The concept of social distancing has forced many business owners to completely rethink their relationship to remote work. And while businesses may have adjusted to videoconferencing in the year since going remote, one major question still looms: once they re-open, how can they reconfigure their physical conference rooms to accommodate the fact that remote and hybrid workforces are here to stay?
Before remote work became the norm in 2020, the requirements of a physical corporate conference room were simple: companies needed speakerphones, a screen or projector for presentations, and comfortable chairs to accommodate a team around a table.
But the concept of “meetings” has transformed in the wake of COVID-19, and the conference room is morphing along with it. Physical proximity in the workplace now presents challenges for conducting everything from large departmental gatherings to quick strategy meetings. “In the days before COVID-19, conference room design was straightforward,” David Maldow, CEO of the AV-focused news site, Let’s Do Video recently said in TechTarget. “All these rooms had to be was functional… enabling teams to be productive.”
Today’s post-pandemic conference spaces have to do more than just fit executives around a table. Now, conference rooms have to make their visitors feel safe. They have to abide by social distancing policies and respect the comfort levels of employees with a range of potential risk factors, even as official restrictions ease.
And importantly, these reimagined rooms have to accommodate off-site workers that have embraced their home offices on a near-permanent basis. This means that video collaboration solutions have to work seamlessly across all types of network infrastructures to support business operations.
Conference areas must now be outfitted with a combination of safely-dispersed seating and versatile, feature-rich videoconferencing solutions. Comprehensive video and collaboration platforms have become utterly critical to this new scenario, bringing relocated executives and teleworkers back into the fold of the physical – and virtual – boardroom.
Here are a few guidelines for creating these new, post-pandemic meeting rooms:
Let technology ease the burden. Business communications solutions must include powerful videoconferencing and pervasive chat features, so teams can confer with relocated personnel as seamlessly as they would with on-site co-workers across various departments.
Utilize superior functionality. Individuals should be able to collaborate with their off-site colleagues during a conference without crowding together over a piece of equipment. “We aren't going to huddle around the speakerphone and breathe in each other’s air,” Maldow commented. Sophisticated systems should also offer productive tools that mimic an actual conference room environment, like electronic whiteboards and break-out rooms within the collaborative platform.
Spread people out. Just like theaters and restaurants, boardrooms will need to provide space between seats to satisfy social distancing needs. Meeting spaces, therefore, will need to be larger in order to support the same amount of participants. Alternately, companies could configure multiple meeting spaces that only accommodate small groups of personnel at a time, breaking attendees into sub-groups, supplemented by HD videoconferencing tools so team members in different rooms can effortlessly communicate with each other.
If corporations and their technology partners plan intelligently and leverage the right technology, the new conference room can go “hybrid” along with the rest of the workforce, respecting the safety and comfort of on-site employees while accommodating the needs of off-site colleagues.
There’s another option for businesses looking for ways to supplement their office’s conference rooms and support the needs of their remote employees: virtual rooms built into a next-generation voice, video, messaging, and collaboration platform. These always-on, persistent meetings deliver personal, face-to-face, real-time interactions whether employees are working in the office or remotely. Video rooms, just like the office, are always available and ready for face-to-face and/or side-by-side collaboration sessions.
Having virtual rooms available – and having them fully integrated into an easy-to-use, all-in-one platform – allows businesses to recreate the experience of having reliable, ready-to-use conference rooms and huddle rooms, regardless of where employees are working. They can also be used to supplement a physical office space, with employees joining a virtual room that is tied to an existing conference room in the office. Rooms enable high productivity and nurture camaraderie by providing dedicated spaces where employees can either stay all day or come and go as needed.