#12: The Sweet, Sweet Conference Suite
Welcome back to the SERA Workplace series Silver Linings. We took a few months off to fully soak in the new year. And now that 2020 is officially in the record books and vaccines are available, we have nothing but a glorious, sunny, post-pandemic future to look forward to. Right? (gulp.) Rest assured, we will continue finding silver linings in whatever calamitous events may befall humanity.
Today we’ll continue our look at what may be the most important part of the office building—the ground floor. (It does, after all, keep the rest of the building from floating off into space.) In recent years, the first floor of most new mixed-use office buildings has been perhaps rightly focused on retail and restaurant tenants. Such businesses not only provide revenue to the building owner and keep that all-American economic engine humming, they also activate the public face of the building in both scale and use, encouraging public interaction with the architecture and making urban streets more pedestrian-focused.
But, as with so many aspects of life in these strange times, now is the time to reassess whether the path we’ve been following for so long is the best way forward. One of the most promising silver linings of this pandemic is that we’re already seeing a new focus on human health & wellbeing. And in our business, it begins at the first floor. Because more than any other part of the office building, the first floor feels the most equitable in nature. It is where the microcosm of the building meets the macrocosm of society. It is the one shared experience among every building occupant and every visitor every day. And it offers the best opportunity to offer community programs.
Last time, we looked at just a few simple ways that we could begin to re-think the arrival and departure moment. Today, let’s expand our scale and think about amenity spaces. Specifically, the visitor conference suite. SERA’s Workplace studio has been designing such suites for our tech clients for a number of years. What are the advantages of having a ground-floor conference suite and what the heck does this have to do with Health & Wellbeing? Read on!
Of course, worker safety is paramount. The need for physical security is obvious and essential. In addition, many user groups within these organizations work with highly sensitive data. With all the invested study of workplace design, even the furniture layouts and teaming methods used in these buildings are considered trade secrets. With a ground-floor conference suite, building users can host meetings with allied partners, clients, consultants and other visitors in a secure, comfortable environment while elevator access and upper floors can remain more tightly secured.
If 2020 taught us nothing, it showed us how easily viruses and other germs can be transmitted. Covid-19 is particularly insidious because it can be spread through aerosol droplets emitted when asymptomatic people merely breathe or speak. For that reason, our personal workstations and even team spaces will become more sacred. The fewer people we share space with, the less likely we are to share an unseen pathogen. Ground floor conference suites reduce the likelihood that new disease vectors are being introduced to the greater building population. Enhanced ventilation and regular cleaning can mitigate the risk of transmission in each conference room.
In both single-tenant and multi-tenant office buildings, having large conference rooms on the ground floor opens up space on each floor above. This space may be particularly valuable now as, even when this pandemic subsides, desks will likely be spaced out not just to inhibit the spread of sickness, but also to provide a sense of psychological security. Smaller conference rooms, phone rooms and teaming spaces can support workers on upper floors, while larger meetings can be held in spacious ground-floor rooms. Because of the location on the first floor, these conferences suites can have enhanced hourly air exchange or even (ideally) have operable windows that allow natural ventilation.
In addition to supporting security, health and program efficiency, a ground-floor conference suite that features a number of different sizes and configuration of rooms, can provide a flexible amenity space that can be used for larger gatherings or after-hours events. Located near the building entrance, these suites can be welcoming, tech-infused hospitality areas and, like the lobby, can evoke the aspirations the building through careful design and selection of lighting and finishes.
What do you think? Have you seen this model of ground-floor conference spaces that’s been executed particularly successfully?
What could possible challenges be to ground-level conference spaces?
Be on the lookout for our next installment of Silver Linings, where we will dig deeper into ground floor amenities for a post-pandemic world!