Social distancing in the ‘new normal’ office

furniture & interiors

As more employers plan for the return of staff to the workplace, how can they adapt their office layout and furniture to ensure the safety of employees and alleviate any anxieties about busy offices? Here we look at effective ways to pandemic-proof offices and maintain social distancing without compromising on good overall design. Shielding, not …

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As more employers plan for the return of staff to the workplace, how can they adapt their office layout and furniture to ensure the safety of employees and alleviate any anxieties about busy offices? Here we look at effective ways to pandemic-proof offices and maintain social distancing without compromising on good overall design.

Shielding, not separating

In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, most of us will naturally feel uncomfortable sitting too close to colleagues, which no doubt explains why, in a recent survey of UK workers by insurance provider Protectivity, only 31% said they felt safe at the prospect of being back in the workplace. Whether desk mounted or floorstanding, screens or sneeze guards are proving to be a successful solution, creating a physical barrier in high density spaces – and there’s a vast choice available, including upholstered, clear and printed options, straight, with return or three-sided, framed or unframed, with sizes and mounting to suit any requirements.

A new product category pretty much born out of the pandemic, clear acrylic panels which can be fitted on top of existing fabric screens are in high demand; not only can they be installed with very little disruption, they also provide that all essential protection without visual separation. Beyond plastic, upholstered screens will re-introduce some of the privacy and acoustic insulation that have been lost in large, open plan offices; mobile screens offer the flexibility to reconfigure spaces quickly and easily, while write-on screens are the ideal, dual-purpose backdrop for informal brainstorming and meeting spaces. With such variety of screens available, it is possible to achieve social distancing and shielding from germ spreading whilst promoting collaboration and communication.

Re-inventing spaces

Screens may be a great short-term fix to reassure concerned employees, however workplaces should also adopt a more long term, strategic approach to office design to facilitate social distancing. Think embracing the growing trend for ‘space within a space’ solutions, from the now well-established booth to newer concepts such as modular pods or curtain enclosures. Likewise, a clever use of storage walls or less obtrusive shelving, decorative hanging or freestanding acoustic panels, planters and living walls will result in natural distancing, zoning spaces rather than dividing too harshly.

Let’s not forget that Covid-proofing the workplace can come from re-configuring existing furniture too, be it a new layout to create wider or one-way walkways or splitting up clusters of desks. Our design and space planning team is here to provide personalised, expert advice and solutions.

Informing & educating

The pandemic has impacted how we work and where we work in so many ways that you’d be forgiven for overlooking the need to inform and educate if distancing and hygiene protocols are to be adhered to. With that in mind, the ‘new normal’ workplace should incorporate clear, informative displays and signage, including sanitisation stations, desk hygiene policies, floor markings etc.

Whether your staff have already started returning to the office or you are looking at how to do so safely in the future, make sure you contact our team to discuss how we can support you.