Space Planning for COVID-19: Four Effective Solutions

By Dave Clifton
Content Strategy Specialist
SpaceIQ

The concept of workspace allocation has been in flux since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some desking concepts are now inefficient in their use of space utilization, while others are downright inapplicable due to new standards for distancing. It has many businesses reevaluating their approach to space planning for COVID-19.

As they consider new workplace layouts and desking concepts, facility managers need to consider them within the context of the coronavirus pandemic. What desking concepts comply with social distancing standards? What spaces could need to change to promote better utilization? Are there policies to govern when, where, and how employees use specific workspaces? Above all, how can facility managers bring these criteria together through functional space planning?

It’s impossible to plan for an end to the pandemic, and failing to do anything means an inefficient workplace for as long as the pandemic rages on. Here are four effective solutions given the current predicament. 

1. Adopt a hoteling standard

Hoteling has emerged as one of the de-facto desking concepts during the pandemic. The relative flexibility of hoteling—combined with a framework of oversight through hotel space planning software—makes it easy to allocate the right space to the right people. Employees still get the freedom to choose their desk for the day or week, and facility managers get a clear understanding of occupancy and utilization. 

For hoteling to be effective, companies need to create hoteling stations that meet the needs of employees. This might mean special accommodations for different work groups or a specific location within the building, near certain facilities. Hotel stations need to be comfortable, adaptable, accessible, and conducive to concentration and productivity. 

2. Repurpose group work spaces

As companies explore new desking concepts like hoteling, they’ll need to borrow space from current facilities to make these concepts work. The simplest solution is to repurpose group work spaces, which are less likely to see usage during the pandemic (and after). A rise in Zoom meetings and virtual collaboration means many conference rooms, collaboration space, and group work areas can be dismantled and revived as hoteling areas or flex work spaces.

While it might seem dramatic to convert group workspaces into smaller workstations, realize that this is one of the most likely office space trends post COVID-19. Video chat and virtual collaboration changed group work in a major way by taking the need for proximity out of the equation. While the conference room is unlikely to ever go away, businesses should plan to dedicate less square footage to these spaces in the future. 

3. Schedule buffer time

Repurposing space and changing the desking strategy aren’t the only factors that affect space planning. How and when employees occupy a space also matter—as do the precautions that go into sanitizing it in a pandemic. In concepts like hoteling and hot desking, multiple employees will use the same desk over the course of a day or week, necessitating sanitization between uses. During these times, that space will be unavailable, which means planning to seat employees elsewhere during that time. 

Schedule appropriate buffers between start and stop times, so shared spaces receive cleaning between uses and employees aren’t disrupted while they’re using the space. This is as easy as generating support tickets along with space reservations or scheduling routine cleanings every few hours as bookings expire. This will keep the space clean and viable, in-play as part of a new workspace floor plan. 

4. Put parameters on workspaces

An often-overlooked COVID-19 office space planning tip is to limit who can use certain spaces or when they’re available. It seems counterintuitive for space optimization, but can help facility managers better-govern space, as well as the flow of employees through the workplace. 

For example, if the hotel desks on the fourth floor are off limits to anyone other than the sales team, Sales is less likely to spread out across the entire building. Likewise, the second floor might only be for Marketing, because the amenities on that floor are conducive to graphic design, print, and copywriting teams. 

This type of space-specific control ensures workplaces are available for those who need them, where and when they need them. It can avoid overcrowding in certain areas or bottlenecks for specific workspace types. Simple controls and parameters make a big difference in the effectiveness of a new workplace concept. 

Plan for COVID-19 and beyond

The great thing about these space planning solutions is that they all work together—and, they all create a framework for the workplace of the future. The marriage of flexible space planning with controls in place to govern workspaces sets the stage for an adaptable office environment. There’s no telling how long the pandemic will last or what the outcome will be. These solutions put more control in the hands of businesses as they consider the future of their physical workplace. 

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