Guide to office space planning & design

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As we head into the waning days of the pandemic and beyond, many businesses are finally returning to the office either full-time or on a hybrid work schedule. In order to keep employees and customers safe as well as mitigate the risk of legal liabilities, navigating this transition is more complex than simply having staff return on site. More often than not, it will involve redesigning and retrofitting your facilities and ensuring that your space adheres to COVID-19 office safety guidelines for post-pandemic times.

Office space design for the post COVID-19 workplace 

How will the office change after COVID-19? According to a study by PwC, fewer than one in five executives said they want to return to the same office they knew before the pandemic. While 13% of executives would like to leave the office behind permanently in favor of remote work, 87% of employees believe the office is important for team collaboration and building relationships — with office needs being the highest-ranked. 

Against the backdrop of the Great Resignation, not only should workplace safety be top of mind but also creating a comfortable, welcoming environment that will promote engagement and job satisfaction. After all, with 55% of employees preferring to be remote at least three days a week after the pandemic, according to the PwC survey above, it’s important to help them get the most out of their in-office days.

Here are some ideas for office space planning guidelines for returning to work while maximizing workplace safety and optimizing your environment for hybrid work.

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Rethink your open floor plan

Before the pandemic, business leaders touted the benefits of open floor plans and collaborative spaces. The idea was that by breaking down physical barriers, employees would be more inclined to work together and share ideas. However, as Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., licensed, board-certified mental health counselor, wrote in an article in Forbes, this office design planning has its drawbacks in terms of productivity and employee satisfaction. And with the increased risk for spreading germs in open offices, more and more business leaders are opting for an office space redesign and advocating for a return to a closed office design. 

Sarkis writes, “When employees use a cell-plan office instead of an open-plan office, productivity increases 17%. When employees work in a quiet space, such as an office with a door, rather than in an active area, productivity increases 17-22%.”

Additionally, Sarkis says that open-office plans are “linked to low job satisfaction, commitment to one’s job, and employee retention.” It has also been found to increase feelings of dehumanization, which is “tied to feelings of losing individuality, abandonment by the employer, and having to work in a forced environment.”

The takeaway: It may be time to rethink your office space planning and redesign office space to create more privacy with individual rooms or safety barriers for employees. Not only will you reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 and other illnesses, but you may also entice more employees to work in the office and increase their overall job satisfaction.

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Secure, touchless access control for the workspace

  • Secure and touchless door entry using Wave to Unlock technology

  • Seamlessly integrates with office workspace management tools

  • Instantly add and manage new office spaces from one platform

  • Flexible and customized door access granted remotely with the touch of a finger

  • Elegant hardware design that blends into any office space 

  • Reliable, top-rated customer service that is available 24/7

Retrofit your office for safety 

As employees return to the office, many still have concerns about their health and safety even with the growing vaccine rates in the post-pandemic world. For this reason, it’s important to invest in smart office technologies that will make employees feel safer and more comfortable while checking off the list of office space planning basics. In fact, these measures alone may determine whether or not employees decide to return to the office or opt for a 100% remote job.

Unlike broadscale space planning for commercial office interiors, retrofitting your office involves reconfiguring spaces with new accessories and additions — a more affordable and less time-consuming endeavor for businesses with budget and time limitations. In the post-COVID-19 market, there are a wide variety of workplace safety retrofit solutions and office floor planning at your disposal. Here are some recommended features to invest in as you get your office ready for the post-pandemic world.

Touchless entry

The best place to start with office design post COVID-19 workplace safety technology is at the front door with an access control system with touchless capabilities. According to a recent Openpath survey, only 25% of commercial property owners said they have implemented touchless technologies in their offices and buildings, yet these are a convenient way to promote safety as well as reduce the cost and effort involved in disinfecting key cards and fobs, PIN pads, and turnstiles on a regular basis.

Sanitizing stations

Adding sanitizer dispensing machines throughout the office, which allow employees to sanitize their hands whenever they want, is an easy way to make employees feel safe and comfortable. The sanitizing feature has become an indispensable part of office space planning for returning after COVID-19. 

Contactless technology 

Hands-free technology such as faucets and hand dryers help prevent contact with germs on commonly touched surfaces. 

Protective shields & room partitions

Transparent shields can be added to furniture, such as desks, to prevent the spread of diseases and facilitate social distancing. Opt for transparent screens to promote collaboration or opaque partitions to create a sense of privacy and section off open areas.

Meeting room acoustics & technology updates

If your office  — like many businesses across the country — has opted for a hybrid work model, it’s likely that meetings will be attended by both in-office and remote employees. Add technology such as touchscreen smartboards, 360-degree cameras, and acoustic paneling to promote better communication during hybrid meetings.

Safety signage

Signage is a great way to make employees feel comfortable and promote compliance with health and safety guidelines such as social distancing, room capacity limits, hand washing procedures, and more. 

Customer area safety updates

In addition to making your employees feel comfortable, if you service customers in your facilities, make sure to retrofit customer servicing areas for safety as well. Here are some additional features for workplace planning for returning after COVID-19:

  • Add position markers for customers who stand in line

  • Space out waiting area furniture 

  • Add sanitizer stations and transparent screens in customer service areas

  • Train your employees on health and safety practices when interacting with customers

  • Display signage with COVID-19 safety messages reminding customers to physically distance, wash their hands, and use hand sanitizer

  • Go touch-free in all customer spaces, from touchless hand-dryers in bathrooms to contactless payment options 

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Take your cleaning and sanitizing practices to the next level

In addition to equipping your office for workplace safety, cleaning and sanitizing play a vital role in getting your facilities ready for office space planning for a post-pandemic workplace. In a survey by the commercial cleaning experts at SERVPRO, businesses across all major industries have instituted the following updates to their cleaning and sanitizing practices since the pandemic:

  • 83% are investing more in cleaning 

  • 46% are committed to deep cleaning for as long as COVID-19 is a threat

  • 64% clean several times per day

  • 34% use both a certified CDC-approved cleaning company in addition to a janitorial service 

  • 28% use CDC-approved products and methods

Additionally, 51% report adding more hand sanitizer or hand sanitizing stations and 12% have instituted a special UV light sanitizer.

Consider implementing these protocols in the post-pandemic workplace to help reduce the risk of outbreaks of COVID-19 and other illnesses.

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Make your office hybrid-friendly

In the post-pandemic workplace, you may find that fewer employees are walking through your doors each day thanks to the hybrid work model. According to a survey by TravelPerk, 76 percent of respondents said their companies shifted to a hybrid schedule. More employees than ever are working from home two to four days per week, only coming into the office occasionally. 

In this new environment, it’s important for businesses to make sure their facilities are equipped for hybrid meetings and contain amenities that will encourage remote employees to come into the office to work.

Hybrid-friendly meeting rooms

Before COVID-19, the standard meeting room was equipped with a whiteboard, a television, a round conference table in the center, and a camera facing the table. With the majority of businesses adopting the hybrid workplace model, post COVID-19 design solutions will need to evolve substantially in order to meet the needs of both in-office and remote employees. 

To accommodate a hybrid work team, consider updating your meeting room technology. For example a 360-degree camera, such as this one from Owl Labs, can sit on an existing meeting table and show all the participants in a room on the meeting screen. A touchscreen TV built for Zoom, such as the DTEN or Neat devices, combines touchscreen technology with whiteboards. The result is a “smartboard” that displays over Zoom so that remote employees can view it too.

In addition to establishing hybrid meeting rooms, with fewer people in the office, you should also consider the following updates in your workspace planning for a post-pandemic office:

  • Replace round tables with more intimate bar tables in front of a whiteboard. This will help promote collaboration between in-office employees who can sit together and whiteboard their ideas.

  • Add meeting pods or phone booths to open-plan office spaces. This can help facilitate collaboration with remote employees without disturbing others in an open office.

Attractive amenities for hybrid employees 

At the start of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, it took some time for employees around the globe to adjust to working from home. But thanks in large part to digital software technologies such as virtual conferencing and collaborative project management platforms, companies across industries not only successfully transitioned to remote work but also grew to prefer it. Now that many workers are thriving in their home offices, it’s important for employers to offer amenities that make the commute into the office worthwhile.

Here are some office upgrade ideas that will encourage remote workers to come into the office more frequently:  

Comfortable lounge

One of the key missing ingredients when working remotely has been “watercooler chat” and the opportunity to develop relationships with colleagues. Allow your associates to congregate in a comfortable shared space such as a lounge with comfortable seating, an espresso machine, board games, and other features that promote interaction.

Quiet workspaces

Offer your associates with distractions at home, such as children and pets, the opportunity to be productive in a quiet workspace. Convert one of your meeting rooms into a library with proper signage to discourage talking and noise, or set up quiet workspace pods or rooms throughout your office.

Games and activities

Consider outfitting your office with activities such as an indoor putting green or a foosball table. 

Choose-your-own seating

Now that fewer people are in the office at the same time, consider making seating arrangements flexible in your workspace or change seating arrangements on a monthly basis. This allows associates to have the opportunity to circulate around the office quite literally and get to know their teammates better, a recipe for better collaboration and engagement.

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Hybrid office space planning checklist

Get prepared for the post-pandemic workplace with this hybrid office space planning checklist:

  • Conduct a survey to find out what safety protocols and amenities matter most to your employees in the post-pandemic workplace

  • Consider converting your open office plan to a cell office plan

  • Outfit your space for safety:

    • Add sanitation stations

    • Add temperature check stations

    • Add hands-free technology such as keyless door entry systems, hands-free faucets and blow-dryers, and contactless payment technology

    • Add room dividers and partition walls to section off open office spaces

    • Add protective transparent screens and shields

    • Add signage with COVID-19 safety messages reminding employees and customers to physical distance, wash their hands, use hand sanitizer, and wear masks, for example

    • Add position markers for customers who stand in line

    • Space out waiting area furniture 

  • Make your office more inviting to hybrid employees with a lounge that contains comfortable furnishings or quiet workspaces

  • Reduce the number of desks and space them out

  • Adopt hybrid workplace management software that allows employees to choose their own seating

  • Add meeting pods or phone booths to open-plan spaces to facilitate collaboration with remote employees

  • Outfit meeting rooms with hybrid-friendly technology such as 360-degree cameras, touchscreen TVs, and smartboards built for Zoom and other virtual meeting software

  • Update your janitorial service to include daily deep cleanings or cleanings several times per day

  • Hire a certified CDC-approved company in addition to a janitorial service

  • Acquire CDC-approved cleaning products

  • Add UV light sanitizers

  • Invest in other items that promote safety and well-being such as desktop air purifiers, sanitizing wipes, indoor plants, anti-microbial office supplies, and PPE such as masks and gloves

  • Develop new workplace safety guidelines and a hybrid work policy

  • Train your employees on new workplace safety protocols 

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Getting ready for the post-pandemic workplace is a process

There is much debate on how the office will change after COVID-19. The pandemic has changed nearly every aspect of our work lives, from how we greet each other to how we collaborate — and these changes are likely to continue well into the future even after the pandemic has ended. Just as it took some time to acclimate to working at home during the COVID-19 crisis, adjusting to the post-pandemic workplace will likely be a process. The guidelines and checklist above will help you prepare your office and your team as much as possible for this next transition.

Another aspect that needs to adapt to a post-pandemic office redesign is the access control security of a workplace. With features that fit seamlessly into the COVID-19 safety regulations, Openpath’s system makes it easier for businesses to implement touchless access control for their safety precautions and security procedures. Plus, the platform’s occupancy tracking allows admins to automate who goes in and out of the office according to the occupancy limit, and the fully remote management system authorizes admins to access Openpath from any location. With this feature, businesses are able to comply with the work from home policy, even when it comes to security. 

Talk to our experts today to see how Openpath can revamp your security in the post-pandemic era. 

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