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Space Planning And Space Design In A Post-Pandemic Workplace

by Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers on April 14, 2020
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As you consider what your workplace will look like in the coming months, space planning has taken on a new meaning.

You’ve realized you may need to reconfigure your floor plan to follow social distancing guidelines. You’re also wondering how many employees will return to the office on a daily basis now that so many have become accustomed to working remotely.

Proper space planning and design can help your workforce stay safe and healthy and ease back into the office following the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some guidelines to consider.

Space Planning Considerations For A Post-Pandemic Workplace

Space planning is the first step in any initial office space design or redesign. Developing any effective space planning strategy starts by defining your goals, seeing your space clearly and understanding the needs of your workforce.

Here are five steps you can take to get started:

1. Define What Success Looks Like

The safety and wellbeing of your employees should always be your top concern, but the COVID-19 outbreak brings a new perspective to this. Keeping your employees safe in a post-pandemic workplace may mean rethinking seating arrangements to increase the distance between work stations. It might also mean transitioning to unassigned seating with sanitation protocols in place to allow employees to choose to work from a distance where they feel safe.

Other space planning goals may include giving employees the continued flexibility to work remotely when it makes sense for their job function. At the same time, you want to minimize real estate costs—so you need to be more strategic about aligning your available space with the actual needs of your workforce.

2. Understand The Characteristics Of Your Space

Review your total square footage and determine what percentage of that is dedicated to private offices, meeting spaces and workstations.

Consider which spaces were underutilized prior to the pandemic and which could potentially be repurposed. Did you have private offices or large-capacity meeting rooms that were hardly ever used? Could those spaces become smaller meeting rooms or workstations for multiple employees?

You may also want to consider moving desks into some of your common areas so employees will be less likely to congregate in large groups.

3. Understand The Needs Of Your Workforce

If your office design is based only on the total number of employees at your organization, you will end up with a lot of wasted space. Instead, consider the percentage of the workforce that is regularly on site and the percentage who worked remotely at least a few days a week before the pandemic.

You may not know exactly how those percentages will change when you return to the workplace, but you can start having the conversation with department heads and employees.

4. Consider Your Company Culture

While your spatial needs are unique to your workforce, there are some general factors to take into account. For instance, the way employees collaborate at a marketing agency is very different from the way they work at a law firm or a financial services company. Consider the interactions you have with clients or customers, too. How can you create an environment that is safe, but also a place where employees and visitors feel welcome?

5. Assess Your Conference Room Requirements.

It may be too soon to tell how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect conference room utilization, but it’s safe to assume your needs could vary more from day to day.

You may not have as many employees working in the office, but when employees are there, it’s most likely because they’re eager to collaborate with others. Now that they’ve become accustomed to meeting remotely, they’re going to expect it to be just as easy to book a room as it is to create a meeting link. You might also want to consider limiting the number of people who gather in closed meeting rooms using room scheduling panels that display maximum occupancy.

How Space Planning and Space Design Work Together

Strategic space planning allows you to optimize your workplace design so it supports employees’ needs. As you rethink your space design, here are a few other elements to consider.

Employee Health And Safety

COVID-19 has made us all hyper-aware of our proximity to others and how many surfaces we touch throughout the day. It has made maintaining sanitation and cleanliness a priority in any workplace design. HOK recently published recommendations for workplace design strategies as part of a series about the novel coronavirus. In addition to increasing space between workstations and reconfiguring conference rooms, here are some other recommendations:

  • Use furniture and building materials that are easily sanitized
  • Keep plenty of hand soap, paper towels and cleaning products on hand; consider adding sanitization stations so employees can wipe down shared surfaces
  • Ensure optimal humidity levels of 40-60%
  • Increase ventilation, filtration and air circulation

Make sure employees also understand their roles and responsibilities when it comes to protecting their health and the health of others.

Natural Light

Access to natural light and views of the outdoors help to create a positive employee experience. It’s safe to assume that while working remotely, many employees choose to be near a window. In a survey from HR advisory and research firm Future Workplace, over 70% of respondents said natural light and views raised their satisfaction levels and improved their work performance. More than half said these elements increased their commitment to the company.

While it may not be possible to create a workplace design where every employee sits next to a window, you can still maximize exposure to natural light and improve overall light quality in the office.

If you have adopted flexible seating, you will likely need to use partitions to differentiate between workspaces. These panels should be made of translucent material and be as short as possible to maintain privacy while reducing light obstruction.

If you decide to forgo an agile work environment and use a traditional office layout with assigned seating, make sure workstations are located within 20-25 feet of windows since daylight from side windows decreases substantially once you are more than 25 feet away.

Smart technology can also help optimize the lighting in your office. For example, you can install smart blinds that automatically adjust based on the time of day so employees can enjoy natural light without screen glare. You can also take advantage of smart lighting systems with schedules that mimic natural changes in daylight.

Flexible Work And Outdoor Workspaces

After working remotely for an extended period of time, your employees have probably grown used to having greater freedom to structure their day to include afternoon walks or working outside in nice weather. Returning to eight hours behind a desk indoors may be a difficult transition.

Consider implementing an agile work environment like activity-based working (ABW), where employees can choose between a variety of different workspaces designed for specific activities—for example, collaboration, one-on-one conversations, socializing or solo work.

ABW will more closely mirror what your workforce has become accustomed to and help ease the transition back to being in an office again. Plus, research shows ABW can increase productivity and employee engagement while improving space utilization and reducing operational costs.

As part of your flexible working arrangements, ensure there are outdoor workspaces employees can easily access. Studies show employees who can work outside are not only happier and more engaged, they also experience better concentration, increased creativity and improved problem-solving skills.

If you do decide to incorporate outdoor workspaces into your workplace design, keep in mind there are a few additional investments you may need to make. Along with comfortable outdoor furniture, you will need climate control elements, such as canopies, fans and heat lamps (depending on where your office is located). You will also need to make sure the WiFi signal is strong enough.

The Benefits of Space Planning Software

Although we don’t know exactly what a return to the office will look like or when it will happen, now is the time to start planning.

Space planning software gives you the valuable workplace data you need to plan ahead. For instance, you can:

  • See available capacity, average headcount and employee-to-workstation ratios
  • Create new seating assignments and scenarios for employees to return to the office, using interactive stacking diagrams
  • Get real-time space utilization data through integrations with IoT sensors
  • Adjust cleaning schedules based on actual utilization

Space planning software gives you insight into how employees are actually using your workplace as they return. This allows you to make adjustments as needed, whether you have fewer employees in the office or a sudden influx.

Top-tier space planning software solutions also integrate with your other workplace management solutions like move management, asset tracking and facility maintenance, giving you even more insight into the workplace.

There will be a learning curve as you and your employees adjust to a post-pandemic workplace. Using best practices for space planning and design, along with the right technology, will make it much easier.

Learn more about how iOFFICE can help you plan for a post-pandemic workplace. Request a live demo. 

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