Organising your workplace for safe social distancing

With a return to work after lockdown on the horizon, businesses need to plan for employee social distancing in the workplace. For most, this is likely to be a combination of fewer people in the office along with space management and screening.

The barriers to workplace social distancing

Research on the behaviour of people in a typical workplace clearly illustrates the issues organisations need to overcome. Buro Happold, the workplace consultants, shared their modelling findings.

“…the current workplace model is not conducive to social distancing. In the interim period  one could achieve social distancing by phased return, occupying fewer desks within the same office, with robust communication on maintaining social distancing and sanitation. However, to achieve a resilient and responsive workplace in the longer term, organisations need to rethink the design of the workplace entirely… Beyond 40% a occupancy rate revisions to desk layout and high footfall areas will be needed to enable effective social distancing in the workplace.” Dr Shrikant Sharma, Head of Analytics at Buro Happold

It’s clear that to maintain workplace distancing, there needs to be more space per head in the office than is currently the norm – or people need to be better shielded.  It isn’t an option for most organisations to move to a bigger site, so how else could we achieve this?

ThinkingWall Divider mobile whiteboard wall

Staggered working hours

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested staggered work times to ease crowding on public transport. Others have suggested a model that combines days in the office with days working from home to avoid workplace overcrowding. The past few weeks have certainly forced the concept of working from home to the forefront. Working from home is likely to become part of a more flexible approach to employment. However there are plenty of articles around discussing that, fun though it may be to Zoom conference in a smart top/PJ bottoms, actually bringing work into your home space can feel too like an intrusion. Keeping work and home separate is easier when there are different physical locations for each.

Designing a socially distanced office

No-one would like to see the loss of carefully designed open plan office spaces. So how can you break up the open plan space to offer safe shielding, without losing social contact?

Socially distanced meeting spaces

Betsy Nurse at HOK suggests replacing traditional meeting areas with stand up scrum spaces to give more space around people. With a Freestander mobile whiteboard for example, you can create an ad hoc meeting area so people can remain safely distanced at their own work stations.

One issue for managers during lockdown has been how to keep in contact with their team. Maintaining a link between those in the office and those working remotely will continue to be a challenge.  A Divider whiteboard wall that incorporates a digital screen creates a physical barrier that you can use for Zoom or Teams meetings to include workers in the office and in other locations.

Socially distanced desks

Our range of freestanding and mobile whiteboards can work as a sneeze screen or cough screen to provide a physical barrier between people. For example, to shield desks next to busier social areas or access points.

A writable board with an acoustic panel not only creates a shielded space, it also provides a degree of privacy and screening from noise. In an office where the daily brief might be with remote colleagues, quiet spaces become even more important.

acoustic room divider

Creative workplace distancing

Workplace design will need to adapt quickly, adopting learning from the changes supermarkets and other essential spaces made during the Covid 19 crisis.

As problem solvers and product designers, we know the nature of our clients need for our products and services is going to be different in the future to what it has been in the past. We are well placed to support you in adapting to new ways of working, redesigning workplaces and supporting staff with new processes and procedures.

We are well used to making bespoke variations of our most popular products, with delivery in weeks not months. Whether you are a workspace planner or you need help with your own office or industrial unit, please do get in touch and let us work with you.

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