How to Create an Office Seating Chart Amidst COVID-19

By Katherine Schwartz
Demand Generation Specialist

The pre-coronavirus workplace was a free-flowing one. Employees might use a half dozen unique workspaces in the course of a day, and interact with a dozen different people or more. Employee seating wasn’t so much a mandate as it was a suggestion meant to encourage workplace participation. Needless to say, times have changed. Today, an office seating chart, COVID-19 considerations, and social distance policies heavily restrict where, when, and how employees use workplace seating.

Facility managers face an arduous task: design and implement new employee seating arrangements that continue to inspire productive collaboration yet keep everyone physically distant. It’s not impossible, but it takes a bottom-up reimagination of workplace seating.

Consider employees vs. occupancy

A new coronavirus seating arrangement needs to fall within the parameters of a workplace’s physical capacity. Just because a room’s maximum capacity is 50 doesn’t mean you can seat 50 in it. Account for the six feet of distance between employees and consider how much capacity that space actually affords.

Examine the workplace on a space-by-space basis to determine the new capacity levels. Not only will this show you how many employees can fit safely in each space, it’ll clue you in on the number of displaced desks and where else you might accommodate employees.

Establish facility-wide occupancy levels and compare them to the current floor plan. If you had occupancy for 100 employees and staffed 80, you had 80% occupancy. If new occupancy dictates 75 and you’re still trying to staff 80, you’ve got a problem. Check occupancy levels to determine if you have enough room, need more, or need to keep part of your workforce remote for now.

Choose a desking concept

To create an office seating chart, you need to know the desk layout first. Pick or adapt a desking concept that’s compliant with occupancy. You might turn a collaborative workspace for 12 into a hot desk environment for four, or split up your neighborhoods into pods with dividers. Whatever the decision, the desking concept dictates the seating arrangement. Here are a few tips:

  • Try to keep departments together to maintain synergies
  • Try to keep employees near their original “home base”
  • Institute a desking policy that affords personal space
  • Make it easy for employees to collaborate and maintain distance

Ultimately, employees should know where they sit, how to get there, and where their peers are in relation to them. It’s a smart idea to tie in the company directory system to a new seating floor plan to help employees acclimate to a changed environment.

Mandate desking guidelines and utilization

A COVID-19 seating arrangement goes beyond telling employees where to sit. It should encompass how they interact with their immediate surroundings and facilities in general. Institute new policies and inform employees of how they’re expected to act in their new socially distant environment. Some examples include:

  • Which facilities to use (ex. bathrooms nearest them or third-floor copy machine)
  • How to navigate the workplace to and from their desk (ex. path of least exposure)
  • How to collaborate from a distance (ex. wear masks and use a breakout space)
  • Space occupancy guidelines (ex. no more than six people in the break room)

Don’t chain employees to their desks. A coronavirus seating chart should provide employees with a space they feel safe but not restrict them from the facilities they need to be productive. Emphasize the reason behind desking guidelines and utilization, and encourage employees to follow the spirit of social distancing while they get familiar with their new environment.

Make small workplace modifications

It’s unlikely your first iteration of a new desking policy or COVID-19 seating arrangement will be the final one. Keep tabs on employee needs and concerns, and make small modifications where they make sense. You might find that Steve is too isolated from his team and needs to relocate closer to his peers. Or, you might discover there’s more viable space than you thought, so you explore a new desking arrangement. Simple changes make a big difference in the efficacy of an evolving seating arrangement.

Whatever changes you make, do them with employee health and wellness in mind. It might be easy to shoehorn a desk into a workspace, but is it worth it if it makes employees feel crowded and uncomfortable? Focus on health first; space efficiency second.

Delegate seating with COVID-19 in mind

It’s easy to look at a hard-and-fast workplace seating chart as restrictive—especially if your former workplace design was flexible, agile, and experiential. Keep coronavirus considerations in mind as you design a new seating arrangement, but come at it from a constructive approach. How can you give employees peace of mind and enable collaboration?

Focus on the dynamics between individuals and distance, as well as group proximities. Design floor plans against rules and policies that align with workplace health standards. Slowly but surely the pieces of your new workplace will fall into place. Done right, it won’t take employees long to adapt to an office seating chart, COVID-19 considerations included.

Keep reading: Essential Features of Office Seat Allocation Software


Employee Communication and COVID-19: 10 Tips

By James Franklin
Chief Customer Officer

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a mystery in so many ways. Scientists are diligently working on a vaccine, but there’s no timeframe for when it will be ready. Ebbs and spikes in daily infections cause shifts in guidelines on what seems like a whim.

But there’s one certainty: people need to work to pay the bills, regardless of the anxiety and uncertainty of returning to their workplaces. That’s why it’s crucial for employers to maintain clear, consistent communication as back-to-work strategies kick in. The goal is to make every step an employee takes toward the workplace a confident one.

Here’s a look at 10 effective communication tips regarding COVID-19 and how company leadership can keep employees grounded and informed.

1. Communication channels

Pair medium with message when talking about COVID-19. It’s unprofessional to send a Slack message to someone to notify them about a possible exposure. Similarly, it’s overkill to send push notifications through mobile apps every time there’s a scheduled workplace cleaning. Assess your various messaging mediums—email, phone, messaging apps, video, posters/placards, mobile apps, in-person—and decide on the appropriate channel for your communication based on content. What are you trying to say? Who is the message going to? How urgent is it?

2. Communication frequency

According to human capital solutions provider Alight, effective communication is the No. 1 expectation employees have during the pandemic. Meet this expectation with consistent communication in regular intervals and through the right mediums.

There’s daily news about COVID-19. Stay on top of verified, breaking news and share it with employees—especially if it’s significant to them. Weekly recaps are effective for less-urgent developments. Communicate on a private, personal level when necessary, but try to keep everyone on the same page with regular company memos, all-hands meetings, or a dedicated messaging channel.

3. Communication tone

Stick to your guns and reinforce your values as you communicate with employees during these uncertain times. Lean on company culture to not only show its strength, but to give employees the familiarity and normalcy they need to feel grounded.

At the same time, embrace an empathetic tone and adopt cues that show employees you’re situationally aware. Be mindful of the terms you use—flexibility, collaboration, support—and make sure your message is one that inspires confidence, calm, and pride.

4. Employee special circumstances

Coronavirus affects every person differently. Communicate with employees on a personal level to show them you understand its widespread impact. Be prepared to address questions and special considerations regarding everything from children and childcare, pre-existing conditions and at-risk individuals, and commuting or alternative work schedules. Take these and other unique considerations under advisement and follow up with definitive answers. Letting employees languish without a response will only make them feel unseen and unappreciated.

5. Exposure and infection concerns

There’s anxiety and fear about picking up coronavirus in the workplace. Employers should address these fears head-on. Discuss face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), and procedures and expectations for wearing them. Talk about transmission of COVID-19 and how employees can lower their exposure through handwashing and sanitization. Inside the Serraview platform, you can view your locations mapped against local COVID-19 data to better understand the severity.  Roll this into a discussion about the steps you’ve taken to reduce workplace risks and protect employee health and wellness.

6. Building and workplace hygiene/sanitation

Send memos and emails with regard to workplace sanitization: new sterilization standards, cleaning schedules, and best practices for cleanliness. Make clear your intent to introduce new cleaning standards, but also the expectation for employees to maintain them. Detail what new facility cleaning protocols address and what the benefits are. For example, don’t just say “weekly electrostatic spraying.” Explain how and why this is better than general sanitization.

7. Personal health and hygiene

Offer tips on staying healthy—everything from personal health screenings to proper hand-washing technique. Go deeper, where possible. Provide information about where and how to get tested, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), telehealth services, and other health-related resources, programs, and incentives. Set up a repository for this information—be it on the intranet or pinned to the company message board.

8. Collaborative feedback

COVID-19 warrants discussion. Don’t just tell your employees what you’re doing to combat the virus and help keep them safe. Give them an equal chance to voice their questions, concerns, and ideas. Take employee feedback and make it actionable, then circle back with policies, programs, and resources that reflect these contributions. As employees see their voices manifested in company action, they’ll feel heard and appreciated.

9. New workplace structures

There’s a high likelihood your workplace has changed to accommodate social distancing guidelines. Don’t simply rearrange the workplace and expect employees to figure it out. Outline the changes, explain new policies, and even create tutorials—especially if concepts like hotel desk reservations and one-way walkways are new to your workplace. Stay attuned to how employees settle into their changed workplace and provide updated guidelines or policy reminders where required.

10. Contact tracing

Whether you ultimately need it or not, create a plan for contact tracing. Set up channels for employee reporting, as well as tracking possible exposures. Then, establish means for discretely alerting employees of potential exposure, while maintaining the privacy of infected individuals pursuant to HIPAA and ADA laws. Practice contact tracing with expeditiousness, discretion, and as much transparency as you can offer to maintain employee trust.

Communication is a top priority for employers right now and for as long as COVID-19 lingers as a threat to public health. Whether they’re in the office or working from home, employees need the affirmation and solace that comes from frequent, open, honest, and responsible communication with their employer

Keep reading: COVID-19 Workplace Management Resources