Why sit-down meetings may not always be best

Walking meetings can be healthier and more productive than sit-down ones, according to a new book, a meeting of the European Smart Work Network heard last week.

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Why do we always do sit down meetings? A recent book, Walk your meeting, explores walking meetings or ‘weetings’. Written by Martine de Vaan, who has been doing daily walking meetings for years, it outlines different types of weetings and draws on data showing the benefits, including studies showing the relationship between exercise and brain growth. Having outdoor meetings during the pandemic has health advantages, given it is harder to pass on the virus in the open air, but mobility and exercise generally are clearly better for us than sitting still for hours on end. Moreover, being in nature can encourage an easier collaborative flow and greater creativity,  says de Vaan, who is also an Innovation Manager at the Dutch Central Government Real Estate Agency.

She told a recent meeting of the European Smart Work Network that every office should have a map of their local environment outlining different lengths of walks to support people to get outdoors to work.  “People are animals and they need to go outside,” she said.

For her, the core of working differently is a management issue linked to how work is organised rather than about making our buildings different.

The meeting also focused, however, on the interaction between how work is organised and office design. Kirk Laker, IT system developer at East Suffolk Council, spoke about space booking – that is, booking not just desks, but other spaces such as parking spaces and collaboration spaces [some of the latter are not bookable to account for a sudden need to get a team together to discuss a topic]. He said the council had looked to implement desk booking before Covid on an in-house basis initially. They had used an SQL database to check work flows. People could book for a single timespace to avoid double bookings. It was brought in in a phased approach. However, Covid forced a review of IT systems and the council decided to take part in a 30-day trial of Tribeloo’s desk management and meeting room booking solution which they promoted on the intranet as well as priming their helpdesk to answer questions.

The system allows not just individuals to book a space, but also others can book on their behalf and an email will be sent to the relevant outlook calendar. The system is monitored every day. The council shares the system with other public sector organisations, for instance, for parking spaces. The system is linked up to heating and lighting resources so the council can reduce its carbon footprint by only heating and lighting those areas which have been booked. People can check on the system if a colleague is in on the day they are around.

It comes as council surveys show that around half of employees are happy to continue working from home due to the savings on time, finances and so forth. The council is looking at whether it can break up banks of desks which can be booked by one particular team in order to introduce more space and is reviewing whether to move meeting spaces around.

Office design

Dr Nigel Oseland, workplace psychologist and author of Beyond the Workplace Zoo: Humanising the office, spoke about office design. His book covers the common design mistakes with the modern open plan office and describes how to design environmental conditions that enhance performance by supporting basic physiological needs. For him the important thing is that offices accommodate our innate human needs now and in the future and are more inclusive and agile.

He said young people expected collaborative spaces at offices. They had been exposed to collaborative spaces at the centre of university libraries and said this is influencing office design as is home design. Martine added that the biggest challenge for office design is creating a place where people want to come together.

For Andy Lake, co-founder of the network, the important thing is for employers not to think of the home and work in a binary place. They should think of everyone as being equally remote and open their minds to new ways of working rather than falling back on traditional ideas of how things should be.

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