Helping you adopt & adapt the Microsoft Modern Workplace & Azure Cloud for your business

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to use CAD diagrams as a reference when numbering workspaces, however in our experience these can quickly become out-of-date.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.  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:

  • 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.
  • Numbers should be allocated logically and consistently within a ‘desk block’, to minimise the amount of walking around to find a desk.
  • Likewise, 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.
  • You may consider adding signage in strategic places (e.g. other entry points to the floor) to signpost desk ranges – exactly in the way hotel room ranges are indicated when you come out of the lift at a hotel.
  • 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. 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.

5. 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’.

Covid-secure workspace management

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

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.

Optimising real-estate utilisation is a great way for enterprises to reduce costs – especially as the growing trend towards flexible and remote working has lead to increasingly under-used office space.

We’re also now facing a situation where remote working (and therefore reduced office space) may become more a a norm, against a ‘perfect storm’ of COVID-19, environmental issues, flexible working trends and extreme weather events.

To help streamline the workspace booking process, Microsoft continues to encourage the use of resource mailboxes in Office 365, and is providing new features to assist with booking meeting rooms, Teams Rooms and individual workspaces with Microsoft Teams.

For example, it is now possible to book and schedule meetings using the Teams calendar (as well as via Outlook calendar).

There are still some ‘gotchas’ when booking meetings and meeting rooms using Teams, so in this article we have provided some tips and best practices to help navigate them.

 Teams features to help users book resources

Teams contains a calendar app that is a view of the logged-on users’ calendar.

Integration with Teams means that a meeting can be booked, with a room, attendees and Teams credentials all in one process.

Within the calendar app it is possible to create and edit meetings that contain room bookings.  Selecting the meeting time span required automatically opens a new meeting window.

Adding details to your Teams meeting

Here it is possible to find a free room easily using the location field.

This can be achieved using room lists, or if Microsoft Teams Rooms are being used (see also lower in this article), proximity detection can suggest a nearby room.

Check out this article for more information on proximity detection: https://www.microsoft.com/itshowcase/blog/click-join-internal-meetings-get-a-boost-with-microsoft-teams/

Attendees can be added and the meeting scheduled, which then acts in the same way as creating a room booking in Outlook.

Teams meeting details are automatically added to all meetings booked in the Teams calendar app.

There is also bi-directional synchronisation with the user’s Outlook calendar.  For instance, you can edit items scheduled in the Outlook calendar and have those changes appear in Outlook.

https://office365itpros.com/2019/08/26/teams-new-calendar-app/

Beware Teams Meeting Booking Limitations

For example:

  • the Teams calendar has no concept of multiple time zones
  • you can’t mark events as private, and
  • you can’t drag and drop meetings between time slots.

For this reason users should not expect to organise their diaries using Teams in the same way they can Outlook.

Watch out for Booking Meetings in Channels

A concept that is unique to booking meetings in Teams is the ability to select a channel in which to meet.

Channels are sub-sections of teams, a bit like a topic within a team.

A concept that is unique to booking meetings in Teams is the ability to select a channel in which to meet.

It is important to note that when a channel is selected, the meeting booking is made by the group email address of the channel, rather than the logged-on user.

Whilst the organiser in the Teams calendar app is displayed as the user who made the booking, the corresponding booking in the Outlook calendar shows the organiser as the channel.

Also a Teams channel invitation does not automatically send invites to everyone in the channel.

If you want Team members to receive a meeting invitation you should:

Either way, it would seem that there is currently a bug if you want to book a physical meeting room from a Teams channel.  Check out this thread.

Microsoft Teams Rooms

Utilising a combination of resource mailboxes, the correct Office 365 licence and compatible hardware it is possible to create a Microsoft Teams Room which turns a regular meeting room into a fully video-enabled collaboration space.

No licencing is required for a regular resource mailbox, however, in order to enable a room as a Teams room, a licence is required.

It is possible to apply certain enterprise licences to enable a Teams room, however Microsoft have a licence type specifically for Teams rooms.  The licence includes (amongst other things):

  • Skype for Business
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Phone System
  • Audio Conferencing
  • Microsoft Intune

Once enabled and licenced, the room mailbox is ready to use alongside the appropriately configured hardware.

Working with & booking Teams Rooms

 

By using workspace more intensively and wisely we can reduce our use of buildings and thus our impact on the environment…

Sir Gus O’Donnell, former cabinet secretary and head of the Home Civil Service

Making the necessary changes that enable workforces to adapt to a shrinking office space – especially where that means adopting ‘non-territorial working’ – requires a multi-discipline strategy involving people, design and technology.

For example:

  • The personal benefits of working from home or having a shorter commute should be made clear as part of a hot-desking initiative – it has to be a two-way contract.
  • Office interiors should be designed to be more vibrant and flexible, with a variety of difference workspaces, storage options and fun areas for socialising – there should be compelling reasons to come into the office for team building.
  • Technology to help remove the stress of booking and finding free workspaces should be adopted.  The needs of other stakeholders such as the facilities management team also need to be addressed by whatever you choose.

If you use Office 365, the great news is that you already have the ideal platform on which to build and streamline resource booking and management.

The room booking benefits that Office 365 offers include:

1. A familiar Outlook & (increasingly familiar) Teams UI –These are the default collaboration and scheduling applications that are already embedded in users’ working practices.

2. Sophisticated calendaring – With Office 365 you have:

  • Support for shared calendars across co-workers
  • The ability to delegate calendar management to team members
  • Support for shared calendars across Outlook & Teams

4. Robust, centralised security –Your existing platform uses Windows auth and AD access rights/privileges to govern access and enable SSO.  This can be used to govern who can book what resource.

3. Advanced scheduling – Powerful tools like the Resource Booking and Scheduling Assistants and Cortana make it easy to find the right time for a group of people and coordinate schedules across multiple time zones.

5. Business continuity – Using regular Outlook calendar and other Microsoft-standard infrastructure means failover and protection against obsolescence is built-in.

6. A reasonably* robust room and resource booking model –You’re probably already using Microsoft’s native resource mailbox capability for booking rooms…

It therefore makes 100% sense that any solution you choose to streamline resource booking and management uses this functionality and doesn’t try to replicate it with a separately managed, secured and disjointed platform.

Available on-premises or in Microsoft Azure, our resource essentials solutions have been developed from the ground up to run in your Microsoft environment and leverage your existing investment in terms of user skills and infrastructure.

This means that issues like user learning curve, security, calendar privacy, delegate access, cross-time zone timings, integration with Microsoft conferencing, duplicate meetings, etc, are all non-issues.

Building directly onto your Office 365 platform we deliver:

  • Smart room and desk booking screens and devices for outside meeting rooms, receptions, lobbies, etc
  • Support for RFID badges and tags for on-screen authentication
  • The ability to book virtually any additional resources such as catering, special requests such as vegan & allergens, equipment, seating layouts
  • Facilities management dashboards for managing catering requests, rearranging meetings
  • Ability to strip meeting subjects out to avoid sensitive information being displayed on booking screens.
  • Management reporting including utilisation reports
  • *Fixing the shortcomings of native resource mailboxes, such as smarter handling of recurring meeting requests, a dashboard for FM/admin staff to manage and view all bookings, visitors, and much, much more.

 

See our room & desk booking solution in action

Discover how we can help you manage your meeting rooms & desk bookings in order to utilise your estates more effectively.

There’s no doubt that the Outlook Calendar application makes a logical place for staff to book resources such as meeting rooms.

Apart from being convenient for end users, behind the scenes, Microsoft Exchange provides an underlying framework that makes it easy to scale and deliver an enterprise-wide solution.

Have you spent time investigating all the facilities in Outlook calendaring?

It’s got virtually every feature you could want of a corporate and indeed a personal diary.  It also has new capabilities that make it easier to book rooms and other resources such as catering.

But is your IT department making the most of newer functionality in Exchange to help with resource bookings?

For example, with Outlook calendar it’s now possible to:

  • Let users list & book meeting rooms according to location
  • View the facilities available in each room (e.g. built-in projector)
  • Request catering for a meeting
  • Inform facilities staff of resource bookings
  • Make bookings subject to approval (e.g. by a member of the facilities team)

Written by our resource booking expert, Jim Fussell, our white paper explains what is now possible in ‘native’ Microsoft Exchange or Office 365 and Outlook calendar in order to book your meeting rooms & desks.

It also provides tips aimed at technical staff to help them get the most out of these facilities.

See our room & desk booking solution in action!

Discover how we can help you manage your meeting rooms & desk bookings in order to utilise your estates more effectively.

Having a meeting organiser fail to show when you’re using video conferencing is annoying, but when a physical meeting room, effort on the part of delegates, not to mention a round of coffee and donuts are being wasted, it’s a bad habit that needs to be addressed.

How can you eliminate no-show offenders?

Outlook calendar recurring meetings are a common culprit as they are easy to set (and therefore easy to forget to cancel).

Advising staff on best practices for creating and managing repeat meetings in Outlook is always a good policy (this is a good LinkedIn video).

It’s also possible to limit the number of recurring meetings in Exchange/Office 365 – specifically when they involve resources like meeting rooms (see this Microsoft technical note), but there’s the option to be even more proactive in establishing better habits.

Like BP, you could get ‘hard-core’ and use a ‘3-strikes’ policy that really clamps down on repeat offenders – especially those that abuse the Outlook calendar recurring appointments feature.

Or you can take a ‘softer’ approach to ensure otherwise unused ‘room hours’ get re-allocated by making them immediately available to other staff members.

How to do contactless room & desk booking signage ‘on the cheap’

Sometimes installing room screens and individual desk devices throughout an office space can not only be cost-prohibitive, the job of running wiring (e.g. PoE) can be challenging, especially if you’re in a listed building with 30cm thick walls (like we are).

Now, with Covid-19 ‘in the mix’, having a contactless way to make bookings (not to mention a quick way to roll out a booking system) is a top priority.

Introducing QR Codes

There’s now a virtually zero-cost option to give staff instant room and desk booking ‘in-situ’ using a system that’s more commonly associated with consumer advertising: QR codes.

QR codes are those curious little square 2D barcodes that can be found on adverts, magazines, buses and many other objects.

Instead of using a screen or desk device, you can simply generate a QR code that links to the relevant resource URL* (using a free online service such as http://www.qrstuff.com/) print it, stick it next to the room(s) or desks you want to book, and you’re ready to go!

All your staff need to do is scan the code using their mobile phone/device, which then links to your workspace booking system (get in touch with us to find out what your options are here), in order to check into or book a session or service for that resource.

The QR Code Reader App is available for most devices, free to download* and the codes can be printed onto something as simple as a piece of paper and laminated for a sleeker look.

Simply by scanning the QR signs staff can:

  • View availability through virtually any mobile device.
  • Quickly & easily check in, extend and check out with one click.

Meanwhile you get to make significant savings on screen and installation costs.

See our room & desk booking solution in action!

Discover how we can help you manage your meeting rooms & desk bookings in order to utilise your estates more effectively and provide contactless booking for you workforce.

As you may know, you can use dedicated Microsoft Exchange (Office 365) mailboxes to represent resources such as rooms, desks and equipment, and start booking them using standard Outlook calendar.

Microsoft Outlook calendaring has become a popular way for staff to schedule meetings. Using it to book meeting rooms and other resources such as catering and AV equipment is another way of maximising your current technology infrastructure.

This white paper looks at the ‘native’ functionality available in hybrid Microsoft Exchange/Office 365 and Outlook to aid the process of managing resources.

Importantly, it highlights tips for getting the most out of Exchange resources, including the best strategies for approaching a resource booking project.


Get the white paper

See our room & desk booking solutions in action!

Discover how we can help you manage your meeting rooms & desk bookings in order to utilise your estates more effectively.

STOP PRESS: COVID-19 means that contactless operation for your room booking service across all functionality outlined in this article is now VITAL.

It’s an all-too-common problem:

You try to book a meeting room in Outlook calendar and there’s nothing available.  Then, on the day you needed the resource, you find yourself walking past corridors of empty meeting rooms.

Why does this happen?  Who are these wasteful people?  How can we stop this?

It doesn’t help that Outlook calendar makes it easy to book recurring meetings, and people simply forget to cancel a meeting, or perhaps they are off ill.  But that’s a huge expense you could do without.

Implemented correctly, Outlook-integrated room screens can help you get maximum room utilisation at all times and put an end to bad room-booking etiquette.

Here’s 4 essential room screen features that you should look for to achieve the best results:

  1. Check-In with Auto-Release – This is the ability to set up an on-screen room check-in function that works to a pre-defined time window.  The idea is that if no-one shows up within, say, 10 minutes after the meeting was due to start, the room is automatically released to be used by someone else.
  2. Check-In with Authentication – This is a next step on from above, where basically you capture the ID* of the person that booked the room as they arrive.  It stops the scenario where just anyone could press a check-in button.  It also gives you a very accurate fix on who is consistently wasting rooms, so that you can do something about it.  *Ideally you need an authentication mechanism that ties in with your AD system and lets you use an existing ID card, a short PIN number or confirmation via a mobile device.
  3. Auto-Blocking – Imagine someone defaults on a room booking 3 times in a row (or whatever number you want).  We can now register this fact and automatically cancel his or her subsequent bookings for the same room.  Admittedly, this action might be considered extreme – you might just want to flag repeat offenders so they can be tackled differently – but being proactive about repeat offenders could save you thousands of meeting room hours per month.
  4. At-a-glance Availability Status – Importantly, if a room is released, the room screen itself should show ‘at a glance’ that it’s free to be re-booked.  For example, staff should be able to see a ‘glowing green’ status light from the end of a corridor or see free rooms on a overview screen in reception.  They should also see clearly when the room is scheduled to be used next, so they know they’ll have enough time for their meeting.

There’s lots of other things you should look for when selecting a room screen that will save money and help staff get the most out of available facilities, but simply by releasing rooms when the organiser doesn’t show up on time is a great start.

This functionality alone is enabling an international aerospace giant to release 3,300 hours of meeting room capacity each month.

Another key thing you need to know is that although room screens look very slick – they aren’t an extravagance – especially when you realise how much they can save your company.  For example, our solution lets you use just one screen to represent multiple rooms – so you don’t have to have a screen per room.

Room Screen Solution

Start managing your meeting room & desk bookings more effectively with the only solution built on your Exchange & Office 365 infrastructure.

‘Empty meeting room syndrome’ is a common experience for most: There’s no rooms available when you try to book one in advance, and then on the day there’s tumbleweed blowing down a corridor of empty rooms.

Let’s not forget that part of the problem stems from the fact that Outlook makes it easy to book recurring meetings, and people simply forget….but how can we stop this wasteful problem?

Outlook-integrated room screens are a great step in the right direction to stop room wastage – especially if there’s a check-in facility (read more about this concept below).

We were recently asked to go one step further and enable a customer to put a stop to repeat ‘no show’ offenders.

Here’s how we did it.

Step 1: Detect No-Shows

The first step was to get a fix on whether or not folk are turning up to use the meeting room they’ve booked.

We did this by adding room screens with a check-in facility. A room gets booked via Outlook, and then on the day of the booking, the screen (which syncs with Outlook) shows the booking details and prompts the organiser to check-in when they arrive.

Alternatively, the organiser can check-in the meeting through an email reminder link.

If check-in doesn’t occur within a pre-defined time window, the room gets set back to being ‘free’. This means it shows up as a book-able resource in Outlook calendar.

Importantly, the room screen itself turns from glowing red to glowing green, showing ‘at a glance’ it’s free to be booked.

But this is where the magic happens.

Step 2:  Get Tough on Repeat Offenders

If someone defaults on a room booking 3 times in a row (or whatever number you want) we can now register this fact and penalise the individual in question by automatically cancelling any of their subsequent bookings for the same room.

Cancelling the rest of the meeting bookings is ‘kinda hard-core’ – and it may be a controversial step for you to take – but it could save you thousands of meeting room hours per month.

Other customers have opted for a ‘softer approach’ of making sure the impact of a no-show is minimised.

Step 3:  Re-cycle Wasted Rooms…Quickly

You could, however, take a more straightforward approach to avoiding waste.

For example, by simply releasing rooms when the organiser doesn’t show up on time has enabled our client, an aerospace giant, to release 3,300 hours of meeting room capacity each month.

Another key thing you need to know is that although room screens look very slick – they aren’t an extravagance – especially when you realise how much they can save your company.

See our room & desk booking solution in action!

Discover how we can help you manage your meeting rooms & desk bookings in order to utilise your estates more effectively.