Skip to main content

How workplace neighborhoods foster safe collaboration

Who else misses the days of stopping by a co-worker’s desk to ask a question or bounce an idea off of them? Or sketching out ideas on whiteboards and covering walls in post-it notes in meeting spaces? What about the simple interactions in break rooms and by the water cooler? The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way we collaborate with co-workers. Those who can work from home have adapted to virtual brainstorms and other means of remote collaboration. But it’s no substitute for in-person, face-to-face interactions. 

But the future of work is encouraging. Companies worldwide are preparing for hybrid work where employees choose between in-office and remote work. We’re not back to the days of squeezing chairs in a crowded room for team brainstorms, but there are ways to foster safe collaboration for employees working on-site. 

In November, we announced Envoy Desks, a hot-desking solution designed to help employees easily reserve a desk on days they work in the office. Now, we’re releasing a new Desks feature to help teams work near each other so they can collaborate from a safe distance: neighborhoods.

What are workplace neighborhoods?

Workplace neighborhoods are areas of an office dedicated to specific departments, functions, or activity types. Neighborhoods are most common in open floor plan offices. They’re a great way to create small communities of people who have similar jobs or are working together on a project team. 

Before the pandemic, permanent seating was the most popular desk arrangement. In this model, workplace teams typically assigned new employees a desk-based on function. Now there is more flexibility as many companies are adopting hot-desking. Instead of having a permanent desk assignment, employees can select a hot-desk in their neighborhood or choose to sit someplace else for the day. 

At the height of the pandemic, it might seem like neighborhoods are dangerous as they bring people together. If you need your teams collaborating, you can still use neighborhoods–it simply requires adherence to social distancing protocols, strategic desk placement, and the right hot desk desking tool.

Neighborhoods provide value for both workplace teams and employees. Among those benefits are:

  • Adaptability. Neighborhoods allow workplace teams to easily adapt seating arrangements without making huge changes to office design. They can add employees to neighborhood groups digitally instead of physically moving furniture around.
  • Space efficiency. Neighborhoods also allow companies to make better use of their office space. With the shift to remote work, many companies are realizing they don’t need all that space. Neighborhoods are a great solution for companies looking to maximize space, optimize office layouts, and save on real-estate costs by eliminating dedicated offices or desks for every employee.
  • Collaboration. For employees, the key benefit of neighborhoods is collaboration. Instead of sitting at the same desk every day, neighborhoods encourage more cross-functional interactions. Neighborhoods allow teammates, project-mates, and even employees who haven’t met before to interact and naturally collaborate.
  • Productivity. Changing up who you sit near every day can have a positive impact on productivity. Plus, if employees have the space to work in a way that’s best for them, they are more likely to thrive. 

Types of workplace neighborhoods to consider

Another added benefit is flexibility. Workplace teams can set up many different workplace neighborhoods, depending on their teams’ needs to keep the workplace agile. Having an agile and flexible workplace is more important than ever with the rise of hybrid work. 

Here are four types of workplace neighborhoods to consider:

  • Neighborhoods by function. Seating teammates by function is probably the most common neighborhood type. In this model, a neighborhood consists of members of the same function, such as HR, engineering, finance, marketing, etc. 
  • Neighborhoods by project team. This model is similar to the one above. However, it allows for more cross-functional collaboration. Maybe members of the product, design, marketing, operations, and sales teams need to work closely together on a specific project. Designing this type of neighborhood would allow those employees to sit near each other as needed during that project duration. 
  • Neighborhoods by activity type. Sometimes employees care more about the location or environment than the people who sit next to them. Workplace teams should create designated “quiet zones” for heads-down work or “phone booth zones” for client calls to accommodate employees’ needs. If your office has outdoor seating, you could even consider the patio or roof deck neighborhood as well.
  • Neighborhoods by amenity type. A final model to consider is designing neighborhoods by amenity type. You could have a neighborhood for standing desks. One for booths. One that has close access to the coffee machine or other amenities that only specific areas of the workplace offer.

How Desks neighborhoods work

With the new Desks neighborhoods feature, admins can designate specific areas in your workspace using any of the types above. Once you assign which desks are in each neighborhood, you can use one of our SCIM Directory integrations like Okta, Google, Microsoft Azure, or OneLogin) to automatically assign your employees to neighborhoods. This will assign employees to neighborhoods based on their department, organization, or division. Admins can also manually assign employees to neighborhoods. Find out more about how to set up Desks neighborhoods in this help article.

When an employee wants to work from the office, they’ll register through Envoy Protect and complete your health questionnaire. After they’re approved and sign-in for the day, we’ll automatically seat them in their designated neighborhood so they can work near teammates to collaborate safely onsite.

Desks also offers employees the flexibility to change their desk if they prefer to sit elsewhere. Employees can use the Envoy mobile app to view an office map to select their desks for the day. 

Envoy’s suite of products also allows workplace teams to easily manage capacity in their office and arrange desks for social distancing. Follow these tips to set up hot desks for the flexible, safe workplace. 

Start your free Desks trial today to set up neighborhoods and foster safe collaboration in your workplace.

Want to talk to someone from our team about Desks? Contact us here.