Social distancing has drastically changed the way we move around our daily lives. The places where we work have one-way traffic, reduced capacity elevators, facilities, staggered starting times and empty seats. Employers are making sure that the workplace is safe. This not only helps to stop the spread of COVID-19 but also eases anxiety for those who are still anxious about returning to work.
No one knows how long social distancing will continue, but employees and employers will have to cooperate to create and follow new guidelines that will keep their workplaces safe and healthy. This involves adapting existing office layouts in order to promote social distancing, such as rearranging desks or seating and introducing new maximum occupancy for shared areas. These new office layouts, along with good hygiene practices, better ventilation, and improved sanitization, can help companies get back to work in a way that prioritizes personal space as well as the health of their employees.
This article will discuss some steps you can take in order to create an office that encourages social distancing within your workplace. Let’s first define what social distancing means.
Why social distancing is important?
Social distancing refers to a series of steps that are meant to limit physical contact and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Avoid crowds, keep at least six feet (two meters) from individuals, and avoid social interactions like handshakes and hugs.
Indoors, it is easier to transmit COVID-19 by airborne means. The basic idea behind adapting office layouts to reduce density is to either spread people out or reduce the number of workers at once.
Signature Workspace makes this easier by providing de-densified offices with flexible terms. Employers who are unable to alter their office layouts may consider setting up a satellite office or securing private offices near their employees to cut down on commute time.
How to create office layouts that encourage social distancing
Each office is unique and will present different challenges when it comes to introducing a social distance plan. Larger workplaces will allow for more workers to be spread out than smaller offices with less space. Even for the smallest or awkwardly shaped offices, there are some basic steps you should consider before planning a socially distant office design.
Take a look at your current office configuration
It’s not as easy as gluing every desk to the wall and calling it good. Effective adjustments can only be made if you understand how your office layout works. You should consider the flow of traffic through busy areas, high touch surfaces like door handles, corridors between rows of desks that can lead to dead ends, areas around printers or other office facilities that could become congested, common areas such as kitchens where people are most likely to congregate.
Banks of desks might need to be moved away from walls and windows. This will remove dead ends and create space for a one-way system to get to each seat. You can create long paths that run around the office in one direction if you have enough space. Although this is not possible with all buildings, small looping paths can reduce the likelihood of workers passing each other within six feet.
Identify high traffic areas
If you haven’t used an empty office space to recarpet the place, here is a simple strategy that will help you identify areas where people walk most often. Before you move anything, look at the floor. Pay attention to areas that are slightly worn.
These are the most important traffic routes. These are the most important points to consider when planning your socially distant office layout. These busy areas should be clearly marked with signs. Employees will need to be directed to detour when they travel in the opposite direction. Signage will be discussed again in a moment.
Make a simple map of your office
A blueprint or basic floor plan should be available to you. It’s easy to draw a basic floor plan if you don’t already have one. This will allow you to create socially distant desk arrangements.
Measure the boundaries walls including any immovable features like pillars, doorways, power, and networking outlets. To make your planning more complicated, you can create your map using image-editing software. This will allow you to include existing desk locations as separate layers. You can also use removable stickers to indicate desk placement if you are using pen and paper.
Your goal is to maximize safety in the workplace. It pays to plan carefully before you make any adjustments.
Measure six-foot circles around each station
The current chairs are from areas where social distancing is not possible, such as a reception area or break room or in a lobby. Individual chairs can be turned to face the wall, or covered with high-visibility tape. You can also prevent visitors or workers from moving your chairs to a position that is not socially acceptable.
Signage to mark that the chairs are not being used can be used to remind employees of office social distancing procedures.
Posters and signage can be used to remind employees of any changes to the office layout
To reduce human error, place clear signage throughout the office to remind employees of the recent changes to the layout. The office’s signs will reinforce the guidelines for social distancing and provide reassurance to employees who might be hesitant about returning to work.
Workers can use brightly colored floor markers placed six feet apart to help them visualize the safe distance required for social distancing. Vinyl arrows are durable and can be placed on floors to direct visitors and employees around new one-way systems. Notices placed in common areas, elevators, and outside meeting rooms may announce the latest maximum occupancies and proper usage instructions.
You can check with your local government agency or other relevant agencies. They might be able to provide signage that explains appropriate hygiene and social distancing for your business.
Maximum occupancy for areas such as break rooms and conference room
Without proper protocols, shared spaces like conference rooms or break rooms are susceptible to becoming crowded. The recommended distance between each room and the floor is six feet. This number can be used to determine the maximum occupancy.
Make sure your team is aware of the maximum occupancy in each room. This will ensure that everyone understands the layout. You might be able to reduce the number of these rooms by suggesting that employees eat lunch at their desks.
Social distancing may be more difficult in smaller spaces, such as restrooms. Consider installing an “occupied” sign at the door’s outermost. This will allow you to implement a one-in, one-out system. These special, flippable signs are ideal for socially distant offices as well as public places like bars and restaurants. They can be easily operated with an elbow so that people don’t have the need to touch it with their fingertips. Remember to remind employees that the sign should be turned back to empty when they exit the bathroom.
Increase your office space
After you have begun to adapt the office layout to allow social distancing, it is possible that you don’t have enough floor space to safely return everyone to work.
Signature Workspace provides flexible office solutions to businesses that need extra elbow room to maintain social distance for their employees or those who don’t have time or the ability to change the layout in their current workplace.
Businesses can adapt more quickly to the new socially distant working environment by moving employees to satellite offices or providing flexible office space close to their homes. To see if additional office space is an option, take a look at Signature Workspace offices near.
There are other ways to practice social distancing at the office
You don’t have to change the layout of your office in order to encourage social distancing. There are other ways your business can prevent COVID-19 from spreading.
Allow employees to work remotely
Most workers want to return to the new workplace at least once a week. However, some workers remain cautious about using public transport and sharing spaces. You can reduce the number of workers who attend the office at once by continuing to allow remote work for those who request it.
Rotate your employees every week
Divide your team into groups of two or more people and ask them to work in the office alternate weeks. One group can work remotely, while the other is present in the office. This reduces the number of workers at the building by half and gives each worker more privacy.
Stagger start times
To avoid a rush in the morning and to reduce congestion around elevators, assign different start times to workers. Public transportation users who use public transport can avoid the rush by allowing workers to finish their shifts later.
Incentives to Use Other Modes of Transport
Many employees consider the commute to be the most socially distant part of their return to work. Offer vouchers to local bike-sharing or rideshare programs and adapt an existing space for more bicycle storage.
Signature Workspace took a number of steps in response to COVID-19 to ensure that our team and yours felt confident about returning to a secure and healthy office. These are:
- Utilizing more frequent and intensive cleaning methods, disinfecting more frequently, and offering complimentary sanitizing products like hand gels and wipes.
- Prioritizing personal space through modification and de-densification of layouts in shared areas like lobbies or lounges, by blocking off or removing chairs to create buffer zones.
- To reinforce meeting room capacity limits and help workers navigate the new office layouts safely, has been strategically placed signage
- Arup, a global engineering consultancy firm, has been working with us to improve indoor air quality in our buildings and to enhance our HVAC strategy.
No matter if you are a small business that is returning to the office, or a large company that is restructuring your workplace in order to keep your employees safe, the core principles for a socially distant office layout are the following: Reduce density, increase workspace, communicate clearly and be responsive to workers’ concerns and suggestions.
While we don’t know how long this workplace separation will last, working together, can create a redefined office that places safety, health, and peace of mind at the top of our agenda.
This post was written by Tara Kintz. Tara is a director at Signature Workspace which is a coworking space in Tampa. Signature Workspace, owned and operated by Cantor Fund Management, offers services and amenities such as private offices, flex space, co-working space, virtual offices, meeting/conference rooms, and more.