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