Two businessmen work socially distanced | Featured image for social distancing in the office.

Social Distancing in the Office and in Workplace Design

As the world continues its struggle with coronavirus, many are left wondering if life as we know it will remain the same – especially social distancing in the office. Given that a lot of people have had to work from home, those returning to work are raising the question about what the workspace is doing to guarantee their safety. Considering that the virus isn’t likely to disappear any time soon, workplaces need to implement social distancing in the office to ensure their employees are at the least amount of risk possible.

This presents a new set of challenges for workplace fitouts, as social distancing measures will need to be incorporated into the design, meaning that offices that previously ran at max capacity now need to rethink their design. One such design that’s now coming into question is the open office plan; a design touted to boost collaboration. After years of dominating the office world as the unrivalled best option for creativity and productivity, the open office plan is now under fire due to its close association with spreading illness. If employers are to rethink their office interior design, what are some measures they can take to ensure social distancing in the office?

Social Distancing in the Office – Workplace Design

Introduced in the late 80’s, the open office design was in direct response to the stark, unimaginative cubicle farms. Keenly adopted by Silicon Valley workers and made popular by tech giant Facebook, the open office design makes up to 90% of workspace fitouts in Australia.

But the open office space has since had its fair share of criticism, with many believing that an open space plan seriously impacts workplace productivity. Add to that the fact that open workspaces are now considered a health risk, and many employers are now rethinking their office design.

Of course, social distancing in the office is easier said than done, especially as some businesses require more face to face contact than others. If your office operates in a conventional manner, here are some things your business can do to implement social distancing at work:

Distance between desks

According to Safe Work Australia, staggering desks at least 1.5 metres apart not only gives employees more space but is also a good way to limit physical exposure to possible infection. To do this, an employer can spread out furniture or introduce plants to break the desks up in an aesthetically pleasing way. The more space between you and others, the less likely the virus is to spread.

‘The distributed office’

Instead of large, crowded open plan office spaces, many are advocating for the introduction of small teams or a ‘distributed office.’ Having small groups of people working next to each other can fulfil the need for social interaction, whilst also cutting down on possibilities of large scale spreading if someone gets sick. In addition to this, companies can utilise a staggered workforce, alternating the days when employees work from home and in office. This can also be used to ensure employees commute during times that are off peak, minimising their chances of viral exposure.

‘The 6 feet office’

Real estate company Cushman and Wakefield has introduced their new office concept called ‘The 6 feet office’, which directs people to navigate the office in a clockwise manner to limit large buildups of people. The space between each person’s desk follows the six-foot rule, and each desk is fitted with a disposable desk pad that can be thrown out. To ensure social distancing at work is always practiced, the office also incorporates large visual clues that show what six feet of separation looks like.

Protective barriers around desks

Outside of quarantine, the most effective way to stop a virus from getting out of control is lowering the chance that a respiratory droplet is spread. With protective barriers or desk dividers, the potential for spreading viral loads can be effectively reduced.

Work in groups

If a few employees perform similar roles it may be worthwhile to rethink the seating arrangement. Separating the floor into independent areas with the use of partitions can be a relatively cost-effective way to contain groups of people. If you’re worried about it upsetting the feng shui office balance you can chat to our office fitout professionals who can give you advice on protecting your office from vulnerabilities in an visually pleasing way.

Want to Learn More?

If you’re a small business that would learn more about social distancing and effective social distancing workplace design ideas, please get in touch and a member from our friendly team will contact you as soon as possible.