The New Normal: How Workplace Design Will Change

The coronavirus pandemic has significantly reshaped the workplace. So much so that going back to business as usual may not be an option. As we look ahead towards “the new normal,” what will offices look like? Here are some ideas.

More space

Whether this means more space between individual workstations or fewer desks in smaller areas, it’s likely that work areas will shift. Open-plan offices with few barriers between desks will likely need to rethink interior design.

Occupancy in small, closed-in spaces is also a concern. Small meeting rooms that won’t allow for employees to properly social distance may need to become dedicated offices, while large meeting rooms will have much smaller occupancy limits. Areas where furniture can’t be adjusted — like bathrooms, elevators and hallways — will also need occupancy limits and rules to allow employees to distance themselves.

Staggered in-office attendance

Instead of moving desks, some companies may opt to instead stagger employee attendance. Rethinking seating arrangements to only allow certain employees to come into work during set times can account for safety and social distancing without having to rethink office design entirely.

This plan also allows employees to continue to work from home — a perk that is likely here to stay. Now that companies have invested in the technology and tools that allow remote work to be possible, it’s unlikely they’ll return to the old way of doing business.

Updated safety design and procedures

It’s likely anti-infection barricades and technology will become an integral part of back-to-office plans. Some may consider adding walls or even plexiglass divider screens — those often seen at checkout counters in stores — between desks to act as “breath barriers.” Others will invest in touchless technology for doors, elevators, light switches and more to prevent virus transfer on commonly touched surfaces. As far as HVAC systems go, ventilation air fans will run continuously using 100% outdoor air, and air sanitation will need to be maintained using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) or air ionizers.

Offices can further prepare for the new normal by purchasing touchless thermometers, cleaning products and sanitation supplies — think anti-bacterial soap and hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Giving employees the necessities to keep themselves and their workplaces clean and germ-free will be essential to maintaining safety in the workplace.

Permanent signage and distance markers

To communicate that safety procedures aren’t just temporary solutions, more permanent signage and markers will likely need to be added to shared spaces. Signage indicating company expectations for hand washing, mask wearing, sanitizing procedures and more could carry company logos and be just as thought-out, well-designed and permanent as other in-office posters and printouts.

Changes such as these may present a learning curve in company workplaces, but they’ll be essential to maintaining the health and safety of employees. For more information about returning to a workplace setting, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s employer information for office buildings.

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