While COVID-19 variants are keeping so many people guessing about the status of their offices and how long they might be working from home, one Nashville-based company is not anxious, because its flexible new headquarters was designed for hybrid workgroups by Fort Lauderdale, FL-based Think Simple.
HealthStream is a software developer that helps healthcare organizations improve workforce development, talent management, credentialing, and performance assessment. In 2020, the company played a crucial role in training healthcare workers to safely handle patients with COVID-19.
While no one at HealthStream foresaw the coming pandemic, they were well equipped to function during the lockdowns. That’s because working remotely was already an important part of the company culture when executives began planning the new, 67,000-square-foot headquarters in 2019. “It was an opportunity to design the offices we really wanted from scratch,” said Mollie Condra, vice president of communications and investor relations.
Although based in Nashville’s Capitol View area, the company has seven additional offices, and a large number of employees were already working at least part of the week from home. On any given day, prior to the lockdowns, perhaps 300 people might have been present in its headquarters, with 600 or more in other locations. “It was a given that if you scheduled a meeting, at least one person would join remotely,” Condra added.
The new headquarters includes 71 conference rooms, 51 of which include videoconferencing. There are also 43 small huddle rooms, each with seating for two to six people, five larger meeting rooms with seating for up to 24 people, 20 rooms intended for local meetings, and an all-hands space called the Forum, with seating for more than 300 people (including two employee lounges) and the ability to include hundreds more via video.
Unifying the Team
In planning the move, one of the biggest questions was what sort of technology could power the communications between those working in the office and team members in other locations. While they were already using a popular unified communications platform, they were heavy users of Office 365, which could include Microsoft Teams.
“It was obvious to me that HealthStream would benefit from a switch to Microsoft Teams, so in our initial meeting, I showed them Mercury, part of the Crestron Flex product line,” said Will Gilbert, partner at Think Simple. “With Mercury, you just walk into a meeting room, plug in your laptop and start Teams. That’s it. Now, instead of the camera and microphone built into your laptop, you’re using the camera and microphone we installed in the room. The room’s flat-panel display mirrors your laptop screen.”
Gilbert felt Mercury would be a natural in the huddle rooms, where up to four employees might meet comfortably with multiple team members joining from other locations. By pairing Mercury with Teams, HealthStream would be also able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars on licensing fees. “They were already using Office 365, of which Teams is now a part,” he explained, “so licensing an additional communications platform was no longer necessary.”
Think Simple built a custom Crestron interface they expected to use in several larger rooms, but HealthStream wound up using it in all but the Forum and the Strategy Room. The focal point of the Forum is a large open area where staff can set up a podium, 82-inch display, and temporary seating and tables for a speaker panel. Opposite the “stage” area is a stairway that features tiered seating and two more wall-mounted 82-inch displays. Facing the stage on the left and right are the employee lounges, which feature sound and video systems that can be combined with the central areas.
“This space was definitely the most challenging of any we worked on at HealthStream,” said Geoffry Ranson, an engineer and programmer for Think Simple. “We spent a lot of time mapping out the room and programming the sound system, so that presenters can walk around as they wish without causing feedback.”
Beyond accommodating the presenters, the outside walls are all glass, making reverb control a high priority. The solution features two K-Array line arrays in the tiered seating areas plus 24 QSC ceiling speakers in the lower portions that fill out the rest of the space. The central area also includes a Vaddio PTZ camera.
The Strategy Room can seat more than 30 people and include remote participants via Microsoft Teams. According to Condra, the main purpose of the room is to support planning for HealthStream’s Performance Incentive Program. To optimize these meetings, the room includes a variety of computer resources plus an Epson Pro-L laser projector with 164-inch Da-Lite screen, Vaddio PTZ camera, Revolabs wireless mics, Biamp DSP, and Crestron presentation system with a matrix switcher, mic mixer, and audio amplifier.
Every meeting room includes Crestron AirMedia, so users can connect laptops wirelessly instead of plugging in a USB cable. Every room except the Forum includes a Crestron scheduling panel as well. A 12-screen digital signage system is used internally and for welcome messages to visitors. Two conference rooms are divisible with air walls that retract into their ceilings. Plus, there are 10 more presentation rooms in which Think Simple repurposed Crestron systems from its old headquarters.
“The thing our users like the most is that the AV systems are transparent,” said Andral Johnson, who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the new conference center. “They plug in their laptops or type in an address for AirMedia and they just work. There’s nothing to think about, nothing to mess with. In our old headquarters, we never knew when we’d get a call and have to drop everything to run and help. That’s no longer an issue.”
Today, while other companies debate whether (or when) to require their staffs to come back to the office, management at HealthStream remains committed to a hybrid work model. Think Simple is fully on board, doing nearly all its service with a support package that includes remote monitoring of the AV systems. “While we included unlimited on-site labor, we’ve only been out to Nashville once since we finished the installation,” Gilbert noted, “and that was to oversee a large firmware update.”
“Think Simple did an awesome job,” added Jeff Adams, assistant vice president, business operations, HealthStream. “Once we decided to switch to Teams, it was just a question of how best to implement it. At the end of the day, their expertise and ability to solve problems was fantastic.”