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Workplace Trends
August 6th, 2020

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For years, organizations have invested in the hotly debated open office trend, swapping cubicles for collaboration areas and redesigning closed-in meeting spaces with glass conference room walls. According to proponents, the benefits include significant cost-savings, more flexibility, better collaboration, and a culture of transparency — literally.

Now, in light of the pandemic,  there's a renewed interest in the open office conversation as public health authorities, industry experts, and workplace leaders all consider how to safely return to the office.

Maybe you're redesigning your floor plan to meet public health guidelines. Or you might be adapting a new way of working in the open office, creating a more flexible space for your team to come back safely.

As employees begin to re-enter workplace worldwide, HBR advises that "leaders should aim for a path-breaking strategy: creating behavioral protocols and built environments that break transmission paths" for the virus. Transparent barriers offer both transmission path breaking and visual transparency, and glass conference room walls cost less to implement than you may expect.

When planning how to maintain the open office goals of better collaboration, better conference room booking, and more cost-effective use of space in the post-pandemic era, consider these pros and cons of glass conference room walls to decide if they're right for your workplace.

Pro: It's a sight for sore eyes

Experts predict companies to make a widespread shift away from fully in-office work arrangements. As employees return, it's likely that some will be in the office while some remain remote. Those who do come back are likely to return in alternating shifts or work a hybrid schedule. Meaning, everyone will need to be intentional with the time spent in the office.

The ongoing pandemic has underlined the value of meeting face-to-face. By-and-large, employees miss the serendipitous conversations with their colleagues and are looking forward to having face-to-face conversations. According to Gensler's recent research, employees say the biggest reason to go back to the office is to build community. And Commercial Observer cites Nuveen Real Estate's prediction that "‘active animation’ will drive workplace revolution, with an enhanced focus on collaboration, community, hospitality, health and wellbeing."

Although things won't look the same as we left them, glass walls create more visibility. In a space that feels different, glass offers openness. Even in a distanced workplace, seeing your colleagues can increase a sense of trust and camaraderie.

Con: Distractions, distractions

We all try our hardest to keep our focus at work,  but more often than not we get distracted when we hear a strange noise or see movement in our peripheral vision. When a see-through glass wall is all that’s separating employees from the action around the rest of the office, they can see — and depending on construction, hear — everything happening outside the meeting room. That could mean they will be more likely to lose focus on the work issues being discussed.

It works in reverse, too. Not only can employees be distracted by seeing their coworkers moving around outside the room, they may also be aware that their coworkers can watch them. Every stress-induced outburst, every sneeze, and everything in between — on full display.

Feeling like a goldfish in a fishbowl is not going to make that challenging presentation any easier, especially for introverts.

Pro: More than one kind of transparency

As you plan an effective workspace design, consider how glass walls can positively affect your bottom line.

Because any and everyone can see through those glass walls, employees are encouraged to work a little harder and make better use of their time. No one wants to be caught slacking off during an important meeting. Plus, there will be a shared sense of responsibility to protect everyone's safety in the office. People will feel safer when they can see everyone adhere to health and safety measures. Glass walls allow everyone to hold each other accountable.

There's another subtle effect: Stretches of transparent glass project an image of openness. So if your company has a culture of transparency, glass walls give the right impression.

Con: Privacy goes out the window

Without any traditional walled-in rooms, you have zero privacy.

Imagine trying to have a difficult yearly review with your supervisor in a glass-walled room. It could make an already uncomfortable situation even more awkward — and perhaps even compromise HR standards of privacy.

Some companies that have adopted the open floor plan with glass-wall offices and conference rooms are now turning to frosted glass to re-introduce a measure of privacy. Others are adding smaller, private rooms to hold personal meetings or take important business calls.

More noise passes through glass walls than traditional drywall. So not only can you see everyone outside the room and they can see you, but both sides can also hear what’s going on inside and outside the meeting room. However, there are certain types of glass walls that are more soundproof.

Pro: On a lighter note

The benefits of natural light in the workplace include better productivity and creativity, plus an uplift in the overall mood of the office. In fact, a study from Northwestern Medicine reported that office employees who received more natural light exposure during the workday saw an improvement with their sleep patterns and quality of life compared to those who received less.

When glass conference rooms replace those with solid walls or partitions, more of your employees are able to take advantage of nature’s physical and mental health benefits – not just the lucky employees who have perimeter offices.

Natural light is not only better for the wellness of employees, it also helps reduce reliance on artificial lighting. Along with that comes energy cost savings, especially if you're able to dim the electric lights in response to the amount of daylight available to your office. 

Keep in mind, though, that the best solution isn't necessarily to flood the whole office with direct sunlight. Diffuse daylight is the way to go. So if you're planning to remodel your office or build out a new space, consider a daylight control system. There are open-loop and closed-loop daylighting controls systems available, as well as newer technology that’s combining the two systems.

Bringing clarity to the future

The use of glass can help foster a feeling of community, lower electricity bills, and even brighten up the moods of occupants.

While some companies don't ever plan on adopting an open floor plan, some leaders may consider this office design for the benefit of gaining flexibility and being cost effective.  

Given the current uncertain and isolating pandemic, there has never been a more important time to prioritize the well-being of your employees and your business. That may mean it's worth examining an office design that supports communication and collaboration while protecting employees' health and safety.

No matter your choice of conference room style, you can use Teem’s conference room booking systems — from easy-to-use conference room monitors to iPad conference room scheduling — to help make your meetings better.

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