Since the novel coronavirus outbreak, businesses have found new ways to keep their employees safe while getting work done. This pandemic has changed how conference rooms and meetings operate, including how they use virtual meetings to bring the whole team together as they work from home. As a manager or executive, you’ll need to consider incorporating virtual elements in your conference room as your employees return to the office.
Besides conducting virtual and in-person meetings, you may also want to plan ways to create a safer conference room during the COVID-19 pandemic. Your meeting space should facilitate productivity while keeping your employees socially distant. This guide can help you discover how to design a safe conference room during the COVID-19 outbreak.
How the Novel Coronavirus Has Changed Conference Rooms and Meetings
COVID-19 shutdowns have taught business owners how to conduct efficient meetings with the following elements.
- High-quality video in home offices: As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some employees may work remotely full-time or have flexible schedules. With high-quality video and audio equipment, they can be productive in the office or at home. Since virtual meetings have become the norm, employers began investing in updated microphones, headphones and webcams for their employees so everyone can see and hear each other.
- Board rooms equipped with video: Many companies have invested in beautiful board rooms that can fit a large group of people. While following social-distancing guidelines, these meeting spaces can bring together employees from all over the world through state-of-the-art audio and video equipment. If your employees can’t travel to your location for team meetings, they can still interact virtually.
- Shorter, more frequent discussions: Meetings will most likely take up less time because many remote workers are more productive at home. Teams with highly collaborative relationships may also check in with each other more often.
Virtual vs. Physical Meeting Spaces
The rise in digital meeting tools has caused virtual meetings to skyrocket in popularity. In-person and online meetings each have unique advantages and drawbacks. The best configuration for your company depends on the situation and what enhances your employees’ productivity. Consider the characteristics of virtual vs. in-person meeting space.
Pros and Cons of Virtual Meetings
Virtual meetings take place online, with all or most employees logging in on their computers. Here are some of the ways gathering online can be practical.
- Time savings: Online meetings find quick solutions that could have long-term effects on the company. You can conveniently meet with your team without much preparation.
- Financial savings: Meeting online saves you and your team money in planning, travel and refreshments.
- Less exposure to germs: A virtual meeting can help your whole team collaborate without getting exposed to different viruses.
- Ability to watch again: You may want to record the meeting for anyone who couldn’t attend.
On the other hand, it’s also helpful to consider the drawbacks of virtual meetings:
- Decreased productivity: Virtual meetings can be less productive than in-person ones because of the different conversation flow that takes place online.
- Lack of structure: Since virtual conferences are more casual than on-site ones, they don’t have a typical schedule, so employees may end up wasting time.
- Less engagement: You can’t always see all the virtual meeting attendees. Some will prefer to keep their cameras off for privacy reasons, and others might not look engaged.
- Potentially limited capacity: Your video conference platform might restrict how many people it allows to log in at once.
Pros and Cons of In-Person Meetings
In-person meetings allow participants to get to know one another better. Here are some of the other advantages.
- Fewer distractions: When you’re meeting in person, you have your team’s full attention instead of competing with family members at home, email pings or surfing the web. You can also offer food at your meetings to thank people for coming. As a result, your in-person meetings are usually more productive than virtual ones.
- More collaborating opportunities: Face-to-face meetings promote brainstorming and relationship-building among your team members.
- Better engagement: With an in-person meeting, you have a better idea of your audience’s reaction to your information. Attendees are more likely to pay attention to a person standing in front of them than on a screen.
You may also want to think about these disadvantages of in-person meetings.
- Exposure to germs: Stay-at-home orders may prevent in-person meetings at your commercial location.
- Unforeseen cancellations: Your in-person meeting can get postponed due to harsh weather conditions and other uncontrollable circumstances.
- More time: An in-person meeting takes longer to prepare and plan.
- Higher costs: In-person meetings can cost more money if you have to provide refreshments, pay speaker fees or reimburse your team for travel expenses.
- No playback options: Team members who miss your talk can’t watch it later unless you record it.
Pros and Cons of Hybrid Meetings
A hybrid meeting involves gathering your employees at a physical location while incorporating an online component for remote attendees. Here are some of the reasons a hybrid meeting gives you the best of both worlds.
- Seamless transition to in-person meetings: As your employees stagger their schedules, you can have hybrid meetings to accommodate remote workers and those in the office.
- Peace of mind for your employees: Your employees might be nervous about coming into the office for fear of getting sick or spreading germs to others. A hybrid meeting allows you to collaborate with your on-site employees while keeping your remote workers safe.
- Community building: A hybrid meeting brings your team together when social distancing guidelines prevent large in-person meetings.
You may also want to remember the following drawbacks of hybrid meetings.
- Difficulties cultivating a shared experience: It may be challenging to create a functional space for in-person and online attendees to have the same experience.
- Advantages for face-to-face participants: In-person attendees have more opportunities to participate than virtual ones.
- Attention challenges for online participants: Distractions at home may disrupt remote attendees during the meeting.
Combining Virtual and On-Site Meetings
Virtual and on-site conferences can be beneficial for your employees with staggered schedules. Follow these tips for conducting effective meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Invest in the Correct Equipment
Updated audio and video equipment enhance your online participants’ experience. You should also use the same online platform for every virtual meeting, so participants get accustomed to using it over time. It helps to have an on-site technical expert to set up the equipment and address any glitches or issues.
Encourage your team to invest in high-quality microphones, comfortable headphones and updated web cameras so they can hear and see you. As the meeting leader, you may also want to check your on-screen appearance. If your computer’s camera shows you at an unflattering angle or your home workspace has inadequate lighting, you can take steps to remedy those issues.
Set up the Meeting Properly
Before the meeting, test all your equipment and online software. Encourage online participants to show up early so they can also check their camera and microphone at home. You should also give participants access to any other technology you’ll use, such as Google Docs or another shared document software. Since some online participants might struggle to read a whiteboard or a flip chart, appoint a team member to manage the online participant platform and make sure they can see the speaker or on-site participants.
Blend In-Person and Online Participants
When combining virtual and in-person meetings, you want to establish a community among all participants. Consider making a list of names and photos before the meeting, or have large nameplates that your online attendees can read. If you plan on integrating small group work, think about how you’re going to include online participants in groups with in-person team members. You could have two groups — one online and one in person — but you may also want to consider integrating them.
Make Online Participants Feel Included
Since there’s often a time lag during online meetings, do your best to be patient and facilitate your remote attendees’ participation. It’s also challenging for online participants to build relationships and pay attention when they’re not in a face-to-face conversation. During the meeting, have a team member monitor the chat to check in on the online participants. You can also pair an online and on-site participant to connect during breaks or via chat during the meeting so they won’t miss any critical information.
How to Create a Safer Conference Room During COVID-19
Your conference room can prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus if you design it correctly. This virus spreads through airborne, person-to-person contact, so you’ll need to think about how to maintain social distance while facilitating a productive meeting. Here are some factors to consider as you create effective meeting spaces post-COVID-19.
- Use your conference room as office hotel space: Office hoteling allows your employees to reserve meeting space or workspace within a specific area. If you use your conference room for office hoteling instead of big meetings, you can spread out your employees and clean their offices regularly.
- Install Plexiglas barriers: Set up temporary Plexiglas shields to prevent viral spread. Since people transmit infected droplets through talking, sneezing or coughing, you can use these barriers in high-traffic office areas to catch germs. The clear glass opens up the room while giving each worker a sense of privacy.
- Create an open conference space: Designing a conference room during the COVID-19 pandemic involves facilitating better circulation to prevent the spread of germs. Corner or window-front conference spaces allow fresh air into the office when you open the windows.
- Reserve and clean meeting rooms: Create signs that indicate the room’s usage, availability and capability. It helps to use a digital announcement board that you can easily update as needed. You should also create a cleaning schedule between meetings to eliminate any germs from previous occupants.
- Designate policies for room usage: If you have a large team, try to outline guidelines regarding which staff members or departments can use each meeting space to limit exposure in your conference room post-COVID-19.
- Update your air ventilation system: You may want to replace your air ventilation with a MERV 13 system or use a HEPA fan or filtration system to remove germs from the air. It’s also helpful to monitor the temperature and humidity in each of your rooms to make it more comfortable for your employees to breathe.
- Facilitate social distancing: You’ll need to designate boundaries in your meeting space where people can sit. Consider setting up hygiene and cleaning reminders and capacity notices in your conference room.
- Make your office easy to clean: After your team members use the conference room, provide cleaning supplies within reach. Make sure your team members wipe down and refresh surfaces before they leave the meeting. You can also have an ample supply of hand sanitizer to prevent people from spreading germs as they walk around the office. Even if you have maintenance staff cleaning and disinfecting your facility often, asking your employees to help can ease the burden of slowing or eliminating viral spread in your commercial space.
- Incorporate touchless features: To minimize exposure, you can have your employees check into meetings with a mobile app, or you can install motion-detecting switches to turn off lighting and temperature units. Instead of using high-touch options such as coffeepots and snack bowls, consider providing individual refreshments for meeting participants.
How Arnold’s Can Help You Design Safe Meeting Spaces Post-COVID-19
During these challenging times, Arnold’s Office Furniture remains committed to creating a healthy workplace for you and your team. Consider some of the products we offer to facilitate safe practices in your meeting spaces.
- Cubicles: When an open-air office space isn’t possible at your location, a cubicle design keeps your employees at a safe distance from one another. Our SUNLINE office cubicle systems have tall partitions to prevent germs from spreading throughout your workplace.
- Panels, dividers and screens: If you already have an open office area in place, you can install panels on your existing furniture to give employees space from those next to them. Dividers and screens tend to be more economical than panels, and they can slide onto your desks to prevent the spread of viruses.
- Full offices: If you want to renovate your office completely to comply with social distancing guidelines, we offer full-office demountable partitions to give your employees privacy, increase productivity and keep your team healthy.
- Personal protective equipment: Besides furniture and other protective equipment around the office, we also offer a supply of SUNLINE PPE, including gloves, testing kits, masks and antibacterial wipes.
- Antimicrobial treatment: We can enhance our dividers and panels with a protective formula that hinders bacterial, fungal and mold growth. Apply this treatment every few months to get the most out of your dividing material.
Browse Arnold’s Collection of Furniture to Renovate Your New, Safe Meeting Area
Arnold’s Office Furniture has everything you need to design a socially distant conference space. We’ll help you find the right tables, chairs and cubicles to promote productive meetings in the office while keeping all your employees safe. Browse through our selection today, and contact us online or call 610-272-2050 to request a quote for our products.