It was not that long ago when small businesses across the nation jumped on the open office trend. In addition to cutting costs, the open office layout, which is characterized by shared desks, encouraged collaboration between workers and teams. Numerous research studies show that open office spaces actually decrease in-person communication, and, in many cases, reduce worker productivity because of noise and other distractions. Today, employees in open office environments have to deal with more than just ringing telephones, loud conversations, noisy keyboard clicks, and a lack of privacy. They also have to deal with the fear of the unknown as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shared desks and cubicles without high barriers keep workers in close proximity to each other, and this increases their risk of transmitting viruses such as the common cold, bronchitis, and the flu. Add to that list the coronavirus, which can be transmitted from people who are either pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. If your small business is slowly re-opening during the COVID-19 pandemic, you need to adhere to state and Federal guidelines as recommended by the CDC. Physical distancing is an obvious safety measure, so it might be time to change your office design if your employees are working too close to each other. This Balboa Capital blog post has some ideas for you to consider.
Blueprint for safety.
If you are slowly inviting your employees back to the office, there are ways to focus on their safety without investing in an expensive remodeling project. One way is to reconfigure your floor layout to reduce density. Start by looking at your office blueprint, and your square-footage, to see how many employees you can accommodate with the required amount of physical distancing. For example, if you have a large desk with six computer stations, you can switch it to have just two, and position them at opposite ends of the desk. If your office has cubicles, look at ways to reorganize them so that your employees are not sitting in close proximity to one another.
For example, a 10-person cubicle with L-shaped desks can be dismantled to create five 2-person cubicles that can be spaced six feet apart. Consider adding plexiglass partitions to each cubicle. These can help protect your employees from germs and airborne illness that can travel in the particles of a cough, sneeze or laugh. When you change your office layout to add space in-between desks and cubicles, you will most likely reduce your capacity by 30% or more, and still have the same square footage. So, determine which employees can work remotely and which employees absolutely need to return to the office. This will help when planning your office-seating chart.
Rethink in-office meetings.
The pandemic is changing the way meetings are being conducted in the field, and in the office. If your company meets with clients, customers, business partners, and prospective employees in private offices, it is time to think of alternatives. Face-to-face meetings can be worrisome for you and your visitors, even if they take place in a large conference room. Some of today’s popular options include web-based meetings and video chats. In addition, outdoor meetings in public areas, perhaps at a table near your office, can reduce anxiety and maximize safety for both parties.
Just make sure to maintain proper social distancing, wear face protection, and avoid shaking hands. As for company meetings with your employees, use your discretion. That said, it is a good idea to have them via webinar. Lastly, many companies are no longer holding in-person company meetings, and they are converting their conference rooms and meeting rooms to office space. These rooms are typically large and can allow several of your employees to work comfortably while spread out from one another.
Repurpose office space.
Have you ever walked around your office and noticed empty offices or workstations, or perhaps a vacant meeting room, closet, or supply room? If so, do not let these unused spaces collect dust. After all, you are paying for them in the form of rent and a heating and cooling bill. These areas can quickly and easily be repurposed as office spaces for your employees. Yes, supply rooms and other underutilized areas might not have the same attractive look as a cubicle, but they might be the preferred option of employees who want private, personal spaces, especially during a pandemic.
Repurposing your office space is relatively simple. It involves moving desks, chairs, computers, and desk lamps. If you are converting a space that needs an electrical outlet and wiring installed, you can hire an electrician. In summary, vacant space is a valuable asset that can be an integral part of your office redesign. It is a great way to expand your footprint and allow more employees to return to the office.
Nobody could have predicted COVID-19, or the effects it is having on Main Street USA. Millions of Americans are ready to go back to work, but safety will always be on their minds. They want to return to a workplace that puts their health and safety first. An office with rearranged work spaces that complies with social distancing rules is one way to do this.