Remember the great huddle room trend of, oh, just a few short months ago? It was so characteristic of the connected workplace. Sprinkle these little spaces all about the office, and watch collaboration flourish. What a nonstarter the huddle room has turned out to be in our COVID-tainted world.
Office denizens who want to be super conscientious about germ transmission won’t want to share a huddle space at all, as Melissa Marsh, founder and executive director of PLASTARC, a social research, workplace innovation, and real estate strategy firm, pointed out during a recent conversation with WorkSpace Connect. At least temporarily, spaces previously designated for on-the-fly collaboration meetups will likely be repurposed as small offices or phone booths, added Marsh, who is also senior managing director of occupant experience for Savills, a global real estate services provider.
The huddle space-turned-phone booth could come in handy for audioconferences and video chats if the colleagues you need to meet up with aren’t in the office anyways — since rotating in-office days is likely to be the path forward for office re-occupancy (see my previous post, “Rethinking Office Space for Lower Density
”). But then, as Marsh wonders, “Why go into the office at all if when you get there, you have to call each other anyways?”
And then there’s the whole mask thing to consider. Many companies will enforce a mask policy as part of their return-to-the-office planning. “You’re in the office and get on Zoom, so you’re wearing a mask on Zoom in the office. Wouldn’t you rather not be wearing a mask on Zoom at home?” Marsh said.
Larger meeting rooms will give us pause, as well. When filled to max occupancy, most leave little for elbow room, let alone wide gaps in seating that will accommodate social distancing. Fortunately, the under-utilization that many facilities managers have bemoaned will now be advantageous. As rough guidance, Marsh suggested that meeting room occupancy drop by half or even by two-thirds. Companies will need to adjust their room-matching software for these new occupancy rates, and may also want to put up temporary signage with directives such as “Do not exceed three occupants in this room,” she noted.
These constraints in enabling connected workspaces and collaborative cultures should lead key stakeholders across all companies to think about why they have offices to begin with, Marsh noted. Do offices serve the purpose of bringing people together socially and emotionally? Help them feel united in a mission, vision, and purpose? To organize and streamline work processes? “This is a great opportunity now to really think, ‘Why do we have an office, what role does it play, and how do we accomplish those either in other ways or how do we prioritize the use of the office for those things,” she added.
If, for example, designers working at a clothing manufacturer need to check dye lots for colors — i.e., interact with a material product — in order to serve the business’ purpose, they should have priority access to the workspace before others, Marsh continued. These folks become testbeds, of a sort, for measuring the effectiveness of a return-to-the-office program, she added — but we’ll get into that next time.