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Meeting room & Desk booking solutions

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 that can withstand another set of COVID-19 restrictions?

Most of us can go back into the office now, but from speaking with lots of facilities managers recently, we know that being flexible, and able to respond to any Government guidance changes with ease, is essential.

With this in mind, here’s 5 top tips when it comes to labelling your desks and workspaces.

1. Walk the floor to ensure a logical numbering sequence

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 labels.   You can read more about these options in this article.

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.

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

As COVID-19-related restrictions are slowly easing around the world, many businesses are preparing to return to the workplace.

However, the (as yet) unknown effects of emerging from lockdown and the ongoing threat of new variants conspire to make employees nervous about increasing their potential exposure by coming back into the office.

For those employees willing and able to consider returning to the workplace, businesses have a legal and ethical duty to create the safest possible work environment.

So how do you create a workplace that not only supports social distancing and keeps people healthy, but also reassures them that they’ll be safe when they come into the office?

This is where a workspace management solution can help.

Ensure socially distanced workspaces

Preventing staff from sitting cheek by jowl or clustering in meeting rooms is a challenge of slightly larger proportions, particularly if you’re dealing with limited floorspace.

Modern, configurable resource booking solutions can be very helpful in maximising the safe use of the facilities that you have, by:

  • Enabling employees to easily pre-book a workspace securely from any device or browser
  • Ensuring desks are never booked side-by-side unless there is sufficient spacing
  • Limiting meeting room occupancy
  • Repurposing meeting rooms as extra workspaces if necessary
  • Flagging desks with specific attributes like standing desks, accessible desks, multiple screens, multiple docking stations etc.

Pro tip: As you plan your seating assignment, having a future-proof numbering scheme is vital.

See also how technology can help with ensuring socially distanced steps in this video.

Throttle arrival and departure times

One of the easiest ways to do this is to stagger arrival, departure and break times.

This minimises the number of employees sharing lifts, stairwells and exits, and prevents overcrowding in ‘pause spaces’, and kitchens.

Depending on the size of your business, you may need to embrace shift work to achieve this.

Certainly, a booking solution can help switch up the time slots that can be booked to help avoid pinch points.

Apply strategic seating policies

Above and beyond safe distancing, it’s also a good idea to apply a few strategic seating policies via your resource booking solution.

For example:

  • Preventing critical employees from sitting in the same area together.  In the event of an outbreak, this will help an entire team needing to be quarantined at the same time.
  • Avoiding staff members booking the same workspace all the time.  As well as being a measure to prevent staff members from hogging resources, many organisations are seeing ‘hot desking’ as a way to improve cross-departmental collaboration and relationships (this will be the subject of another blog article).
  • Limiting the length of time a ‘scarce’ workspace can be used to give everyone a ‘fair share’.  A good example of this is a meeting room that has high-end VC equipment or other expensive resources.

Know who’s been in the office

Pre-booking workspaces, and then, on arrival, enforcing an authenticated (yet contactless) check-in to that workspace, is a great way of capturing accurate information on who’s been in the office.

See also section on visitors below.

Manage between-use cleaning

Sanitising workstations between users is vital to prevent the potential spread of infection. If you have cleaning staff on hand, consider using your resource booking tool to prevent successive bookings of the same desk, or enforce a short window between users to allow time for a deep clean.

If you don’t have a permanent cleaning team, a resource booking system can still help by reminding users to sanitise their workspace when they sign out of their desk for the day.

Track and trace potential infections

In the event that someone falls ill, your resource booking tool can be invaluable in tracking and tracing any potential infection chains with a complete record of every desk, meeting room and parking space that employee has used in recent days.

It’ll also be able to tell you who else used the same facilities or was seated near enough to potentially be at risk.

Enable booking of parking spaces

With infection rates still relatively high and new variants a constant risk, it’s likely that people will be wary of using public transport for the foreseeable future.

Just like with desks and meeting rooms, an automated resource-booking system can be invaluable in making the most of the parking space you have by:

  • Enabling ‘hot parking’ – assigning bays dynamically on a daily/weekly pre-booking basis
  • Staggering parking bays assigned to employees starting or leaving work at the same time
  • Returning bays to the parking pool if employees:
    • have not signed into their desk for the day (off sick or working remotely)
    • leave work early
    • are on leave
  • Keeping security informed of who is where, and when (including visitors)
  • Giving staff members that are worried about travelling by public transport peace of mind that they will have a safe place to park on arrival.

Keep visitors safe

Employees aren’t the only people you need to keep safe on your premises.

Visitor’s movements also need to be managed for social distancing reasons.

Consider using your resource booking tool to assign passes to restrict visitor numbers, pre-book meeting rooms and make appropriate parking available to ensure safe and easy entry and exit from your premises.

It’s also possible to make provision of visitor’s details a pre-requisite of organising an ‘external meeting’ to feed into your track and trace measures.

Educating visitors on safety protocol before arrival is also important – more on that in a bit.

We also like to recommend that our customers incorporate the presence of hand sanitisers and any traffic flow as part of their interactive workspace booking floor plans.  This will help reinforce the safety measures you have put in place and put minds at ease.

Prepare visitors prior to arrival

Visitors will also need to understand and abide by your health and safety rules while on your premises.  Again, you could use something like Microsoft Forms to achieve this, and:

  • Convey visitor procedures
  • Securely capture any pertinent personal details (subject to your pre-existing governance protocol)
  • Record consent to limit liability

Pro tip: Industries with more complex visitor protocol may prefer using LMS365 for its comprehensive training capabilities.

Conclusion

Returning to the workplace is going to be a challenging adjustment for many.  With the right tools and planning, however, we can ease that adjustment significantly, protect our most valuable assets (our people), and minimise the anxiety of returning employees.

You can reduce the costs and overheads of introducing COVID-19 safe provisions.

Perhaps even more importantly, we can begin the transformation to a new and better ‘normal’ that embraces the flexibility of the workplace of the future.

Covid-safe workspace booking

Read more about using resource booking and learning management tools to support a secure return to the office.

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.

To be honest, in light of the current home-working situation we thought that managing the booking of meeting rooms and hot desks would be the last thing on the agenda.

It turns out that some customers are now using our resource management solution to optimise their usage of video conferencing services.

If you weren’t already using Microsoft Teams before COVID-19 took hold, and are now relying on services like WebEx, GoToMeeting and Zoom, you may well have purchased a ‘limited host’ licence subscription. That is, where you pay so much per ‘meeting host’ per month.

With everyone now scrambling to use this resource to communicate with co-workers and clients, it’s easy to run out of host licences quickly, but buying a host licence for everyone in your organisation might not be viable.

Our customer Tindall Riley, the management company behind 5 insurance businesses, is now using Resource Central to optimise its ‘pool’ of available Zoom host licences by making them a bookable resource. This means their workforce can pre-book a Zoom host licence as and when they need it.

 

Optimising Use of Limited Video Conferencing Licences

If you’d like to find out more on how to use this service in Resource Central, get in touch.

Over the last year or so, many office car parks have had tumble-weed blowing across them.   As we navigate our return to work, however, managing how parking spaces (as well as office space) is used, can offer significant benefits.

Even before COVID-19 hit, a lot of companies are shrinking their car park sizes, not only to reduce real-estate overheads, but also to encourage staff to use more eco-friendly methods of transport.

Essential client, Airbus, enacted a reduction in car park space as one of their key “green initiatives” in their multi-million-pound Aerospace Park development in Bristol.  Many of their employees now ride-share, use public transport, or even cycle to work, making a real impact on their carbon footprint with the support of their employers.

Implementing a solution for booking office parking is a great way to maximise the use of an increasingly scarce (and costly) resource, but it takes exceptionally careful planning to navigate all the potential complications.

First off, you have the practical issues.

For example: do you want your parking bays to be individually numbered and have those numbers correlate with your booking system to minimise human error?  Alternatively, would you prefer the simpler approach of just providing a fixed number of bays (or pool) to be booked?

You also need to think about booking rules, such as:

  • Can bookings be made at any time, or will they be limited to the day before or a specific time window?
  • Will directors or senior staff get priority parking, and will they be allowed to block-book their bays?
  • How will you handle visitor parking? Will these bays be separate from the general pool, or booked on a priority basis?
  • Can staff book parking from their mobile devices?

What about when things don’t go according to plan? For example:

  • The person who booked Bay 9 parks in Bay 6 by accident, setting off an unintended domino-effect of “on-the-fly” adjustments.
  • An employee has a last-minute change of plans, or rushes off on a personal emergency, and forgets to release their bay back into the pool.
  • A senior staff member with priority parking forgets to release their bay when they go on holiday or enters into an informal arrangement with a favourite employee or friend to use their space while they’re out of office.
  • Somebody parks badly and takes up two bays.

And how do you plan to introduce the new system?

  • Will you provide training on the rules and technology?
  • Will there be a well-thought-out strategy to justify the change in behaviour?
  • Will there be counselling for when tempers start to rise…?

If you thought desks were the most contentious resources that booking solutions could be used for, you’d be shocked to find out just how strongly people feel about parking spots.

You simply cannot ignore the emotive issues of car park booking. They can be even more challenging to unravel than the practicalities, particularly when subjective questions like fairness come up.

A great example that we came across recently involved a historic arrangement that gave female employees preferential parking after an unwelcome encounter occurred one evening after work. Male employees who had previously accepted the arrangement reacted quite negatively to its continuation under the new reservation system, voicing concerns over fair treatment for all genders in light of changing times.

While that specific situation may not be an issue for your business, broader challenges like declining public transport services, traffic congestion, and overly-enthusiastic traffic wardens affect us all.

Our best advice would be to brace yourself – switching from your car park space etiquette to a new regime can be a bit of a bumpy ride…

The importance of a game plan

Balancing seniority, fairness and efficiency to keep everyone happy in a limited parking environment is always going to be a delicate process. Technology goes a long way towards simplifying the practicalities, but it can’t account for the human factor without some kind of game plan.

Creating this game plan really should be the first step for any business considering the implementation of a car-park resource-booking system. We’d suggest running through as many likely scenarios as possible and inviting employees to comment on any challenges that could affect their day-to-day experience. (Who better to shine a light on the unique eccentricities of your people and processes, after all?)

From there, you can start to formulate a basic strategy for your reservations which can be refined with the help of your service provider. Together, you can ensure your technology is implemented in the most efficient way possible, achieves your desired outcomes, and keeps conflict to a minimum.

COVID-19 Update

We suspect that the whole concept of having a dedicated desk or an allocated parking space will have to ‘go out of the window‘ in the wake of COVID-19.

Even the workspace or the parking bay normally used by directors – will need to become part of the available ‘pool’ when not in use:

  • All available desk spaces will be required to enable the requisite social distancing, and
  • All available parking bays will be required for staff coming into the office so they can avoid public transport.

Reverse hoteling (where staff can release their allocated parking bay to be booked by other staff when they are due to be out of the office) is one way in which this can be achieved.

Given that ‘out of office’ is likely to be the default position for a lot of your workforce, you may elect to make all available work and parking spaces bookable (subject to policies you might set) by those that need them.

The Essential Solution

At Essential, we’re very proud of the flexibility of our desk & workspace booking systems and our ability to integrate almost any functionality our clients desire.

From basic reservation systems to time-based check-in/check-out procedures, and reverse hoteling, our team is ready to help you find the right solution for your needs.

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

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

 

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