and visual aids that offer a shared experience can wreck your hybrid meeting.

There are lower-tech, more practical considerations for your meeting, such as having the optimal acoustics and seating arrangement for video conferencing to take place.

Equally important is having clear guidelines and etiquette that enable remote participants to participate and contribute on an equal footing to their colleagues that are physically ‘in the same room’.

Here are our tips for facilitating successful hybrid meetings.

Check the tech

Don’t spend half of your allocated meeting time fighting with technology and a lack of facilities.

  • Make sure the meeting room you book has the right equipment and services to support your hybrid meeting.
  • Get any special equipment such as a video conference screens, microphones, speakers and interactive whiteboards booked and set up in advance by in-house AV experts.
  • Ensure the seating layout and lighting in your room is optimal for including all ‘in room’ participants on camera.
  • If you have visitors, make sure they have the right guest network credentials and HDMI connection options in order to share content from their laptop or tablet.

Microsoft has some of its own tips for preparing your hybrid meeting workspace in this article:  https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/hybrid-meeting-space-considerations-6a526e5a-b036-42a9-b9fe-8131efd75390

Brush up on hybrid meeting etiquette

When you have a ‘hybrid meeting’, it’s easy to make a few basic mistakes than can make remote colleagues feel disenfranchised.

Continuing a conversation that started during a coffee break (that remote colleagues are not ‘privy to’) or using conventional flip charts or post-it notes as visual aids (that can’t be viewed outside of the room), are examples of behaviours that will hamper effective collaboration.

Even when attending in person, some individuals may feel uncomfortable making their voice heard in a heated debate.   Sadly, it’s even easier to shrink into the background when joining a meeting as a remote participant.

You can resolve these issues with good hybrid meeting etiquette and using appropriate technology.

For example, polling everyone for their input at regular intervals and making it clear on the outset how you plan to handle questions or how you want participants to raise questions.

If you’re using Microsoft Teams, make sure you keep an eye on the raised hand facility or chat window and invite remote attendees by name to share their comments and points.

PRO TIP: If you’re presenting on a Teams call, instead of sharing the screen you have your PowerPoint presentation running on, use the Teams Presenter Mode https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZderL8-LVc0

That way, you can continue to see the other people on the call as you present.

You can also use the recently announced new Surface Hub Whiteboard facility for a unified experience for your hybrid meeting.

Upskill for hybrid meetings

Along with training on etiquette for organising and running hybrid meetings, a general brush up on meeting skills and best practices for on-camera presentation could be introduced as part of your company’s learning and development content.

For example, one principle we always try to stick to is to keep the camera switched on when having virtual meetings with clients and colleagues.

When you add facial expression and body language to a social interaction you are creating a far richer communications experience that can help avoid any confrontation or miscommunication.

And, along with the whiteboard utility and presentation mode feature we mentioned earlier, there’s other new tools to become familiar with, such as how to configure and conduct ‘break out rooms’ in Teams.

https://www.essential.co.uk/blog/articles/teams-breakout-rooms/

PRO TIP: Trawl the internet for resources, including Microsoft’s own training videos, and build a knowledge base and mini training course on your intranet or learning management system.

Pick the right sort of meeting

As we’ve discovered during the pandemic, many meetings can be conducted extremely effectively – and very efficiently – over a remote link.   In fact, many meetings work better in a remote format.  For example, my own failing eyesight means it’s often easier to review figures and detailed content in presentations on my own zoomed-in screen.

There’re some meetings, however, where it really does pay off to get all participants in the same physical meeting space.

For example, if you’re wanting to harness the creativity of a team with some ‘blue sky thinking’, introduce new colleagues to their co-workers and forge bonds over pizza and beer, then a physical meeting is your best option.

Make meetings easy to organise

Streamlining the process of planning and booking a meeting, be it an ‘all hands in the office’ or hybrid meeting will help you get the most out of your tine together.

Workplace booking systems can be extraordinarily effective at enabling this, making it easy to:

  • Find and then book a suitable workspace, along with resources like video conferencing equipment,
  • Request additional facilities and services such as catering, parking spaces and AV assistance,
  • Prioritise bookings for specific groups on specific days.

Microsoft is about to announce new capability in its Teams meeting settings that enable the certain tasks involved in setting up a hybrid meeting to be delegated to an assistant.

Workspace booking tools (like those available from Essential) make it possible to organise myriad other meeting facilities and services directly from Microsoft Outlook or Teams when you schedule the meeting in the first place.

Such tools can also help your facilities team optimise the utilisation of video conferencing facilities (let’s face it – they’re not inexpensive), get a clear picture of how their video conferencing facilities are being used, and predict what future provisions need to be made to support your new hybrid workforce.

Hybrid meeting room booking software for Microsoft 365

Read more about services to help your enterprise book, provision & manage your workplace for hybrid working and beyond.

Does the workspace booking system you’re planning involve selecting an available desk from a list or an interactive floor plan?  If so, physically applying the corresponding numbers to your desks in the office is a vital part of the jigsaw.

You’d be surprised to know the number of projects we’ve encountered where this step was not ‘in the plan’.

“We only have a 30 hot desks and staff already know where they are”

“We’ll put a big print out of all the desks on the wall in reception”

“It will make our desks look untidy”

These are just some of the comments that we hear regularly.  But (sorry) they’re not valid excuses for failing to clearly and individually desks in a way that matches in with your desk booking system.

You only have to think about what happens when someone parks in ‘bay 9’ instead of ‘bay 6’ to understand what confusion and ‘world of pain’ can ensue as everyone has to work around the mistake of occupying the wrong space.

Returning to a ‘hybrid office’ space, with different desk layouts and new collaboration spaces can be daunting enough – even more so if you’re a ‘new start’.  The last thing you’ll want is an argument over whether you’re sitting at the right desk or not.

What’s the best way to physically number desks?

By all means, you can use individual desk devices that incorporate contactless booking and check-in functionality, a status indicator and the desk number in one neat package, but you don’t have to go to this expense.

Our low cost favourites include:

Engraved steel disks that can incorporate QR Codes for booking and check-in using a mobile phone.

Neat desk booking sign example incorporating QR code

Not only are they nice and neat, they don’t cost a lot at all and come with different fixings.  Our team can also help you generate a file of QR codes you can send to the nice folk that make them!

A card holder clip that sits nicely on top of workstations:

Low cost desk booking signage

These cost 5 pence each and all you need is some coloured cards and a printer!  What could be simpler?  You could also incorporate a QR code into the sign.

For more tips on how to go about numbering your hybrid workspaces in a way that’s both fool- and COVID-19-proof, check out our earlier blog.

Future Proof Your Return to Work Desk Numbering Scheme

Covid-secure workspace management

Read more about services to help your enterprise book, provision & manage your workplace for social distancing & beyond.

Scanning a QR code from your mobile device has become a familiar way to get contactless and convenient access to restaurant menus, registering your visit to a venue using the NHS COVID-19 App, ordering a meal in a restaurant and more.

Now you can harness the power of QR codes to book the office workspaces and other resources available to your workforce.

Using strategically placed QR codes on simple and low cost printed signs, labels on individual desks or on display screens located in corridors or foyers, you can enable contactless selection and booking of a range of resources with pre-applied criteria to make life as easy as possible:

  • Show all currently available hot desks in this area
  • List the video conferencing rooms available RIGHT NOW for at least an hour
  • Display available pool cars today
  • Pinpoint all accessible desks in this office on a map

These are just a few examples of the different resources and attributes you can give your workforce instant access to.

You can also use QR codes to:

  • Enable authenticated checking into a pre-booked workspace
  • Display information about current and upcoming bookings for a room of workspace
  • Avoid displaying booking information ‘in the clear’ on digital screens

OK, so there’s some behind the scenes magic involved.

You will need a resource booking system that supports this functionality, and that is where we can help with our enterprise booking systems.

Already using Microsoft resource mailboxes to book meeting rooms or workspaces via Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft 365?

Great.  You can now seamlessly extend this functionality and use QR signs to book the same Microsoft 365 resources from mobile devices on arrival to the office.

You can also use display screens outside meeting rooms, desk status devices and fully interactive maps to provide the ultimate flexibility for your new workspace management strategy.

Get in touch to find out more.

Modern workspace booking systems

Read more about our services to help your enterprise book, provision & manage its workplace for social distancing, shrinking office space & beyond.

Are you planning a hybrid workspace booking system that’s also COVID-19 proof? As we face an uncertain future for our office space, here’s 5 top tips when it comes to how you go about identifying your desks and workspaces.

1. Walk the floor

It’s tempting to use CAD diagrams as a reference when numbering workspaces, however in our experience these can quickly become out-of-date.  Desks can get informally ‘nudged’ around and added or removed over the years.

You may also find there’s glass partitions or dividers that give extra protection that are not obvious in a CAD diagram.

There could also be some ‘desire paths’ (as opposed to the originally intended walkways around the office).  These will need to be taken into consideration (or blocked off) to avoid traffic passing too close to desk occupants.

If possible, the best starting point is to physically walk the floor and number each desk as you encounter them.

We recommend that you make ‘desk number 1‘ (or the lowest number on that floor) the first desk you would physically encounter if you walked clockwise through the office space from the main entrance.  Numbering should be applied logically from that point on.

This is the best way to ensure your staff can easily find the particular desk they’ve booked with minimal hunting around (see our next point).

2. Treat your workspaces like hotel rooms.

Emulating the convention that’s used to signpost hotel rooms will help your staff rapidly locate their workspace with the minimum of effort (and minimal criss-crossing the floor).

So:

  • Consider numbering your desks in a clockwise direction as you walk around the office floor, starting from the main entrance (e.g., the main lifts).  This means you can say: “Desks 1-50 are on the left, and 51-100 on the right-hand side of the floor” which will help maintain social distancing as your workforce tracks down their booked workspaces.
  • Numbers should be allocated logically and consistently within a ‘desk block’, to minimise the amount of walking around to find a desk.
  • If you have multiple floors, as with hotel rooms, use the first number to indicate the floor, and the next digits to signify the workspace number.  This will help you avoid mix-ups where there are multiple desks numbered ’15’ on each of several floors.  3 digits will give you up to 99 numbers to ‘play with’ per floor. If you have more than 99 desks on a floor, you will need to use 4 digits in total.
  • If you have a large office floor and have introduced the concept of zones or neighbourhoods to help staff members find where they need to be, make sure these conventions are physically signed across your workspace (and not just used on your workspace booking system).
Tips for numbering your desks for a Covid-secure booking system
Best way to number your hot desks

The above example shows the right way and the wrong way to number your desks.

Our tip is to imagine you are walking along the floor using the main thoroughfares and following a logical flow.   How would you feel if desk 19 was on the other side of the floor from desk 16?  Confused, we think.

Finally, even if you just have one floor of desks, it’s useful to include a ‘0’ on your desk numbering, so count 001-099, not 1, 2, 3 up to 99, as some desk booking systems sort alphanumerically.

3. Number all potential desks (not just the safely spaced ones)

We have seen (and thankfully, averted) more than one project where the intention was to only allocate a consecutive number just to the ‘safely distanced’ desks.

For example:

The key downside to this approach is that social distancing requirements may change.

Even after we are now out of this lockdown, Sir Patrick Vallance indicated that additional measures may need to be re-introduced when we move into next Winter.   This could mean the wearing of masks, but also the increasing of social distancing measures in the office.

Also, if you use a workspace booking system you will have to change up your desk numbering accordingly.

By allocating a consecutive number to each potentially available desk on the outset, you won’t need to make any physical changes to your desk numbers at a later date.

Instead, you’ll just have to amend what’s bookable in your workspace management system.

By numbering each desk, you can also take advantage of auto-zoning technology.  To see this in action, check out this video.

As you’ll see in the video, when a user selects their preferred desk, adjacent desks are automatically ‘blocked out’ according to specified rules that can be applied across the board and updated as needed.

4. Physically label your workspaces!

This is the final piece of the jigsaw and avoids much confusion.

You’d be surprised at the number of clients we encounter that allocate numbers to desks and workspaces on their floor plans and resource lists, but omit to physically label up the actual workspaces themselves.

Labelling can be as simple as printing a number on a sticker and fixing it to the desk or screen.

Also, if your workspace booking system uses a check-in option that involves scanning a QR code, you can combine the number and the code on the same label.

We’ve recently encountered this rather neat solution which uses engraved disks.  You can simply send across a spreadsheet of workspace IDs and QR codes and the engraving company will do the rest.

Other clients have used simple stick-on labels created by their local print suppliers.

Of course, you can always use more sophisticated options that include red/green status lights and RFID check in capability.

The key aim is to ensure your workforce know they have safely arrived at the correct workspace and that you as a company are able to register that fact and provide the necessary COVID-19 safety and capacity and workspace planning services ‘behind the scenes’.

5. Prepare for something different altogether

With the home working genie fully out of the bottle, our physical office spaces will probably never be the same again.

Research carried out by Cisco indicates that 77% of larger organisations will adopt a more flexible working policy post pandemic.   It’s not surprising, therefore, to learn that 53% of organisations predicted a reduction in their future office space footprint.

Whilst turning half of your office space into a fully stocked bar (like high-end tonic maker Fever Tree) might not be an option, shrinking or re-organising your office space to reflect your predicted future utilisation, should be on the agenda now.

If there’s any silver lining to this situation, it’s that pre-pandemic, introducing a desk sharing scheme (often referred to as hot desking) tended to be an emotionally charged affair.  In short, staff were happy to be able to work from home but were not at all happy about losing their desk.

The Coronavirus has forced the situation, with workforce safety trumping desk ownership politics.

Given that ‘return to work round two’ could be a while off yet, enterprises like Fever Tree are taking action and re-mapping their office now.

Whilst a bar might be a popular attraction for your workforce, rearranging your office space to accommodate your future needs might be more realistic.

Figuring out what workspaces will be required going forward may need some analysis:

  • How many days in the week will staff typically want to visit the office?
  • Will staff want to come in for focus time? In which case, you may need to more quiet areas.
  • Is the main driver to meet with co-workers? If this is the case, you’ll need more smaller, collaborative areas?

It’s probably going to be a mix of both types, but the reality is, you may never return to a 1:1 ratio of desks to staff.

Covid-secure workspace management

Read more about services to help your enterprise book, provision & manage your workplace for social distancing & beyond.

How you can make returning to the office work for everyone

The signs are encouraging, and although social distancing rules have relaxed, June 21st is still the date most firms are waiting on for aiming at to enact a return to the workplace in a meaningful way.

What do we mean by meaningful?

For many organisations it’s not just about getting as many people back into the office as possible whilst social distancing.

It’s about using office space in a new way that delivers true value to individuals, teams, and the company as a whole:

A space to concentrate working from home isn’t always the best place for individuals to be productive and focused.   For many staff members (especially those with young families) a visit to the office can offer a private desk with reduced noise and fewer distractions than they perhaps have at home.

An opportunity to collaborate properly with your team – When we are physically together, it’s easier to avoid distractions and focus on group tasks. 

Getting access to resources – Not having convenient access to the equipment you need to do your job can seriously hamper productivity:  High resolution scanners, colour printers, shredders, etc.

Learning on the job –  One of the main concerns raised by Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon was around new recruits who wouldn’t get the “direct mentorship” they need.

In person training – Although Teams provides a great platform for virtual in-person training (VILT) you can’t beat real breakout rooms.

Team building – Face-to-face interaction enables us to get to know each other informally, build deeper connections and gain a shared understanding that have a positive impact on subsequent virtual meetings.

Cross fertilisation of ideas – that serendipitous water cooler moment, as industry analysts are calling it, when co-workers or employees in completely different parts of the company connect and spark creativity and innovation.

Wellbeing – The impact of being able to meet colleagues in person cannot be underestimated.  While many have thrived in a lockdown working situation, for some people the workplace is a key source of social interaction that has been missing for over a year.  

See below for our quick summary on what to look for in a ‘next generation’ workspace booking solution to help you return to the ‘new format’ office.

The ‘new format’ office

With this in mind, many organisations have taken the opportunity to re-format their offices:  

  • Providing a variety of different workspaces that employees can choose from, depending on the task at hand.
  • Creating clusters of various types of space into a neighbourhood or zone where teams working on a certain project or in a particular department can gather.
  • Providing multi-media resources: Video Conferencing screens, white boards
  • Investing in a great-looking, funky workspace that offers value add over a regular office, creches, yoga classes and more, with staff well-being front of mind.

What’s counter-productive to the new workspace is:

  • Having to get in extra early in the morning and be part of a mad scrum to get the workspace you want
  • Being unfamiliar with the new office layout
  • Folk hogging the same desk/resources day in, day out
  • Struggling to get your team into the office on the same day and seated in the same area.

This is where a workspace booking system can help.

Below are some of the scenarios you should expect to support with a next generation workspace booking system:

First off – this is how your workforce should be benefiting:

For your workforce Solution features (that make this possible)
Make it easy to find a workspace with the optimal facilities for their planned office visit
  • Convenient workspace booking from Outlook, web or mobile (Android or iPhone)
  • Selection from an interactive floor plan that gives visibility at-a-glance
  • Search & selection filtering according to workspace attributes such as riser desk, docking station, quiet space, multiple screens, accessibility, etc.
Build confidence that their visit will be COVID-safe.
  • Automatically block out adjacent desks when a workspace is booked, or
  • Make only pre-designated, safely-spaced workspaces bookable
  • Show the location of hand sanitisers, occupancy limits & flow of direction on interactive floor plans.
Make it easy to book a workspace for collaboration.
  • Clearly display team zones/neighbourhoods on an interactive floor plan
  • Enable filtering of available spaces according to teams/departments
  • Book workspaces for yourself & (named) team members at the same time
  • Find where a co-worker has already booked a workspace & book a desk nearby for yourself.
Offer additional resources to ‘ease’ their visit
  • Book a range of ‘supporting services’ that may be available, such as a parking slot, catering, visitor passes, an AV support technician, creche space, yoga class (!) etc, at the same time as scheduling your visit.

This is what facilities managers should be able to do:

For your Facilities Team Solution features (that make this possible)
Ensure social-distancing and/or address the fact that you have may significantly downsized your office space.  
  • Throttle how many people can come into the office at once
  • Automatically block any additional workspace bookings when you reach a pre-determined number for a given day
  • Get staff to book a ‘daily visit pass’ & limit the amount of passes you have
  • Create policies that allow you to avoid ‘peaks’ mid-week (& empty offices on a Monday & Friday).
Designate team areas
  • Earmark workspaces for different teams for different days of the week or as required
  • Prioritise bookings for that team until a pre-defined cut-off point (e.g., 24 hours in advance).
Understand workforce needs
  • Make office visits subject to approval by a line manager
  • Use questionnaires to determine the reason for a visit to understand trends.
Prevent resource hogging
  • Stop the same person booking the same workspace according to parameters you define.
Spread office attendance across the week
  • Create policies that allow you to avoid ‘peaks’ mid-week.
Share resources equally
  • Limit how long or how many times in a given timeframe an individual can book a limited resource – such as a video conferencing suite.
Maintain track & trace information
  • Enforce check-in on arrival to get an accurate view of who’s sat where
  • Generate reports to support track & trace activity in event of a reported COVID-19 infection.
Schedule between use cleaning
  • Automatically create cleaning schedules &/or send notifications to facilities staff on check-out or end of session
  • Only allow one use per day to allow for daily cleaning.
Keep visitors safe
  • Enforce registration of visitor contact details to support your COVID-19 response
  • Automatically send visitors safety information in advance of their arrival
  • Provide visitor information for your front desk & security staff.
Understand utilisation patterns 
  • Track workspace utilisation accurately
  • See what workspaces are popular, understand peak demand.
Easily revise COVID-19 measures in the event of change (e.g. in the winter months)
  • Make it easy to respond to change in Government advice with flexible policies that include the ability to:
    – Recalibrate auto-safe zoning (e.g., change from 1m back up to 2m)
    – Revise & enforce the number of people that can come into the office each day.

And this is where the business as a whole should benefit:

For the Business Solution features (that make this possible)
Help your workforce feel confident to return to the office & reinforce the measures you are taking to keep your workforce safe. 
  • Deliver an easy to use desk booking system that’s accessible from Outlook, web or mobile devices
  • Use selection filters & graphics that enable staff to quickly find the best workspace for their office visit
  • Inbuilt COVID-safe functionality such as auto-distancing & interactive maps with traffic flow indicators, hand sanitiser locations, etc.
Foster healthy group interaction
  • Make it easy for workers to book a group space.  E.g. enable an individual to make a booking of a multiple spaces on behalf of co-workers
  • Clearly indicate collaboration zones & team/departmental spaces & neighborhoods
  • Earmark & prioritise bookings for different groups on different days.
Reap the rewards of spontaneous new connections across your workforce  
  • Create rules to prevent individuals from booking the same desk repeatedly.
Attract & retain talent
  • Provide an agile workplace management system that will help your business demonstrate your values
  • Make it easy for staff to locate their nearest office space, find the best workspace & resources for their needs & feel immediately comfortable coming into an unfamiliar office.
Understand the views & needs of your workforce & adapt your office space accordingly.
  • Regularly poll your workforce to understand their plans on returning to the office & the kind of workspaces they need
  • Understand exactly how your workspace is being used: Are certain types of workspace favoured over others?  Are some workspaces being under-used?

See these capabilities & more in action:

Request a personalised product demo or
join our webinar which explores this area in more detail

Many workspace booking systems offer the ability to book and locate a workspace via an interactive floor plan.

An interactive floor plan typically comprises a series of graphics depicting your office layout floor by floor (or area by area), overlaid with an intelligent and dynamic booking element that uses ‘hot spots’ and colour coding to show free/busy status, along with pinch and zoom, point and click interaction.

Many systems also support the ability to book a socially distanced desk. Some systems can even identify the location of co-workers that have booked desks on the same day, enabling you to book a desk that’s close by for optimum collaboration.

In short, floor plans are a great way of doing things, as they give your workforce at-a-glance visibility of what workspaces are available on the day they want to come into the office, and where the workspace is located.  I for one, am keen to find a desk that’s close to vital services, such as the coffee area, printers and the loos!

Regardless of which booking system you select – or even if you simply want to use printed maps in your reception/lobby areas – here’s some top tips on how to create the best floor plan graphics to use as the basis of your workspace booking system:

1. Put yourself in the shoes of the observer

Before uploading a map into your system, check it’s the right (and logical) way up.

A key thing to bear in mind is that conventions for orienting a map or architectural diagram can vary.

For static ‘geographical’ maps, north is always up.  If you’re depicting objects like buildings, the convention should be to show the main entrance of the building at ‘the bottom’ of the map, regardless to where north is.  Plans for new builds, however, can tend to follow a ‘north equals up’ convention.

Another consideration is context.

If your booking system is to be displayed on a big screen in your main reception, then our best practice guideline is to create a ‘heads up’ experience for the viewer.

By this I mean, if meeting room ‘A’ is shown on the left of the floor plan, the room itself should be physically ‘off to the left’ of the screen it’s displayed on.

Covid has, however, changed the whole ‘touch screen in reception’ experience. 

Now, given that most bookings will be made remotely from home or from a mobile device, the best strategy is to orient your floor plan according to the most typical ‘end user experience’ of entering the office.

This means orientating the map with the main entrance at the bottom of the screen (and clearly labelling any other entrances – e.g. Car Park Entrance).

2. De-clutter (don’t just use a default CAD diagram)

CAD diagrams of your office are great for the facilities team as they show details of cabling and plumbing and provide accurate measurements for occupation planning and so on.

Showing the detail of every stall in the loos and every stick of office furniture is too much information when you just want to book a desk.

Avoid floor plans that have far too much detail.

Tips for simplifying your maps are:

Focus on just the basics.  Drop the details and leave behind just the components that will help your workforce select, and then later find, their chosen workspace.  This means paring it back to:

  • The basic office shape
  • Entrances & exits
  • Lifts & staircases
  • Desks & numbering*
  • Storage for personal effects (important where staff no longer have a dedicated desk)
  • Meeting rooms & names*
  • Coffee areas (everyone knows where these are)
  • Loos (ditto)
  • Copying/scanning equipment
  • Recycling points
  • Accessibility
  • Features & attributes of the desk, such as:
    • Standing desk
    • Docking station
    • Multiple screens
  • Likewise, facilities available in a meeting room, such as:
    • VC equipment
    • Flip chart
    • Smartboards

Strip away the detail using your CAD package. It may be possible to go back to the originator of your CAD drawings and get them to ‘turn off’ the layers of detail you don’t need, and just leave you with the elements that are required for the job in hand.  Refer to this article for an example of how to achieve this in AutoCAD

Use icons where possible. Instead of drawing every cubicle in the loos, just put the relevant symbols in place. And there’s no need for a legend if your chosen symbols are recognisable.

3. Be prepared to re-draw your CAD floor plan from scratch

Our top tip here is to be prepared to re-draw your optimal floor plans from scratch, using your CAD diagrams as a guide.

Why?

Often access to the original CAD application and drawings is difficult.  Although you may have a PDF version of the CAD diagram, being able to access the individual layers and disable them is either a) impossible or b) can take an inordinate length of time.

Another reality is that you may only have access to a rough copy of an original CAD diagram that’s been copied, scribbled on and re-drawn several times over.

Below is typical of what we might be given to work with.

In this case the client didn’t have access to the original CAD diagrams and many ad-hoc changes had been made over time anyway.

The resolution was poor and you’ll notice that the main entrance to the building is depicted at the top of the diagram, so the map actually needed to be rotated by 180 degrees and recreated from scratch in order to be legible and make logical sense to the viewer.

By redrawing your maps you will benefit from:

  • A clearer visual for staff
  • A much smaller file size that will render quickly and cleanly on any browser or mobile device

Scalable vector graphic (SVG) files in particular are very efficient file formats to work with and enable rapid zooming in and out without loss of resolution.  Even if your chosen workspace booking platform works with jpgs, we recommend creating your original graphic in a vector diagramming application as this will make it easy to go back and make any amendments in the future.

Tips for creating your vector graphic floor plans are:

  • Use a vector diagramming package such as Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape (available free online)
  • Start with an initial page size/format that matches in with your typical viewer’s device.
    •  If this is the desktop, then start with 1920×1080
    • If this is a mobile display, start with 414×896
  • Import any existing floor plan graphic you have as a starting point
  • Scale it on the page to be a large as possible
  • ‘Lock it in place’
  • Start ‘tracing’ over your floor plan, adding just the basics**
  • Use copy and paste, step and repeat to build up key components, like blocks of desks.

You’ll quickly build up a floor, and then with a bit of luck, you’ll have similar layouts that repeat from floor to floor.  At the very least, the building footprint, stairs, lifts and WCs are often in the same location across all floors in a building!

Before:

After:

4. Don’t be afraid to use artistic licence

Just like the award-winning design for the London Underground map, helping your workforce choose and find a workspace does not demand a slavishly accurate rendition of your actual floor plan.

Believe me, individuals will NOT be out with their tape measure with a view to calling you out on a discrepancy of real-life VS your electronic floor plans.

For this reason, you may wish to employ the following techniques to aid visibility:

  • If your default layout is landscape in format, but your building is long and skinny, simply make it ‘wider’ than it is in reality. This will allow you to use larger proportions for workspaces and labels.
  • Reduce the size of insignificant features like a long connecting corridor

5. Pick up on design cues & use colour to ease navigation

If there is a strong design element to your office, then reflect this in your diagrams to aid familiarity.

For example, we have depicted such navigation ‘aids’ as:

  • Reflecting the different coloured carpets used in each zone.
  • Labelling ‘external landmarks’ (for example, a customer in Canary Wharf wanted to help staff navigate by depicting the view out of each window (HSBC, O2, etc)
  • Picking up on décor such as different coloured meeting rooms

Ultimately, we always recommend you reflect any corporate colours and fonts that reinforce your company brand.

TIPS

  • Avoid over-use of the colours red and green. Red, green (and often amber) are the colours that are typically used to show the free/busy status of workspaces on your floor plan.  It’s therefore a good idea to avoid use of these colours to avoid confusion.
  • Avoid design by committee. Whilst it’s a good idea to get input from the various different stakeholders in your company, reflecting everyone’s views in the design process can result in a lack of simplicity.

6. You may need to review numbering and naming conventions

This subject is a whole new conversation again.  Bear in mind that the labels on CAD diagrams may not relate to actual meeting room names in use.  Also many of the customers we work with that are implementing desk booking systems don’t already have a desk numbering system.

Once you have devised your optimal desk numbering system, you’ll need to individually number each workspace, but you don’t necessarily need to apply a number to each desk shown on the interactive map.

Covid-secure workspace booking

Are you planning a ‘Covid-secure’ workspace booking system? Here’s 4 top tips when it comes to how you go about identifying your Covid-secure desks.

Your workspace booking floor plans are a great opportunity for you to reinforce your Covid-secure messaging and precautions to provide reassurance to your workforce.

In addition to any built-in Covid secure capability your booking system has, such as automatically blocking off adjacent desks when you make a booking, consider adding the following:

  • Traffic flow signage
  • Hand sanitising stations
  • Departmental zones
  • Cleaning stations & contact points

Other capabilities you should look for in a Covid-secure workspace booking solution include:

  • Self-certification of staff members when they book workspaces
  • Authenticated (yet contactless) check-in (this will allow you to track exactly who’s used what workspace)
  • The scheduling of between-use cleaning
  • Policies that govern who can book what spaces when (and how often) – the subject of our next blog
  • Capture of information to support contact tracing
  • Registration of visitors and safety instructions

Conclusion – It’s Worth Putting in the Effort

Making your office floor plans clear, informative and great looking will be a good investment on your part:

  • By helping staff members choose and book their optimal workspace, that’s near the resources they need and has the attributes they desire, they will be as productive as possible when they’re in the office.
  • It will allow you to demonstrate the precautions you are taking to keep your workforce safe and help put minds at ease as they return to the office.
  • It’s a very visible service, and as we get back to the ‘new normal’, may be seen by visitors to your office – not just your own workforce.  Done well, it will convey a slick and professional image for all concerned.

See our meeting room & hot desk booking solutions in action!

There’s many other things to consider when implementing systems designed to streamline your room & resource booking systems, contact us to find out more.

The ‘need for speed’ has always been essential in today’s highly competitive world, and the pandemic has called for even greater pace and agility on the part of businesses as they fight to adapt – and hopefully thrive – in these challenging times.

Just before Christmas 2020 a leading UK estate agent went live with its Microsoft Teams and SharePoint based learning management system from Essential.

Keeping its staff up-to-date on safety guidance and other changes in the housing market was vital, and speed was ‘of the essence’.

Up & running in 4 weeks (*or less)

For this particular customer it took just over 4 week to progress from ‘solution selection’ to rolling out their first training courses to their 1,800+ workforce with our learning management software.

A big contributor to their rapid deployment was the fact that the LMS we work with is specifically developed to run in the Microsoft Teams (or SharePoint)| environment.  This significantly accelerates the job of setting up learners and managing content and access, with services that include:

  • Learner enrolment to courses according to existing AD groups
  • Access management & content protection according to already defined security policies
  • Support for SharePoint hub sites enabling connection of related content & common search, navigation & branding
  • Super-easy set-up of existing training content, including SCORM

The ‘not so good’ news …

The bad news (for us, at least) is that this particular customer intends to switch to a different LMS that is part of a much bigger all-encompassing ERP solution at a later date.

They confessed to this on the outset.  Their explanation was that the timelines involved rolling out their originally planned ERP system were much longer than the HR & Learning team wanted to wait….and they needed to get going with training asap.

This is the beauty of on-demand, software as a service and pay-as-you-go licensing**.

The other factor that made this ‘throw away’ strategy possible was that the investment on the part of their workforce in getting to grips with the LMS would be minimal.  This is down to the fact that Essential’s solution presents itself as a seamless extension to an existing Teams and SharePoint environment.

I guess their rationale is that a pain-free adoption will make moving to a new LMS in the future less of an ordeal for end users.  Easy come, easy go, if you will.

Our LMS team secretly thinks that they’ll get on with it so well, they’ll want to stick with it in the long run….we’ll watch with interest.

Related subjects:

To find out more about the benefits of delivering your learning management system in Teams & SharePoint, get in touch>.

* We are working on another project right now for a recruitment agency that will roll out within 2 weeks of purchase.  Other recent projects have run at 18, 22, 30 an 35 days from purchase to implementation. Projects typically commence within a week, installation within 2 weeks and training within week 3.

**STOP PRESS – a year later and the company has renewed its subscription and is still going strong with our LMS and no plans to move on.

Are you, like many organisations, looking at how you can replace your previously ‘in person’ training with an on-line service?

The technology we have available in platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams video conferencing makes the delivery of content relatively easy.

And, let’s face it, video conferencing removes many of the costs and logistical headaches normally associated with getting a bunch of delegates together:  There’s no hotels and travel to book, no catering, no social outings or icebreakers to orchestrate…

Recently I helped a law firm convert some ‘in-person’ course work into an ‘eLearning format’ hosted on Microsoft Teams, but I came a bit unstuck at the part where course delegates needed to split into smaller groups to work through an example case.  Whilst it is possible to ‘fudge it’ using Teams channels, it isn’t ideal and takes a lot of preparation as you will see in this Microsoft article.

Microsoft Teams Breakout Rooms to the rescue!

Now rolled out, this Teams feature is designed to support exactly the scenario where you need to split out and reconvene a training session (and many other scenarios, such as team building and brainstorming) using virtual breakout rooms.

Once the breakout rooms are started, the organiser (or tutor) can virtually leap from room to room to check in on progress and provide assistance (delegates have the ability to get their ‘tutors’ attention via private chat or specifically requesting them to join).  Up to 50 virtual rooms can be created – which sounds exhausting.

At the end of the allotted time (you can set a countdown timer and send a ‘5 minutes left’ message), the organiser can also close the virtual rooms and ‘pull’ everyone back into the main room.

There’s a good ‘blow by blow’ description of how to use breakout rooms here, but before you get going, here’s just a few tips to bear in mind based on my work with breakout rooms so far:

A few top tips

1. Have an idea ‘up front’ who you want to be in each team

In the first release* you can’t pre-configure your breakout rooms and who’s going to go in them.  You can only do this once you’ve started your first meeting. 

So the first bit of advice here is that if you want to be in control of who goes into what team (for example, you want to ‘mix up abilities’), have a rough plan as to how you’re going to split folk out in advance.  

For example, if you have clear-cut learning ‘tracks’ (a great example is where you might want to deep dive into ‘sales’ or ‘technical’ content in a conference), it’s a good idea to have all the relevant names grouped accordingly, ready to refer to.

Otherwise your delegates are going to be sitting, watching you peer at your screen and scratching your head for a long time whilst you pick and choose your breakout team members.

By all means, if you don’t care who’s in what team, you can automatically assign delegates – you just need to specify how many rooms you want.

By default, your rooms are numbered 1,2,3 etc but it’s a good idea to assigned names that are descriptive or ‘fun’, and as in ‘real life’, getting delegates to choose their ‘group name can be part of an icebreaker session.

2. Get any documents for your teams ready in advance

Each virtual room can be used to share files, whiteboards, etc. and the individuals involved can connect and follow-up after the meetings, and access all the resources worked on.  This includes the ability for the groups to present the outcomes of their breakout sessions to the rest of the team, when everyone is reconvened.

Again – to avoid waiting around, have your individual ‘handout’ documents in a folder on your desktop or in OneDrive ready before the meeting commences.  Once the rooms are assigned will need to add your documents into the individual breakout room chats (after which the participants in that ‘room’ will be able to work collaboratively with the file(s) in question).

Note that you won’t be able to upload the same file for use in different breakout rooms (Teams will tell you that the file is already in use).  You’ll have to create separate copies.

Also you can’t drag and drop a folder of files – you’ll need to move individual files.

3. Practice in advance

It might seem easy when you read the instructions, but as with Teams Live Events, you’ll need at least a few dummy runs with ‘tame’ colleagues to become proficient.  Note that you’ll need a minimum of 5 participants on a call (otherwise the breakout rooms feature won’t be available to you).

Also setting expectations to delegates on the call is important, otherwise the experience ‘on the receiving end’ can be confusing.  To help with this, it’s a good idea to have someone in each breakout room that knows what’s going on and can advise the rest of the team accordingly.

Will features like this in Teams ever get to replace classroom training?

In short, no.  But until the time we can get back to classroom-based scenarios, we need to make it work for us.  Also I predict we will see a lot more blended or ‘hybrid’ training, which combines distance course work with in-person sessions.

The good news is that there’s lots more features to come in Teams that can be used to transform how training can be delivered to your workforce.

Along with the other recently-introduced Teams features such as the ability to view meeting participants in a shared background (as though they’re in the same room), live transcriptions (including who said what) and better powers for the meeting organiser and presenters when it comes to muting delegates, Microsoft is working hard to make your virtual workforce feel better-connected and better-supported.

For more details on breakout rooms, this video is a great resource.  Fast forward to minute 13:30 for information on future enhancements when it comes to managing breakout room members and inviting the different presenters that might be involved in delivering content for each ‘room’ or ‘track’.

If you are planning to deliver remote training to your workforce and would like to find out how we can help ‘boost’ the capability of Teams, with services that include converting and migrating legacy training content, tracking how well-engaged delegates are with the content you deliver (e.g. compliance training and automated on-boarding for new starts) and providing a great Netflix style learning content experience that leverages Teams collaboration, get in touch.

*You can track enhancements to the breakout rooms feature here.

Motivate, re-train, track progress:

Discover how your enterprise can build on native SharePoint & Teams collaboration capability to create a learning academy for your remote workforce

Having a naming convention for identifying meeting rooms in a large organisation can be a challenge – especially when there’s 100’s of different rooms, floors, room sizes, room types, different locations and so on.

An example we saw at a customer site recently incorporated the following attributes into the actual room name:

‘RESOURCE TYPE’ + ‘LOCATION CODE’ + ‘BUILDING CODE’, ‘FLOOR NUMBER’, ‘ROOM NUMBER’, ‘CAPACITY’, ‘AVAILABLE EQUIPMENT’, ‘ACTUAL ROOM NAME’ resulting in, for example:

ROOM THAMES VALLEY PARK BUILDING 5 GROUND FLOOR 0.01 96 AV VC Chicago 1

Although this might be OK for ‘behind the scenes’ reference purposes, if you are planning to use room panels or interactive floor plans to streamline room and desk bookings, our advice is to present end users with a less onerous name.

Apart from being more aesthetically pleasing on a screen, it’s obvious the resource is a room, and hopefully the staff member will know what building they are in.

So really, the only relevant information is the actual room name ‘Chicago 1’ and its booking status (free/busy). Information like the room capacity and facilities can be included elsewhere on the screen – and not be part of the name.  

Here is a nice example of how a simple room name has been extended to the actual design of the room itself – all of which helps enhance the staff (and visitor) experience.

What about desk numbering schemes?

Likewise for identifying desks, you might contemplate giving all your desks a unique number, instead of using the floor level or wing as part of the desk number.

Why?

To give you an example: I spent ages hammering on the door of a hotel room wondering why my partner was refusing to let me in.  The hotel in question numbered its rooms starting from 1 on each floor, which did not account for the fact that I inadvertently got out of the lift on the wrong floor! Thankfully the occupant of the (wrong) room was out!

An intuitive numbering scheme that by design accommodates the ‘floor level issue’ is to prefix the desk number with the floor number.  E.g. 423 would be desk 23 on the 4th floor.

A further tip if you’re looking at desk booking (and therefore desk numbering) as part of your COVID-19 return to work strategy is to number ALL of your desks, not just those desks that are suitably distanced.

We have seen (and averted) more than one project where the intention was to only give the ‘safely distanced’ desks a consecutive number.  The problem with this is two-fold:

  1. It is not a future-proof strategy as distancing requirements change
  2. It will not lend itself to a flexible workspace booking system in the future (this being an inevitable outcome of the pandemic, as workspaces shrink and evolve to support a now ‘hybrid workforce’).

See our room & desk booking solution in action

There’s many other minor (and major) things to consider when implementing systems designed to streamline your room and resource booking systems, contact us to find out more.

The mute story so far

As a Teams meeting participant, the mute button has proved to be a pretty useful feature during lockdown to mask out the various screaming baby/dog barking at the Amazon delivery guy/cheese-and-Marmite-toastie-munching interruptions.

And, it’s comforting to know, that if you have gone ‘on mute’ but later need to chip in with your two-penneth’s, there’s an AI feature that automatically detects that we’re talking mainly to the dog to remind us to unmute.

If you’re using Microsoft Teams as a training platform, however, the power of the mute button for role of the teacher has been sadly lacking.

So, for example, did you know that anyone can mute anyone else in a regular Teams call?    If there’s more than 3 meeting on a call, you’ll see a ‘Mute All’ button.  You can also mute individual participants ‘at will’.

As you might imagine, many a student has played this prank on their lecturer or fellow students in a Teams-based lesson, if only to alleviate the boredom of lock-down.

Additionally, even though the meeting organiser can mute all when they start the meeting to as to avoid late-comers disturbing a meeting in full flow, participants have always had the option of unmuting themselves whenever they wanted to.

Coming soon to a Microsoft Tenant near you

Initially rolled out to the Edu sector, and being generally rolled out through September/October 2020, there is a new ‘Hard Audio Mute’ feature that will give you the ultimate power to get folk to shut up.

This is how to set it up.

  1. You start by creating your Teams meeting and inviting the attendees:

Teams Mute Button

2. Next, you Edit your Teams meeting, where you get to see your original meeting details along with a new ‘Meeting Options’ link:

Teams Mute Button

3. The meeting options now include an option called ‘Allow attendees to unmute’:

Teams Mute Button

4. The other thing you’ll need to consider is who, besides yourself, needs to be able to present on the call (as presenters, by definition, need to be able to speak!).  In our example here, it’s just me:

Teams Mute Button

5. Attendees joining this meeting will now not be able to unmute themselves – like poor Charles here!

Teams Mute Button

6. His unmute option will be greyed out, and he will need to ‘raise his hand’ when he wants to speak (I love the power).Only myself as the meeting organiser (or a meeting presenter if I had specified any) can enable him to talk to the rest of the team.  To do this, I will need to raise Charlie’s status to ‘presenter’.Once I’ve made a presenter, he’ll be able to unmute himself and start shouting at me:

Make presenter in Microsoft Teams Mute Button

7. Once I’ve let him have his say, I can set him back to an attendee to make him permanently muted again:

Make attendee in Microsoft Teams Mute Button

So there you have it!  The Teams platform is being enhanced all the time and the fact that it is widely used in the education sector is a huge influence when it comes to enhancing it for the purpose of collaborative training.  Watch this space for more functionality.

The Teams platform

Read more about making the most of Teams for your learning management & training

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