Remote meetings have kept business going during the pandemic, but as companies open back up, leaders are realizing that face-to-face meetings could benefit the team. “Remote work may be the new normal, but there are also times when getting everyone together in the same room is extremely valuable,” says innovation expert Howard Tiersky, owner of New York City’s Innovation Loft, which has made extensive updates for the coronavirus era. For instance, when:
- You’re kicking off a complex project or in other circumstances where you need to build strong relationships
- You’re tackling tricky or complex problems
- Meetings need to be long
- You need to move very quickly (with fewer misunderstandings)
- You need people to brainstorm
- You need people to be fully engaged
“As lockdown requirements start to be relaxed a bit, businesses can start to consider where it makes sense to explore bringing teams together in person,” says Tiersky. “However, it needs to be done in a way that takes social distancing and other transmission prevention practices into account. There’s a growing demand for meeting space designed with social distancing in mind.”
Here are some guidelines Tiersky followed as he reconfigured the 6,000-square-foot Innovation Loft to follow OSHA guidelines and reduce COVID-19 transmission. Keep them in mind as you seek solutions for your own in-person meetings:
Enable social distancing
- Avoid elevators. Elevators present a huge challenge for social distancing. Tiersky is fortunate that his facility is on the second floor and has two stairways from the lobby, allowing rapid entry without the close proximity of elevators.
- Make sure there’s plenty of SPACE. The Innovation Loft, with its 6,000 square feet of open floor plan, normally houses groups of up to 120. Tiersky has reconfigured it for groups up to 30 using an innovative social distancing layout. He explains, “Each participant has a seat spaced over six feet from any other. But it’s more than just sitting in one place. We’ve created a ‘racetrack’ walking path on the outside perimeter of our large space, which is used in only one direction and is six feet back from the seating area. In this way, participants can go to their seats without coming close to others, and can exit at any time without coming near other seated participants.”
- Leverage technology to avoid accidental closeness. Even with all this protection, participants may accidentally forget social distancing and approach one another. The Innovation Loft issues each participant a proximity detector—powered by social distancing app Social Safety—that buzzes when someone comes within (approximately) six feet of another person to remind them to keep their distance.
Reduce germs in the environment
- Be vigilant about disinfecting. Any facility used for meetings needs to be disinfected vigorously between every session. At The Innovation Loft, meetings are typically half- or full-day sessions, so it means needing to thoroughly disinfect only once or twice a day. The Innovation Loft has hardwood floors (not carpet), and they are disinfected each night, as are all hard surfaces. Seats have disinfectable surfaces (no plush fabric) and are also disinfected each night. All surfaces are also wiped down with strong disinfectant between every meeting. Lastly, during the course of the day, attendants, who remain six feet away from participants, use UV wands to add additional disinfection to surfaces.
- Be careful about infected air. Many studies have shown that viruses can be carried by HVAC systems throughout a facility. The Innovation Loft is installing a UV irradiator in its air conditioning system to reduce this. The facility’s heat is provided by a hot water boiler system that does not circulate the air.
- Account for the “shoe problem.” Scientists warn that one way disease can be spread around a facility is through shoes that can track virus in from outside. Tiersky gives participants two options to avoid this: They are given a bag to place their shoes in on entry if they wish to go shoeless, or shoe “booties” can be used to cover the shoes to avoid any germs being tracked onto the floor.
Help ensure strong communication
- Provide see-through masks for participants. “Masks are a common tool to reduce disease transmission, but regrettably, they also reduce communications,” Tiersky says. “Non-verbal cues, including smiles and other facial expressions, go a long way toward building trust and creating strong relationships.”
- Maximize audio amplification. While you can typically hear a fellow meeting attendee who is speaking six feet away, if you have a meeting of more than four or five people, the math starts to indicate that some of your colleagues may be over 20 feet away. That’s a long way to be heard when speaking in a normal voice. Tiersky provides microphones at each seat so participants’ voices are subtly amplified and therefore can be heard by everyone in the meeting.
- Make whiteboarding easy and effective. Being able to draw on whiteboards is a classic and highly useful collaboration technique during meetings. Tiersky provides one behind each participant’s seat. If a participant is sharing their whiteboard thinking with the whole room, a camera is used to put their whiteboard content up on screens around the room, similar to how one might share a computer screen.
“Yes, it’s more challenging to host an in-person meeting now, but it is possible to do so and still follow social distancing guidelines,” says Tiersky. “Online meetings are great, but there’s nothing like getting together in the same physical space. Business is still a human activity, and there are times we need that human connection without a computer screen between us.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Howard Tiersky is CEO of FROM. His company has helped develop innovative new products for a wide range of companies ranging from Amazon to Verizon and also including brands such as Sesame Workshop, A&E, NBC, The Shubert Organization, Avis, and some of the largest banks and sports leagues in the world.
The Innovation Loft (InnovationLoft.com) is Manhattan’s most inspiring corporate offsite facility was built for group creativity and collaboration. Its amenities include curved movable and writable walls, extensive audio-visual tools, and a wide range of helpful materials (all included) from art supplies to games to costumes. Loft facilitators can work with you to super-charge your event vision to fully utilize the environment to create an event that is fun, engaging and outrageously productive.