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

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.

When our customer wanted to give staff a quick and easy way to authenticate on-screen meeting room bookings and check-ins for its Microsoft Exchange-integrated room and desk booking system, the obvious answer was to use RFID Cards.

Adding RFID card reading capability to the chosen room screen technology was the easy part of the solution.

The process of linking the RFID card details with the corresponding users’ Active Directory profile would be the bigger challenge.

Given that staff ID cards were already in circulation and being used in conjunction with a totally separate door entry system (that was not already integrated with AD), the option of gathering users’ ID cards for registration via a central service would be difficult to orchestrate.  It would also be a very resource-intensive process.

The Solution:

By integrating the client’s meeting room touch screen booking system with our self-service AD update utility, it was possible to enrol users’ ID cards via strategically placed touch screens in reception and outside meeting rooms, either:

  • At their convenience, as and when the staff member was passing the screen, or
  • The first time they wanted to make an on-screen booking or check-in to an existing booking.

Self service ID scan page 1 Self service ID scan page 2

Using on-screen instructions (see example screens above) staff members could be guided through the process of registering their Card and then entering their Windows credentials.

We could then securely store the card credentials alongside the relevant AD record for the card holder.

Following enrolment, users were able to book rooms, desks and other resources with the swipe of a card.

By capturing the details of exactly who was booking resources, and importantly, who was checking in (or failing to check-in) to a booked resource, meant the customer had an accurate insight as to exactly how their office space was being used, and where savings could be made.

This is just one use-case.  If you don’t want to open up AD for updates – no problem.  We also support virtually any RFID technology, including Indala, Hitag, CASI-RUSCO, MIFARE®, NFC, LEGIC & HID.

Self-Service RFID Card Enrolment

Get in touch to discover how we can help you with RFID authentication.

 

This article was written pre-Covid-19 – check out our more recent article on this subject here: How Covid-19 has Eased the Introduction of Desk Management for Organisations

For those of us who’ve spent half our lives behind a dedicated desk, or in a private office, having a workplace with no seating assignments (and fewer workstations than employees) probably sounds like a recipe for chaos. Where on earth would we store our potted plants and emergency chocolate in this adult version of musical chairs? Would we have to participate in some sort of land-grab every morning just to secure a spot for the day?

While it’s certainly a break from tradition (and not everyone’s cup of tea), hot-desking is becoming an increasingly popular modern workplace solution. Far from the outlandish arrangement it may seem, the flexibility it offers can make for a very civilised and productive work environment – not to mention saving businesses as much as 30% on their overheads!

Getting hot-desking right isn’t always smooth sailing, though – and not just because of logistical complexities. Our Essential meeting room and desk booking system makes the organisational side of hot-desking relatively easy (and extends to meeting-room booking, visitor check-ins and “hot-parking” solutions, too). In our experience, the real challenge comes not from technology, but from the human side of the equation: the emotive and practical issues that come into play.

Making change easier

Encouraging employees to adopt a hot-desk environment isn’t always the easiest thing to do. As it turns out, giving a person a dedicated desk and then taking it away doesn’t have a great effect on morale.

Us humans are creatures of habit and breaking out of our routines and comfort zones is a tough sell. Oddly enough, in the case of hot-desking, we’ve found the bigger the change, the more easily it’s accepted.

The most successful hot-desk transitions we’ve seen have been part of a bigger change…..

The most successful hot-desk transitions we’ve seen have all been done as part of a bigger change: a relocation, a renovation, a consolidation – even a migration to Office 365.

It seems that by introducing broader changes, and communicating the benefits clearly, people feel less like they’re losing what was “theirs” and tend to be more open to new concepts. These include flexible working opportunities, use of collaboration technology to minimise travel for meetings, the option to work at a nearer office location, and so on.

Forming new habits

Even if employees are 100% on board with desk-sharing, there are still a few new habits they’re going to need to form for the system to work. Just remembering to book a desk and release it back into the pool when they’re done for the day can take a bit of getting-used-to.

In this, structured change management frameworks like the Prosci ADKAR Model can be extremely useful. ADKAR focusses on getting employees to understand and support the reasons behind the change, thereby encouraging enthusiastic, sustained participation rather than reluctant adoption of new behaviours. This can make all the difference in a hot-desking environment, which takes time and repetition to become second nature.

The right technology can make forming new habits dramatically easier for everyone involved…

The right technology for driving change and forming new habits can make life dramatically easier for everyone involved – particularly if it integrates with tools and processes that are already part of the normal workflow (like Outlook and Teams).

Planning for success

Implementing the right rules for your desk-booking system, in the right way, is just as important as choosing the right system to begin with.

These are a few of the things we’d suggest thinking about and discussing with your solution provider in advance. (Fair warning: this is by no means an exhaustive list – every office has different challenges and unique idiosyncrasies to consider.)

  • Will employees be allowed to book desks in advance, or only within specific time windows e.g. 24 hours ahead?
  • Will certain departments or senior staff require priority booking, or first right of refusal, before releasing specific desks into the pool?
  • What happens if an employee leaves early or doesn’t arrive for work? (Consider check-in and check-out procedures or automated free/busy indicators on desks.)
  • Will your desks be booked by location, or available on a first-come, first-served basis to the employees who have reserved a slot for the day?
  • How will you find specific employees in-office if they don’t always sit in the same spot? (Do you need a live mapping of seating arrangements?)
  • How will you arrange fixed infrastructure like desk phones or computer hardware? (Well-designed login procedures make it easier to move between workstations without losing functionality.)

The Essential Solution

Check out our adoption and change management and workplace booking solutions designed specifically for Office 365 enterprises.

You still need a good game plan to define the processes and outcomes you require, but they are a great foundation for enabling change in a way that leverages your investment in end user skills and IT infrastructure.

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.

Switching from fixed desks to flexible working spaces is challenging on many levels:

Not only do you require an enterprise-level desk booking solution, that’s scalable and flexible enough to reflect your workspace booking needs, you also need to pay attention to the ‘people challenges’ of implementing a new regime for managing how your workspace is used.

When Notting Hill Genesis Housing Association decided to adopt a flexi-working environment as part of a relocation to its new flagship office in Camden, the people issues were much bigger than they’d anticipated.

If only a desk booking solution was as simple as a cube-shaped light

According to Jenny Quigley, Project Manager at Notting Hill Genesis,

In retrospect, the cultural change aspect of the project would have benefited from some external mediation. Staff were taken aback when we told them they wouldn’t have fixed desks anymore, even though we were trying to provide more flexible facilities.  Some even had to speak with management before they got on board with our proposals.

Assuming you’ve addressed the people-issues of change in culture, loss of territory, concerns over hygiene (especially with Covid-19), secure storage and so on, and you’ve cracked the IT infrastructure side of things such as providing laptops or virtual desktops and call-routing, the next challenges are around how you provision workspaces on a practical level.

  • Can staff book desks easily, both on the day and in advance?
  • How will you physically signpost desks?  Can they be located easily?
  • Is it possible to find a desk near a work-colleague or another resource you need to use, like the photo-copier?
  • Can desks be automatically put back ‘into the pool’ in the event of a no-show or early check-out?
  • Can desk bookings be linked with your calendar and ID card system?

These are all critical factors in ensuring flexible working spaces get used – not abused.

Unfortunately, a desk booking solution can’t fix what to do with the desk plant, the kids’ hand paintings, or where to put the team’s secret biscuit stash, and all the other political wrangling that you might encounter along the way, but our project team is on hand with guidance and best practices to help smooth over the ‘soft but hard’ issues.

Hot Desking booking software

Essential has helped hundreds of UK enterprises successfully introduce flexible workspace management initiatives through enterprise level workspace booking solutions

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.

If you’re thinking of using interactive floor-plans to enable meeting room and hot-desk booking, there’s lots to consider to ensure the best ‘end user experience’. Here are some top tips from our chief floor-plan designer on creating a successful solution…..

Room & desk booking systems are becoming increasingly popular as real-estate prices continue to escalate.

If you don’t have the budget to put individual touch screens outside each room or on each desk, you can use overview screens or ‘kiosks’ that enable resource booking and navigation via an interactive floor-plan.

You can also deliver interactive floor plans from any browser or mobile devices to enable a contactless, on-the-go booking and way-finding experience.

Here are some important things to consider in order to ensure a successful solution :

1. Locate your overview screens in a place that’s immediately visible – either on arrival at the main reception area or immediately opposite the lift/stair lobby. 

Although placing a screen next to cluster of meeting rooms or desks is a great idea, don’t overlook the fact that staff visiting from other sites may not know how to reach this point in the first place. You could consider having a display only ‘way finder’ screen on arrival, and then an interactive booking screen placed nearer the rooms/resources.

2. Design the floor-plan in ‘heads up orientation’ to aid comprehension. 

So, for example, if the ‘East Wing’ of your building is off to the left of the viewer as he/she faces the kiosk screen, the floor plan should show the East Wing as being on the left, even though you might logically think East is on the right. Again, it’s important to understand exactly where the screens will be in relation to the resources you want to book and not just copy the orientation of CAD drawings if you are planning for a new-build office.

3. Make sure you have a power supply and network cabling plumbed in to exactly where you want your screen(s). 

You’d be surprised how often this point is overlooked – especially in a new build. Bear in mind that you might not have access to the site itself until well after the first fix, so you need to study CAD diagrams closely and be able to work out where everything will be and make changes if necessary. Cables added at a later date can spoil the end results, leaving your screen looking like something in an Ikea showroom. If you plan to use WiFi it’s worth checking that the signal will be strong enough to reach your desired screen location – especially if you’re in an older building with thick walls.

4. Match in with the décor. 

If you have colour-coded carpets or room dividers – build these colours into your floor-plans. This all helps the end user experience as they navigate between zones in the office. It also results in a very slick-looking end product.

5. Tie in with any room names or desk numbering schemes. 

Names or numbers should also be used consistently – both on the floor-plan and ‘in real life’. For example, rooms and desks should be labelled to match in with what’s on the screen. Again, don’t underestimate how tricky this can be. A CAD plan might start out with a totally different naming/numbering convention to the final plan produced by the facilities team. Also be prepared for lots of last-minute changes.

6. Add facilities, fire exits, etc. to the floor-plan. 

Knowing that the ‘Avon Room’ is just next to ‘the loos’ is a useful guide to navigation. It can also enhance the well-being of both staff and visitors. As well as signposting their nearest escape route in the event of a fire, it also means folk that like lots of coffee can choose a desk that is close to both the kitchen and the WCs.

7. Think about use-ability. 

Screens should be accessible by all, including wheelchair users and those that are visually impaired. So think about the height they’re installed at and don’t be tempted to cram too much detail onto one screen. You’re best breaking down a large floor area into separate zones. This is where different naming conventions and colour schemes (e.g. Left Wing, purple carpeted zone) can help with navigation.

As you can see – there’s lots to think about (this is just the tip of the iceberg) and you may have to liaise with several different skill sets – including outside building and design contractors – to make sure everything comes together when your screen goes live.

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.