Natalie Barnett
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How to create Covid-safe workspaces that people will want to use

In recent decades, the office environment has undergone major changes with the two extremes of open plan offices and cubicle-based layouts dominating the landscape for many years.

The thinking behind both of these designs was that they would increase productivity. In an open plan setting, workers would be surrounded by their colleagues and there would be fewer walls and barriers between people, encouraging face-to-face communication and more collaboration; cubicles by contrast would enable employees to concentrate in a quiet place, making it easier for them to complete their tasks without being distracted.

In this blog we’ll look at different work environments and their impact on employees, including:
  • The pros and cons of standard office designs
  • Recent developments in the modern workplace
  • How to make your office Covid secure
  • The role of the huddle room in this new-look workspace
  • How can help

Over time, however, it became clear that both layouts had their flaws and, in fact, both were seen to have a negative impact on productivity. In open working environments people were often nervous of speaking out in case they disturbed their colleagues. The lack of privacy and the fact that people had no control over their working environment also led to dissatisfaction.

In cubicle designs, people were cut off from their surroundings, forging relationships with team members was more difficult and comfort was often compromised as organisations wanted to fit as many cubicles into a space as possible leading to cramped conditions.

In both scenarios, employee comfort was low down the list of priorities when designing offices; instead the intention was to find a way to encourage people to be as productive as possible. By focusing purely on function and forgetting to consider the human element, however, the opposite was achieved.

The rise of the modern office

Thankfully, over time, the emphasis of office design has shifted and employee health and wellbeing have begun to play a larger role. This has led to dramatic changes in the shape, purpose and design of workplaces. This change in thinking has also been accompanied by the realisation that workers need a variety of spaces in order to deliver their best work; places for open communication and collaboration are essential, but so are quiet spaces and, indeed, everything in between.

With this in mind, most modern workplaces will feature open plan desk space, often hot desks, as well as breakout spaces, huddle rooms, larger meeting rooms and a more formal boardroom.

By opting for a selection of spaces, and if each is designed and setup with the right furniture and technology, employees will have greater control over where and how they work, which in turn will lead to both increased productivity and improved wellbeing.

Huddle rooms in particular are central to the success of these new-look office layouts. Designed to cater for 2-6 people, huddle rooms were initially intended to provide a quiet place to meet, share ideas and collaborate.

By designing these flexible spaces into an office plan it is possible to do more with less. Huddle rooms take up significantly less space than boardrooms and can be a great way to make unused areas into more useful, productive spaces on a small budget. Also, by opting for a less formal environment, they will be particularly appealing to millennials who place great value on collaboration, while helping to reduce the number of formal meetings that fill pretty much every office worker’s diary.

Time spent arranging meetings, checking calendars and scheduling and rescheduling meetings is also eliminated thanks to the drop-in nature of a huddle room and, importantly, only those people who need to be in a meeting will be asked to join, streamlining processes and making it easier to reach decisions with the key stakeholders.

How to make your office Covid secure

Given recent events, however, it’s likely that the workplace will once again adapt and take on a new look. Expansive open plan spaces will no longer be seen as a comfortable workspace by many, with the potential to spread germs between colleagues, especially when you add in the extra element of hotdesking.

To become more Covid secure it will be necessary to reduce the number of desks within a workplace, creating more space for people to move around without having to come into close contact with their colleagues.

Expect to see desks facing away from each other, rather than teams grouped together and facing one another, and expect to see a much greater reliance on personal devices and fixed tools at a specific desk, rather than sharing phones, laptops and other hardware.

Other additions, including screens between desks, one-way systems and sensors for lights and doors rather than having to touch handles and switches, can all help to make a space safer and, while this is clearly the priority, offices also need to be conducive with getting work done or people simply won’t see the value in travelling to them.

To meet these dual aims, it’s possible that those meeting rooms, breakout spaces and huddle areas that were once so essential to team work will take on a new role, with larger meeting rooms hosting far smaller groups, and more informal spaces being repurposed for individual use.

This doesn’t mean that they need less investment or the technology within them will become less important, however; if anything, the opposite is true. The communication and collaboration tools within huddle rooms, for example, may now be used by one person in the office to communicate with remote team members so it will still be essential that everyone can be heard, documents can be shared and the VC set up is robust. This may be the only opportunity teams have to all meet up, discuss ideas and make decisions ‘in person’ so reliability is key.

The new role of the huddle room

Indeed, huddle rooms and informal meeting spaces will have a vital role to play as people begin returning to the office and transitioning to new ways of working. Whereas in the past, huddle rooms were all about close contact team work, now with social distancing guidelines in force, it’s likely only one, or perhaps two people, will utilise a huddle space at the same time.

This will also mean that huddle spaces will become more in demand. Employees nervous of coming into contact with others but keen to return to some level of normality in the office will likely gravitate to a huddle room and work from there for the full day. This means they need to be able to accommodate a wide variety of tasks, from catch ups with remote workers to full team brainstorm sessions, while also providing a safe, comfortable space that can be used for hours at a time rather than for quick, ad hoc meetings.

Depending on team size, huddle rooms may also be used to stream meetings, training sessions and other essential content to other employees, with people from all levels of the business using them throughout the day. This will require robust, intuitive solutions that don’t require training but can be picked up by anyone and used hour after hour, day after day.

Software tools will become ever more important, with fewer physical devices meaning fewer touchpoints that could potentially spread germs. In addition, software has the added bonus of remote monitoring and management so if there are any issues support teams won’t have to physically travel to a site to resolve it.

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How can help

Huddle rooms have become a key part of many workplaces in recent years and while Covid-19 may not change this, how they’re used, who they’re used by and for how long, most certainly will.

As huddle rooms become seen as safe spaces for individual work, they’ll become even more popular with users across all levels of the business for a wide variety of tasks. Open plan spaces, on the other hand, will be seen as riskier and are likely to be less appealing to those returning to office life. And this is where the power of the huddle room becomes even greater: a key benefit of huddle rooms has always been that they are relatively quick, easy and cost-effective to install, which means it will be possible to transform more of your open space into huddle rooms and small meeting spaces for use by individuals. has everything you need to design and configure these spaces in no time at all with our online configurator, which will guide you through each step. This includes communication and collaboration tools that reduce the reliance on shared devices, AV furniture that can be fitted with screens should spaces be utilised by more than one person, content sharing tools that will ensure all team members are able to fully participate in meetings no matter where they are located as well as support services to ensure your rooms can be fully utilised now and in the future.

We know now is an uncertain time and we know that businesses are doing everything they can to keep their employees safe, and the right office layout and setup is essential to this, helping people feel comfortable as they return to work, while enabling them to remain productive, engaged and part of the team that has helped them navigate all the changes that 2020 has already bought.

To find out more about the services offered by, contact Natalie Barnett.