By Dave Clifton
Content Strategy Specialist

These days, the conference room most employees use is a digital one. Zoom, Teams, Skype, and other video chat apps are the safest way to bring people together. Unfortunately, there’s still no digital substitute for physical interaction. Sometimes it’s just easier to get together in-person. Companies that need this level of interaction should think about meeting room setup during COVID-19 before they ask employees to take a seat in a traditional conference room.

Coronavirus concerns still loom over businesses, and the situational awareness of the pandemic will linger long into the future. How can businesses reopen physical meeting rooms without violating distancing guidelines, endangering employee health, or creating unease and tension? Here are four safe options to consider:

1. Reduce capacity and socially distance

The simplest approach to safe meetings and events is to reduce capacity. Most businesses have already done this out of principle, but it’s worth it to focus on conference and meeting rooms specifically.

Don’t arbitrarily reduce capacity—be tactful. If a conference room seats 12, don’t cut it to six or eight without first evaluating the space. Is it totally enclosed or partially open? What are the dimensions of the room? What kind of furniture dictates the seating arrangement? These factors and more impact proposed capacity reductions.

For example, a 12’x22’ conference room might seat a dozen people, 3 feet in-between. A capacity cut to six people expands that to 6 feet—enough to meet social distancing guidelines. That said, you might be able to rearrange the chairs and remove a partition wall to increase usable space. The footprint of the room stays the same, but can now accommodate 10 people at a reduced capacity.

2. Change the furniture and floor plan

Furniture is an important aspect of any meeting space, but can also be the most cumbersome obstacle in reopening these areas to your workforce. Your 12’x22’ conference room feels a whole lot smaller with a 5’x14’ conference table in the middle of it. Likewise, if the room is organized around furniture instead of furniture placed to fit the room, you might not get the most out of the space.

As you welcome employees back to conference rooms, take a moment to evaluate the furniture and the floor plan. Can you replace clunky, imposing furniture with slimmed-down alternatives to gain back valuable square footage? Does it make sense to rearrange furniture and remove unnecessary pieces to create distance? In some cases, simple changes to furnishings and floor plan can help preserve room capacity and compliance with COVID-19 concerns and guidelines.

The beauty of this approach to conference room reopening is that it offers long-term benefits. COVID-19 might be the catalyst for change, but businesses will embrace the utility that comes with an optimized meeting room layout.

3. Update A/V and go digital

Meetings don’t need to be an all-in or all-out scenario. If two presenters need the floor and six other attendees are there to watch, there’s no need to lump everyone into an eight-person conference room. Why not settle for a meeting space with capabilities to stream to the viewers? It’s a smart concept for conference room management during COVID-19.

Companies that encourage mixed meetings like this will keep demand for conference rooms lower, which may lead to an overall reduction in total meeting spaces. You no longer need a 16-person conference room if your average meeting size is only four people, with 12 additional streamers. Likewise, it’s much easier to budget space for smaller in-person meetings when the only requirement is space to stream-in other attendees.

For companies receptive to mixed meetings and digital sharing resources, there’s no better way to meet social distancing than to keep physical attendance to the bare minimum.

4. Sanitize after every use

In some cases, there’s no getting around the 10-person meeting where everyone needs to attend in-person. For these instances, sanitizing solutions are essential. Even with masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizer available, groups confined to an enclosed space for extended periods face coronavirus risks. Sanitization before, during, and after can mitigate that risk.

  • Thoroughly sanitize the meeting space 30 minutes before attendees arrive
  • Quarantine and sanitize the space immediately after the meeting ends
  • For extended meetings (multiple hours), schedule a sanitization break

Sanitization is a first line of defense when there’s no getting around an in-person meeting. Thankfully, it’s not a difficult process to implement and it’s an easy task to delegate as part of increased facility upkeep or janitorial services.

Meetings don’t stop for COVID-19

Online meetings continue to be the de-facto option for companies worried about bringing people together during coronavirus. If physical presence is imperative for a meeting, traditional meeting rooms are still the simplest way to get work done. The only difference is meeting room setup and interaction are a bit different. Follow the above guidelines to create a safe environment for those must-have in-person gatherings.

Keep reading: COVID-19 Workplace Distance and Contact Guidelines

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