Creating a Socially Distanced Office

Posted by Versare on Oct 21st 2020

Social distancing guidelines have changed the way we interact with one another in all aspects of life, including in our workplaces. With more employees heading back to the office, companies have been tackling the difficult task of rearranging their office layouts to allow for proper social distancing. The CDC’s protocols recommend maintaining a minimum of six feet of distance between people at all times to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. This means big changes for most office buildings.

If you’ve been struggling to create an office layout that prioritizes employee wellness while also promoting productivity, you’re not alone. It’s time for all of us to reimagine our workspaces to make room for social distancing. Let’s walk through a few things to consider as you work toward creating social distancing in the office.

Map Out the Office

First things first, create a map of your current office layout. If you have access to a blueprint or basic floor map of your office, that’s a great place to start, but if not you can sketch one out with paper and pencil. Take measurements of boundary walls and other immovable features like pillars, doorways, windows, and power outlets and include those on your map before adding furniture and equipment.

As you draw up your office layout, consider the following:

  • Distance between desks
  • Foot traffic routes
  • Dead ends or other barriers to traffic flow
  • Busy or common areas where people tend to congregate, such as around printers and in break rooms or conference rooms

The goal is to create distance between employees and reduce the occurrence of people coming into close contact with one another more than they need to throughout the day.

Identify High-Traffic Areas

Before you start moving desks around, take note of the wear patterns in your flooring. Areas where carpet is worn or floors are scuffed will indicate your high-traffic routes. Keep these spots in mind as you create your socially distanced office layout, so that the new arrangement retains easy access to the areas of the office that are most used. Use signage both on the floor and at eye level to direct traffic in these areas, ideally marking them as one-way zones and creating detours for employees heading in the opposite direction.

Create a Buffer Zone Around Each Workspace

Measure six-foot circles around each work area, creating a buffer zone around each desk. Measure the distance between each seat, and if that distance is less than six feet, remove one seat or post signs stating that it is unusable. Or, if you have enough space, push desks further apart. Use signage or lines on the floor to indicate the buffer zone around each desk. Also consider using desktop partitions to provide greater separation in cases where social distancing isn't possible or to offer anxious employees an additional measure of health protection.

Update Maximum Occupancy Rates in Gathering Areas

Once you have determined your new layout, you can refigure the new maximum occupancy of each room or section of the workplace. Social distancing is especially difficult in smaller, shared spaces like conference rooms, break rooms, and elevators, so it’s important to put protocols like maximum occupancy in place to prevent overcrowding.

You can determine the new maximum occupancy for each room by figuring out how many people can use the room while staying at least six feet apart. Post clear signage in each room as well as outside the door notifying employees of the change. Also, consider other ways you can reduce the use of these rooms, such as asking staff to eat lunch at their desks or to use the stairs whenever possible.

Knowing your maximum occupancy will be useful not only in creating a safe seating arrangement, but also in determining how many employees can return to the office or how to stagger schedules to reduce the number of people in the building at a given time.

Use Transparent Partitions for Face-to-Face Interactions

While it’s important to continue practicing social distancing to maintain the health of your staff, it doesn’t have to mean the end of connection among your team. Using transparent partitions throughout your office can help provide an extra level of protection while allowing you to maintain a culture of connection and collaboration.

Use partitions between desks when workers are facing or sitting next to each other or in other situations where social distancing isn’t feasible. Partitions shouldn’t completely replace social distancing, but putting some transparent partitions in place can help create a physical barrier between workers while allowing them to continue face-to-face communication when necessary.

Transparent partitions are especially useful at the reception desk, as office visitors or customers may not be aware of the social distancing protocols you have in place. Countertop screens will add an extra measure of protection for reception staff.

Implement One-Way Routes Around the Office

To enable employees to come into close contact with the fewest number of people possible as they move around the office, try instituting one-way routes. Create new paths that avoid busy areas and introduce floor arrows to guide employees through the office. Rearrange desks to eliminate dead ends and keep traffic flowing. Looping one-way paths like this will help reduce the chances of employees passing within six feet of each other while maintaining efficiency of movement.

Use Clear Signage to Remind Employees of New Protocols

Social distancing is still new to most of us. Expect that employees will forget the new protocols from time to time, and post signage throughout the office to help them remember. Signage will also offer reassurance of the safety of your workplace to those who are more hesitant to come back to the office.

Use bright, colorful signs, hard-wearing vinyl arrows on floors to direct traffic, and notices in common areas, inside elevators, and outside conference rooms to announce new maximum occupancy numbers or other instructions. Use floor signs spaced six feet apart in the lobby to indicate where elevator passengers should stand while they wait, and do the same outside conference rooms or other areas that require reduced capacity due to their size.

Creating social distancing in the office is a necessary part of protecting employees against the spread of COVID-19. No one knows how long this pandemic will last, and it’s possible we will need to continue following social distancing protocols for some time. If you are in need of partitions or countertop screens to complete your socially distanced office layout, shop our online store here or give us a call at 800-830-0210.