Since the onset of COVID 19, social distancing measures have dramatically reshaped how we move around to carry on our day to day activities and the workplaces are no exception.
From one-way traffic flows, reduced capacity in elevators and facilities, to empty seats in nearly all offices, employers have taken steps to not only ensure that the office spaces are a safe environment by helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 but they are also ensuring that they allay the fears of those who may still feel some anxiety about returning to office life.
That’s why as things return to normal and offices re-open it iis equally important that employers implement office layouts that promote social distancing measures be it in a flexible workspace or even a traditional office space.
Every office is different and will present a unique set of challenges when introducing a social distancing plan.
Naturally, having larger workplaces with plenty of unused space will make it easier to spread workers out over socially distanced desk arrangements. But even for the smallest or most awkwardly shaped offices, there are a few basic steps to consider before you begin planning a socially distanced office design. Here are some guidelines:
Understanding how your existing office layout works is the first step to making effective adjustments.
Consider the flow of foot traffic through busy areas, high-touch surfaces such as door handles, routes between rows of desks that lead to dead ends, areas around printers and other office facilities that may become congested, and common areas such as kitchens, where people are likely to congregate.
Banks of desks may need to be moved away from walls and windows, removing dead ends and creating space for a one-way system leading to and from each seat. If you have enough physical room to work with, you’ll want to create long paths that loop around the office in a single direction. Of course, with some buildings this won’t be possible, but even small looping paths can greatly reduce the chances of workers passing within six feet of one another any more than they need to.
Visible signs throughout the office will help reinforce the social distancing guidance that has been introduced and—for those employees who may feel cautious about returning to the workplace—provide reassurance that steps have been taken to create a safer working environment for everyone.
Bright, coloured floor markers spaced six feet apart can help workers visualize the recommended safe distance for social distancing. Hard-wearing vinyl arrows placed on floors direct employees and visitors around newly established one-way systems. And notices in common areas, inside elevators, and outside meeting rooms can announce updated maximum occupancies or proper usage instructions.
As recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance ensure that your workers are socially distanced while sitting at their workstations. Here depending on the type of your office, you might be required to create a buffer zone around each desk. You can also opt to create a plaque card with a social distance adherence note on it.
Take a measuring tape and measure the distance between two adjacent seats. If the distance is less than six feet, you can opt to remove one seat or make it unusable with a high-visibility sign. If your office has rows of desks facing one another, it may be sufficient to remove every other chair in the row, creating vacant desks on either side, and in front, of each worker.
Once you’ve decided how to arrange your desks so that each worker can socially distance, you can use your floorplan to determine the new maximum occupancy of each section of the workplace. Then you can assign seats. This is useful information to have when deciding how many employees can return to the office, or when designing staggered schedules to reduce the number of workers in the building at any one time.
Identifying high-traffic areas can be as easy as just spotting the areas where your office carpet is slightly worn out! Take note of these locations and create your socially distanced office layout with these points in mind. You’ll want to use clearly visible signs to mark these busy areas as one-way zones while directing employees to take a detour when moving in the opposite direction.
In the case of shared spaces such as conference, meeting rooms or break rooms that can easily become overcrowded without proper protocols in place, you can consider the number of people who access these places. You can also ensure that these places are regularly sanitized/ disinfected as different people use these spaces.
For instance, if your meeting room was initially holding up to 4 people you can reduce it to two people seating instead. Consider how many people could safely use each room while still maintaining the recommended distance of six feet, and then use this number to determine the new maximum occupancy of the room.
To ensure the new layout is well understood, communicate each room’s maximum occupancy to your team long before they return to the office, as well as on signs outside affected rooms. Consider ways to reduce the use of these rooms, perhaps by recommending that employees, for example, eat lunch at their desks or in other open spaces across the building.
More confined spaces like restrooms may not be large enough to practice social distancing. In these cases, consider implementing a one-in-one-out system by installing an “occupied” sign on the outermost door. (Don’t forget to remind employees to switch the sign back to vacant as they leave the restroom!)
Employees should be able to walk from the entrance of the building to their desks while passing by the fewest number of people possible. Try to create new paths that avoid busy areas by removing unused desks and introducing floor arrows to guide employees through the workplace.
If you have seats or tables in locations where social distancing isn’t an option, such as in a reception area, a break room, or a lobby, remove some of them so that they can’t be used.
You can also opt to leave your chairs in their original positions and use signage to mark them as not in use.