By Katherine Schwartz
Demand Generation Specialist

Most companies structure their workplace concept around the type of work their employees do on a daily basis. Meetings and collaborative efforts need an open, free-flowing environment; head-down solo work warrants benching, pods, or hot desks. What most employers don’t consider when creating an office floor plan is the threat of a pandemic and the need for social distancing. Needless to say, a COVID-19 workplace design is likely different from your current one.

As employers scramble to reconfigure their workplace to meet safe working guidelines, they need to consider coronavirus safety precautions. Distance, sanitization, personal hygiene, and safe interaction are all paramount. Here’s how to incorporate these variables into a temporary workplace fit for operation during the pandemic.

Keep shared space usage to a minimum

The main goal of a coronavirus-conscious workplace is to reduce opportunities for transmission. Unfortunately, this means limiting employee access to shared spaces. It might be best to close down hot desks and small breakout spaces for the time being. For larger or essential shared spaces—like break rooms or meeting areas—monitor capacity and ensure routine cleaning.

The logic is simple: reduce access to reduce exposure. Jenny might be an asymptomatic carrier who spreads the virus to every shared workplace she visits. Even with routine cleaning, every person who uses the workspace after her is at risk. Keep shared space usage to a minimum not only to reduce transmission, but to create traceability. If the virus does pop up in your office, it’s easier to trace a reduced number of interactions.

Create distance and keep people apart

Social distancing guidelines mandate six feet of distance between people at all times. The easiest way to comply is to restrict access to shared workspaces that consolidate space. But that’s not always possible and there are parts of the workplace subject to shared use. In these areas, make adjustments to accommodate distance.

For a conference room that seats six, you might reduce the occupancy to three at a time. Likewise, reconfigure breakout spaces and open collaborative areas to keep employees more than an arm’s length apart. In other areas like breakrooms, limit capacity and create accountability through a sign-in sheet. Again, this improves traceability in the event an employee tests positive for COVID-19.

Keep traffic constant and controlled

Despite fewer shared workspaces and restrictions on commingling, employees still need to navigate beyond their desk. Control thoroughfares to keep them moving along to their destination, whether it’s the restroom, breakroom, or the copy room. There are several ways to accomplish this:

  • Delineate one-way traffic to prevent employees from passing each other
  • Ensure walkways offer a wide berth to accommodate distancing guidelines
  • Remove stopping points and alleviate areas prone to stoppage or congestion
  • Remind employees not to stop and mingle, and to keep moving to their destination

Beyond thoroughfares, employers should also pay attention to gathering areas. The copy room, elevators, water cooler, and other common areas need oversight to prevent congregation. Consider putting up signage to remind people of social distancing guidelines or mark the floor with tape to show appropriate distance.

Discontinue or adapt certain desking policies

If your workplace leans heavily in favor of shared desking arrangements, you’ll need to pivot or adapt. Hot desks are a great example. By rule, hot desks accommodate many different workers throughout the day. During COVID-19, this isn’t advised. As a result, hot desks will either stay occupied by a single employee all day or go unused. If you choose the former, prepare to disinfect after every workday.

Make new desking policies public and set clear rules for in-house employees. The best COVID-19 workplace design is one that adapts your current floor plan to coronavirus guidelines. It may mean discontinuing your hot desks in favor of employee-specific workstations, but that’s okay. Not only do your employees stay safe, you continue to utilize available office space in a constructive way.

The workplace may not function the same during the pandemic, but it can and should serve its ultimate purpose: to support employees.

Temporary measures could become new norms

Companies need to realize that temporary changes to their workplace might not be as short-lived as they think. The mindful changes made to combat coronavirus could very well become new expectations moving forward. Maybe conference rooms will become a relic as people get acclimated to Zoom meetings. Perhaps desk distancing will stick around. There’s no predicting the future, but it’s important to realize that we’re in the midst of change.

Recalibrate your workspace to accommodate employees during the pandemic, and plan for this configuration to stick around indefinitely. That is, design your workplace to be mindful of employee needs and work habits as you emphasize their safety.

Keep Reading: The Latest Workplace COVID-19 Resources

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