Navigating Your Office Space During a Pandemic

October 9, 2020 / by Tommy Twardowski

COVID-19 has drastically reshaped office culture and strategy for businesses worldwide. Starting back in March, everyone who could transition to working from home did. Now, as the world better understands this virus and begins to reopen, businesses and their facility managers are working through the right ways to reopen the office.

Some workers are past ready to return. Others, though, are cautious. They want to be sure their companies will keep them safe in the office.

Some businesses have already partially reopened their offices. Others are about to do so, while others don’t plan to invite employees back in full until 2021. Wherever your business is on this spectrum, now is the time to start rethinking your office space planning. You may need significant office reconfiguration to accommodate safe practices and social distancing. You don’t want to wait until the last minute to solve your office furniture woes.

Houston Installation Services is here to help you through this transition. Below are four areas you need to consider as you look toward reopening your office space during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resist the Urge to Downsize

One big question in the minds of many leaders is what will happen when this pandemic finally ends. Will people willingly flock back to the office, or will they demand the right to continue working from home? Truly, opinions are mixed at this point. Some of the biggest tech companies (like Facebook) don’t envision ever returning to pre-pandemic office staffing levels.

It can certainly be a temptation right now to downsize. After all, real estate isn’t cheap, and your company isn’t using all that office space.

Here’s our advice: don’t. It’s too early to tell how many will come back (unless, of course, your company has already put return-to-work mandates and timelines in place). But more importantly, when people do come back, you’ll need more space between them than you planned for before the pandemic.

This pandemic is the time to get prepared for the next one. The days of entirely open floor plans with no barriers in place are long gone. Begin planning now for an office reconfiguration that allows for physical distancing or that can be “barrierized” when needed.

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Protect Staff Through Strategic Panel Installation

If your business used a wide-open floor plan or (yikes) hotel desking before the pandemic, you’re going to need to make some significant adjustments. Thankfully, strategic panel installation is a relatively simple fix in many office environments.

If your environment is set up with individual desks, you can add portions and panels to serve as dividers between employees. While this doesn’t entirely “pandemic proof” your office, it greatly reduces droplet spread.

If you have a work environment where multiple workers station at long, single-piece tables (like Facebook was famous for at one point), you have a bigger challenge on your hands. If completely redoing your space planning and replacing your office furniture isn’t in the budget, you can still reduce risk by hanging or installing plastic or plexiglass sneeze guards between stations.

The same goes for customer-facing employees or reception areas. True physical distancing isn’t completely possible in places where customers and staff must physically interact, and your receptionists are exposed to several people — both inside and outside the company. If you can’t rearrange the space, installing plastic barriers is a low-cost way of keeping your employees safer.

 Read More: Plexiglass Glass Dividers for Workspaces

Rethink Community Spaces

We’ve already touched on the challenges of open office concepts above, but there’s more to say about community spaces in the workplace. Every community space needs thought and attention right now.

Break Rooms

First, inventory the break rooms in your facility. You’ll want to remove some of the tables and/or chairs in many situations to reduce capacity and encourage social distancing. Work with your facilities team to increase the frequency of sanitizing food prep and communal eating areas, and consider whether plastic dividers would help or hurt.

You may also need to consider setting up additional break rooms. If your existing capacity is halved, you may need to add creative spaces. If you’ve never invested in outdoor seating or gathering spaces, this is the perfect time to do this as well.

If these options won’t work, there’s one more option. If your office environment allows for it, encourage — or even mandate — that people eat at their desks if they choose to eat in the office.

Community Work Spaces

Community workspaces allow for creative collaboration on an ad hoc basis. But during a pandemic, they just aren’t a good idea. Close these off or reduce capacity by removing some furniture. If you’re crunched for space because you’ve had to spread out your general office population, consider converting community workspaces to additional, distanced desk space.

Congregation-Prone Areas

If your business has a space that tends to get congested, like an aesthetically pleasing lobby or indoor courtyard, take whatever steps you can in these areas. If your lobby is full of chairs or other seating, consider placing every other chair in storage. If you have informal gathering spots, post signs encouraging alternate meeting locations.

Similarly, if you have choke points where too many people travel through all at once (think stairs and narrow hallways between classes at a university or high school), designate these spaces as one-way, where possible.

Reduce Touchable Surfaces

One of the ways that disease spreads is through touch. Surfaces become contaminated, and then healthy people touch those surfaces. Later they rub their eyes or lick their fingers, and disease spreads.

It stands to reason, then, that reducing touchable surfaces will help stop the spread of disease. One great way to do this is to install hands-free arm pulls or foot-operated door openers where feasible. We’re increasingly seeing these on restroom doors in restaurants and offices, and it’s a great way to reduce hand contact.

Need Help? We’re Here for You

If you have questions or need any assistance in making your office space more pandemic-resistant, Houston Installation Services is here for you. Reach out today for help with your office space planning, office reconfiguration, or office furniture needs.

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Topics: Office Reconfiguration, Facility Managers, COVID

About The Author

Tommy Twardowski

Tommy Twardowski

Tommy began his career in the office furniture installation business in 1978 and started his full-time career in 1981 with Houston Installation Services. Starting as a furniture installer, he developed a passion for the process of installation and learned to install all major manufacturers’ lines.