Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, companies built spaces that encouraged collaboration; long work benches with flexible seating, coffee bars, and multiple conference rooms. Open-office concepts which are now being reversed. Facilities managers, human resources and real estate executives are evaluating ways they can safely bring employees back to the office. And this means re-thinking every aspect of the prior working culture.

The Wall Street Journal article “Reopening the Coronavirus-Era Office: One-Person Elevators, No Cafeterias” outlines ways various companies are looking to re-work their office layouts.  “Desks, once tightly packed in open floor plans, will be spread apart, with some covered by plastic shields and chairs atop disposable pads to catch germs.” Cushman & Wakefield is bringing a version of its “Six-Feet Office” concept to Los Angeles and New York.

The plan features plexiglass dividers between desks and circles on the floor to indicate how far apart workers should be – WSJ, “Reopening the Coronavirus-Era Office: One-Person Elevators, No Cafeterias”

While areas of the country may look different right now, a common theme remains; the goal of creating an office that allows for social distancing.  Companies are re-evaluating ways to avoid shared spaces and encourage distancing between employees. Problem solving for issues in high-rise buildings such as elevators, employees sharing kitchen items and restrooms to name a few.

Many New York based companies will require that every worker wear a mask. Shared cafes, gyms, showers & coffee bars will remain closed in most offices. These amenities previously considered an office perk and way of bringing people together, now a threat. The new office will be quite the opposite. Several companies may require that every other seat be occupied, conference rooms temporarily closed and hallways and stairwells may become one-way.

Some offices will be staggering arrival times or days that different groups of employees go into the office. This would be in an effort to avoid crowded elevators and lobbies.  With elevators only allowing 1-3 people at a time for certain employees and others required to take the stairs only. While some companies may keep their conference rooms closed, others are looking at expanding their size in order to allow for social distancing and video conference calls.

These are initial steps companies are taking in an ever evolving Coronavirus-era we are in. As companies navigate new challenges, some protocols and layouts may prove more successful than others.