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Social Distancing Layout Tips For the Office

March 10, 2021

Social distancing could remain necessary for a period, even after the COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Although it appears as though most of the American population will have access to a COVID-19 vaccine by the summer, many questions remain.

First, the vaccines might not work as well on some of the virus’s emerging variants, particularly if it mutates further in the coming months. Second, the vaccines might not prevent the virus from spreading, making it essential to protect those who have not received their doses. Finally, it could take the public some time to return to normal psychologically—individuals may not feel completely safe while gathering.

In the workplace, this means social distancing practices could remain necessary in the coming months and beyond. Property managers should be aware that many companies will want to put social distancing protocols in place as employees return to the office. Businesses looking to lease offices may need to evaluate spaces with these considerations in mind. 

Here’s a look at some layout tips for organizations looking to socially distance while keeping the workplace attractive and productive:

The six-foot rule

One of the most important protocols to follow in a socially distanced office is the six-foot rule, where all workspaces are at least six feet apart. It’s goal, of course, is to keep employees away from each other physically, minimizing direct person-to-person transmission.

When designing a socially distanced office, the main thing to remember is that there must be space between desks and workspaces. However, the design can maintain a sense of community within the office by offering larger communal areas where it remains possible to have a socially distanced conversation.

Open-concept offices may have lost favor in the past decade, but many are paying dividends now because they tend to be adaptable. The floorplan allows companies to space people out while erecting temporary barriers. Adding closed offices and creating meeting spaces with six feet between seats are also options. 

Physical barriers

It isn’t always possible to stay six feet apart, particularly in a busy or small office space. As a result, installing the aforementioned physical barriers could become necessary for some companies. The type of physical barrier depends on how the business operates. 

For example, in an open-style office, installing plexiglass barriers between workspaces that are facing each other is one way to keep some collaboration while mitigating the spread of virus particles. Other companies might opt for cubicles or closed offices. 

Of course, constructing closed offices is a significant renovation when done on a large area. However, adding a few semi-closed spaces may create the best of both worlds for certain buildings and tenants. 

Identify high-traffic areas

Every office has high-traffic areas that act as a gathering space or bottleneck. These locations could be hallways, elevators, specific desks, or the breakroom. Large lines of desks can also turn into high-traffic areas where workers are always passing each other as they attempt to reach their workspaces. 

By eliminating some of these high-traffic areas, designers can reduce employees’ chances of getting too close and spreading COVID. But a more practical option is often setting and enforcing social-distancing rules for employees who use these spaces.

When re-configuring an office, look for locations with worn carpet or floors. This damage indicates that the area is a high-traffic spot that should adapt to prevent too many people from passing each other or gathering. Removing desks or chairs from these locations may be a good start, as it eliminates reasons for people to stop and linger.

Small meeting spaces

Meeting spaces will be necessary to make in-person collaboration possible, of course. Again, procedures and adaptations are called for.

As a rule, meetings must be small enough to socially distance in a given space. And instead of putting numerous employees in a single room for large-scale meetings, spreading everyone out and augmenting the audience with technology makes a lot of sense.

Finally, many companies are leveraging outdoor meeting spaces because of the virus’s spread via circulating indoor air. Properties with appropriate outdoor areas—roof decks, large patios, etc.—could be a valuable amenity with added seating. This may be less practical in South Florida as we hit our brutal summer, but it is an option well into spring in most areas of the country.

Offer additional space

As more employees return, businesses may be looking for additional space to keep their workers distanced. While some companies opt to let a percentage of staff work from home, others will seek larger offices or flexible space in the same building.

Having flexible office layouts allows property owners to rent out space as a service. In this set-up, a business may lease temporary space in the building for meetings, collaborative projects, or overflow offices. Such flexible spaces could remain in demand as companies look for creative ways to keep their employees separated, while providing alternative revenue streams for property owners.

Hope and herd immunity are on the horizon. But we must stay adaptable in 2021

Companies’ wants and needs are continually evolving, and the next few months will undoubtedly see many things change. 

Will corporations let the majority of employees stay home?

Is flexible office space a durable trend or will the pandemic’s end put highly customized offices back in vogue?

Is some form of COVID-19 here to stay?

There’s still a lot to be determined, but Morris Southeast Group is monitoring the situation and works to provide the insights you need to create attractive spaces for tenants. For more information, reach out to us at 954.474.1776. You can also contact Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or kenmorris@morrissegroup.com.

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