Spring is upon us, and with it, thoughts naturally turn to renewal and regeneration. It’s a time of hope and cheerfulness, and although Canadians continue to cope with the realities of the COVID-19 outbreak, employers and employees are anticipating a gradual return to work and reboot of the economy. Collaborative office solutions can assist in this endeavour.

Density, Geometry, and Division Strategies to Safeguard Employees

On May 4, Queen’s Park announced that certain businesses and workplaces could reopen, with strict health and physical distancing measures in place.

As offices and workplaces begin to open again, we will need to keep the following phrases in mind when bringing back the office: division, geometry, density. Essentially, they refer to physical distancing measures and protocols required to keep people safe. Here is a closer look:

  • Density: This refers to the number of people working/gathering in a limited space: people per square metre in other words. This strategy may involve removing some furniture, so people are at least two metres apart. The use of a checkerboard pattern is recommended. The strategy also shifts the workplace to more individual owned spaces, rather than shared desking.
  • Geometry: In a post-COVID-19 world, consideration will have to be given as to how furniture is laid out, to minimize contact and adhere to distancing protocols. Components of this strategy include arranging and reorienting workstations away from a standard linear approach, minimizing sitting face-to-face interactions without a barrier, and rotating desks 90-degrees to face in different directions.
  • Division: Workplaces will need to have a conversation about installing screens, panels, and barriers designed to enhance employee safety and reassure them that appropriate measures are in place. Employers should add screens or panels to achieve minimum physical distancing requirements, and add screens in front, beside and behind people. When a minimum distance of two metres cannot be achieved, implement the highest boundary possible above the worksurface.

Collaborative Office Solutions in a Post-COVID Environment

While employers will be eager to deploy collaborative office solutions to enable employees to be productive, creative, and engaged, it’s important to note these solutions must be designed with physical distancing in mind, adhering to density, geometry, and division protocols. Let’s take a closer look at what that might entail:

  • Flexible workplaces: Screens and barriers that employers will need to install to maintain physical distancing protocols should be movable to allow them to be repurposed for other areas or to support future design elements. Think ongoing utility when purchasing such equipment. How are they going to be used when they are no longer needed for physical distancing?
  • Ongoing and open dialogue: Employers should recognize that the use of screens and barriers is a marked redirection from recent office design trends that encouraged open space and employee interaction. Employees will need to understand why these new measures are in place. Open and ongoing dialogue will be important.
  • Walk this way please: As with physical distancing measures, directional indicators on the floors or walls will have to be explained to employees, reminding them that ‘short-cuts’ are not to be taken.
  • Staying connected: Technology can facilitate greater virtual collaboration, for people working from home and at the office. Being distant doesn’t mean being isolated.

The Next Steps For Your Workplace

Employers have spent a lot of time and energy envisioning and designing the modern workplace, focusing on open spaces, high density, shared spaces, high mobility, as well as employee comfort and creativity. They were not designed to protect against the spread of a disease like COVID-19. Now, that will have to change.

Here is what to expect in the new normal workplace:

  • Multi-use furniture like desks and chairs will be switched to a single-use approach, with it extensive cleaning protocols.
  • Lounge furniture settings may be modified to support physical distancing.
  • Visual cues, like directional way signage on the floor, will need to be put in place to remind employees to maintain the appropriate distancing.
  • Employers will need to consider mandating the wearing of masks in the workplace.
  • Safety measures may include adding hand-washing stations and frequently disinfecting/cleaning surfaces and furnitures.

Reinvent will be a key word to remember in a post-COVID workplace, using science, data and emerging technologies to get the job done. Adaptable, fluid, and resilient will be the buzzwords of future collaborative office solutions. At POI, we can help you on this journey. Contact POI today to talk to one of our experts.