As we turn our minds to the future, how could office design be impacted by COVID-19, and what has Workspace planned for our buildings?

Although many of us have become used to remote working, many are also wondering is this the end of the office as we know it? What changes will be made when we finally begin to return to work, and how might office design be affected? As business leaders start to plan how to get their teams back to work safely.  we explore the issue.

Returning to work

As announced by Boris Johnson, from Wednesday 13th May, some people will be returning to work. At some point in the future, this will be the case for many more of us, so what will that office look like? The layout and design of an office space will need to be carefully considered to align with social distancing rules, and some new pieces of furniture may need to be considered, such as plexiglass screens and decals for one-way systems around the shared space.

For those retuning to work in the coming weeks, the Government have provided guidelines for working safely during coronavirus and you can find a range of updates and content from Workspace in the Back to Business hubv, from new measures in place to financial advice and mental health guidance, updated as regularly as this changes, to help you manage your own return to the office.

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What might office layouts look like after lockdown?

Our offices are often designed to encourage collaboration. Shared spaces, desk banks of up to 8 people, smaller meeting rooms to work together on projects in, but this will need to be rethought now. Open plan layouts that create a flow for people to collaborate, socialise and work in teams may have to be replaced to minimise unnecessary contact.

John Slade, Chairman of the Real Estate Advisory Group, Duff & Phelps suggested “We’re likely to see a move away from the tightly packed, open plan layouts that have become commonplace since the early 2000s. Instead, many firms will want more space per individual employee, with more private offices, larger meeting rooms and a possible rotation of who uses the space at any one time.”

To achieve this new version of the office, the following measures will need to be considered:

Managing employee numbers

Allowing all employees back into the office is not necessary for many businesses and is also a huge risk for allowing the spread and contraction of COVID-19 to continue. Instead, companies should encourage staff to work from home unless they absolutely have to be in the office.

Planning a staggered reintroduction of staff to the office is also a good idea. Perhaps rotate groups of employees every few days, with the groups formed to be as effective as possible, for example teams that are working on the same project or need to be together to achieve a goal.

Rethink physical setup

Reopening of workplaces does not mean that any of the restrictions imposed during COVID-19 are to be set aside. Businesses will need to observe regulations governing social distancing, employee gatherings and hygiene practices, which will likely mean reconfiguring their office spaces.

The requirement for 2m between employees will mean desk movement and shared spaces being set out to maintain distance. Real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield is one company taking a lead with this, testing a new ‘Six-Feet Office’. Transparent shields will divide desks and floor markers will direct foot traffic. Rule Four on their concept website states: “Walk the office clockwise, always and everywhere”, so that people don’t have to pass one another. They suggest putting arrows on the carpet so that everyone knows how the one-way system works.

Other recommendations for offices include workers sitting back-to-back or side-to-side, rather than face-to-face. The Government’s documents stipulate that lifts should be half-empty, hot-desking is to be prevented for the foreseeable future, and the sharing of equipment such as pens and staplers won’t be allowed.

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What is Workspace’s plan?

Workspace has its customer’s wellbeing and safety of paramount importance as it prepares to reopen some buildings and spaces. As part of our plans we will be adopting:

  • Extra cleaning measures
  • Social distancing signage and sanitisers throughout business centres
  • Signposted one-way systems to limit contact

You can see details of our plans and measures by heading to our Returning to Your Workspace section on our Back to Business hub.

Extra cleaning measures

A minimum of 3 circuits will be undertaken each day in addition to the daily cleaning programme which includes additional hours allocated to washrooms, showers and tea points. Touchpoint cleaning measures will also be more regular using virucidal cleaner.

Social distancing signage and sanitisers throughout business centres

We have developed clear messaging for signs to be placed throughout our business centres. It will be important to us that customers follow the guidance on these signs for maintaining social distancing and hygiene practices. You can speak to your centre manager about any concerns you have at any time, or read the FAQs here.

Signposted one-way systems to limit contact

Clearly marked paths will be signposted where possible to reduce unnecessary contact with each other as you navigate the buildings. Sanitisers will be placed at regular intervals to allow for extra hygiene measures. Please note that each building will be individually considered due to the variety of space Workspace offers.

Get the latest news on COVID-19 from Workspace

Please see Workspace’s Response to Coronavirus for updates on how we plan to return to fully operational standards. Our Community section is, as always, filled with useful articles from How to prepare to settle back into your office after lockdown and Top resources to keep children entertained while you work from home, to our Official Resources which is updated as soon as we get the latest guidance.

For updates on where you can access business support during the coronavirus outbreak and for the latest news on Workspace’s plans for its business centres,  keep checking the Back to Business hub.