Creating a successful hybrid working environment involves careful planning and collaboration among architects, designers, and technology professionals
Feb. 16, 2023 - As hybrid work has become the norm, there's been a plethora of information (here and elsewhere) on just what it takes to give every space the technology needed for a staff collaborating in various locations on any given day.
But there's more to it than tech.
The new hybrid reality demands rethinking how we look at designing workspaces, too. It's something that's impacting the architects and designers of these spaces and the marriage of technology and buildings to achieve an optimum result, according to Crestron's Director of Channel Marketing (Consultants) Mark Pellegrino. "I think everybody's aware that a shift has happened," he notes. "They are trying to better understand how each individual customer implements the 'new world' workflows to accommodate their particular hybrid model."
But every model has this in common, says Pellegrino: "Whether it's a handset that also has some video capabilities to a full-on auditorium or training facility — and every type of space in between, small, medium, and large — they all need video conferencing capabilities."
That's not just rhetoric from inside Crestron. Jesse Young, a collaboration systems architect with Williams, an energy infrastructure enterprise and a Crestron client, notes, "Starting just before the pandemic struck, Williams had been moving down the road to video-enable every conference room in the enterprise. This includes huddle rooms, conference rooms, and collaboration spaces." Now, with the need to accommodate hybrid workers becoming the norm, "Williams is designing our new spaces with the idea that every room receives collaboration technology."
And with that realization comes a reimagining of the office space itself.
Spaces Created for Hybrid Meetings
Pellegrino and Crestron's Director of Technology Partner Programs, Bob Bavolacco, worked with Steelcase to begin that reimagination. "They came to us and said, 'We want to change the paradigm on what a standard small, medium, and large room looks like.'" The result of that work was echoed by an article entitled "Shape Shifters" that appeared in Steelcase's Work Better and Crestron's Smarter Spaces magazines:
Designers are rethinking traditional paradigms to create hybrid conference rooms that work for everyone — in-person and remote — which means designing for the camera as much as the people in the room. It also means rethinking that rectangle.
"This is all about sightlines," says Mary Elaine Roush, Steelcase's global design principal. "We have to design so everyone has eye-to-eye contact with remote participants and any displayed content. But we can't lose what we know about in-room collaboration that works, which includes everyone in the room being able to see one another as well."
Attaining that balance has led to new approaches to office design strategies that are as elegant as they are simple. As Rebecca Charbauski, Steelcase's brand communications manager and author of "Shape Shifters," further notes: "By changing the orientation of the room from portrait (facing the short wall) to landscape (facing the long wall), people on both sides of the camera can see and be seen."
Tips for Hybrid Work Design at a Glance
Pellegrino has seen this kind of room design firsthand. "Some of these rooms in this configuration have included soft seating — a couch facing the screen with higher seating toward the back," he says. The rooms Pellegrino describes also include "homey" touches beyond the soft seating, from plants to carpets to other fabric elements. Those elements perform multiple functions: Drapes, upholstery, and the like are excellent sound absorption tools in the glass-walled boxy rooms so common in modern offices, and features designed for comfort make a return to the office more palatable.
Curves are also part of the equation, especially when it comes to conference tables. The arc of a half-moon crescent shape allows in-person attendees easier eye contact than a rectangular table while keeping everyone within view of a camera or cameras. "Thoughtfully designed?conference table?shapes specifically for video position people in the right places to have the best sightlines," says Roush in "Shape Shifters."
As for Williams, another furniture choice helps overcome some of the problems traditional videoconferencing setups create. "The traditional conference table at Williams, of any size, is roughly rectangular in shape," says Young. "For videoconferencing, this means that all those participants sitting closer to the camera block those behind them. To overcome this issue, trapezoidal tables should be used, which are wider at the front of the room and narrower at the far end."
The Right Collaboration Technology for the Room
As the way firms thought out their room designs began to change, so has their approach to technology — it's an ever-moving target, and professionals like Young are looking for "future-ready solutions." "We noticed that video-enabled conference rooms which seat eight to 12 people were being used by much smaller groups simply because those were the rooms which had video, he says. "Then, when a larger group needed a room, they were unable to find one. We chose to partner with Crestron and use their Crestron Flex line of products as it was one of the few with solutions appropriate for all size rooms, allowing us to have one physical and digital look-and-feel across room sizes."
For Young, the tech follows the room design in most cases — many of Williams' operations have existing spaces. "Having standardized on two options — Crestron Flex for Microsoft Teams room systems and Microsoft Surface Hubs — the decision is then made primarily by the size of the room and its furniture layout." Young's colleague at Williams, Lead Facilities Representative Keith Carter, adds, "The office space for some of our floors has changed to more open and flexible with Microsoft Teams-enabled devices in various locations."
"In open spaces with lounge-type furniture, we install surface hubs since this maximizes their ability to be used for digital whiteboarding and collaboration," says Young. "In spaces with traditional conference tables — from small huddle rooms all the way to large training rooms — we install Crestron Flex devices due to their wide range of applications, their ability to flawlessly integrate with external audio and video devices, and their excellent audio."