Category: Workplace

Restarting Your Workplace

Where To Start

Workplace Architecture + Design has worked with many of the leading corporations and institutions locally and nationally in the design of their high-performance work environments.

Since we are familiar with their layouts and design, we also know that many of our clients will be facing new challenges responding to Covid 19 as they attempt to reopen their workspaces.

Their focus will need to be on adapting so that their workplaces are controlled and following best practices for screening, sanitation, social distancing, and flexible work strategies.

Equally challenging will be the cultural changes that these restrictions will bring, as behaviors and protocols will be forced to adapt. If employees are not confident in the company’s approach it will erode trust. Groupwork, social interaction, celebration of achievements, and performance goals will all have to be reset.

To help with these challenges, we have been assembling resources that we think will be helpful to all of our customers in each of these key areas, with source links and tips listed below.

On Thursday May 7, we hosted a webinar panel discussion featuring many of the facility management leaders and real estate executives in the region to get their insights and tips on how they are adapting policies and work environments in anticipation of reopening. 

The information provided by the webinar and this blog post is for the consideration of facility managers and building owners, and not intended to be specific recommendations. Each company will have unique considerations based on their facility designs and business operations. Managers should consult with their HR and Legal departments before implementing their plan.

Flexibility is Key

There is no set playbook on how to respond to Covid 19 when it comes to rethinking workplace protocols and layouts. The reopening phase of the pandemic will be dependent on local patterns of the virus and whether rate of infections is increasing or decreasing at any given time in the place of business’ community. State and local governments will also have variations in their executive orders governing business.

One of the most useful guides we have found is from former CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, whose current organization Resolve to Save Lives focuses on pandemics.  Titled “When and How to Reopen After COVID-19”, it correlates workplace guidelines to specific pandemic data points.

Another useful framework for reference is the CDC’s current guidance released through the White House called “Opening Up America Again”, which is intended to guide state and local leaders. Flexibility will be required depending on the trajectory of the virus locally, meaning that protocols will likely have to be revised back-and-forth depending on the rise and fall of community transmission.

All of the current guidance is consistent in recommending the following in the early phases of workplace reopening:

  • Employees that are over the age of 65 or have vulnerable conditions should continue to shelter in place until community transmission declines for 8-16 weeks after initial reopening.
  • Social distancing should remain in effect at the workplace and is likely to require continued telework, staggered shifts, spreading out seated workers, staged limitations on meetings and gatherings, closure of common areas that encourage social gathering, and reconsideration of circulation in the buildings.
  • Individual and workplace sanitizing requirements will continue to be needed through all phases.

Screening Employees and Guests

The first point of control for a facility manager will be screening processes to limit the possibility of exposure of employees in business operations. Even after widespread testing and contact tracing is available companies will want to consider:

  • Travel restriction policies.
  • Requiring notification to HR and self-quarantine for employees with symptoms or traced exposure.
  • Maintaining controlled access and screening at all entrances.
  • Using thermal screening devices to take temperature of employee’s and visitors while maintaining distancing from staff.
  • Requiring visitors to fill out forms attesting to screening criteria and allowing temperature to be taken before entry.
  • Having a designated wellness room with negative air pressure near a building exit for isolating and removing employees and visitors presenting symptoms.


Having the correct procedures in place for sanitizing the work environment and requiring employees to follow protocols is critical not only to combat the virus but also to make employees feel that the environment is controlled so they can focus on work. Here are best practices for consideration:

  • Increase janitorial to clean all surfaces at least three times per day. Make sure cleaning agents follow CDC and OSHA Guidance, using recommended disinfectants.
  • Wherever possible, deploy horizontal surfaces that are non-porous (laminate) and limit soft surfaces that are difficult to disinfect.
  • Make sure selected cleaning agents are compatible with materials and finishes in the workplace.
  • Consider removing furniture that is incompatible with sanitizing procedures or difficult to clean.
  • Consider adding cleanable screening between workstations to a 60-66” height.
  • Consider increasing ventilation rates and outside air delivery.
  • Require employees and guests are to wear masks to and from the building, in the elevators, and while circulating in the space.
  • Provide hand sanitizer dispensers in building lobbies for use before entering elevators and stairwells.
  • Provide disposable glove dispensers throughout the facility for employees use and stock extra masks for employees and visitors who arrive without them.
  • Deploy sanitized wiping cloths and sanitizer spray bottles throughout the open plan, break and meeting room areas. Provide waste container with lid to collect.
  • Ask employees to wipe enclosed meeting room and huddle room surfaces and chair arms / backs, and door handles after each use.
  • Deploy signage encouraging hand washing and describing social distancing rules.

Social Distancing

The past goal of optimizing square feet per person in workplace design as a guiding principle means that most office and retail layouts will need modification and change in use to comply with the standard six-foot distancing rules.

There are likely to be limits on floor occupancy levels – for example 20% of life-safety code, increasing with time. Given the standard 4-pack ,6-pack, and 8-pack workstation cluster design, employers may only be able to seat alternating users depending on the workstation footprint and user orientation. Additionally, meeting rooms will have occupancy limits to ensure limits on assembly are followed.

Since it will be difficult if not impossible to reconfigure and reseat the entire pre-Covid employee count, employers will need to continue remote and work-from-home programs with the associated technology, communication and project management tools. Employers will also need to consider shift work and staggered workdays to control onsite headcounts.

This is likely to have a lasting impact on workplace design, even after the pandemic era. Workplaces and meeting spaces are likely to be less dense in planning and flexible working is likely to continue for many years to come for the appropriate job types.

Here are best practices for consideration:

  • Maintain six-foot distancing in lobby and elevator queues.
  • No more than two persons per elevator.
  • Deploy a manual or automated check-in system to monitor occupancy counts and distancing.
  • Reconfigure workstations to provide 6-foot seated distancing, or alternate seats. Remove and store chairs as needed for alternating seat solution.
  • For shared workspaces, ramp up daily sanitizing rates.
  • Add cleanable surfaces and screening in-between users.
  • Reconsider furniture and, fabrics and other materials for cleanability.
  • Post signage on allowed occupancy in meeting rooms, remove and store chairs as needed.
  • Restrict use of social congregation spaces until Phase 3 of the reopening frameworks.

Resources and Articles

Here are some great resources and articles that you might find useful in developing your restart plans:

Breakrooms, the Office’s “New” Hangout…

Office breakrooms have always been where an employee goes for coffee in the morning and lunch in the afternoon, but with their outdated designs, no one wanted to stay for an extended amount of time. Now, that’s a thing of the past, because breakrooms are also getting a face-lift when the design for the rest of the building is considered.

Breakrooms are being designed more frequently to look like kitchens that you’d see inside your own home. They’re now becoming a place where coworkers, in addition to getting their morning coffee and lunch, can now collaborate on ideas as well as sit and work instead of being stuck at their desk. The redesign of the office breakroom is starting to have an impact on employee morale in a positive manner.

So, as an employer, when redesigning your office space, remember to pay attention to the breakroom!

Balancing “We” and “Me”

This article, written by Steelcase researchers and published in the Harvard Business Review, really addresses the balance between the top two factors for productivity and satisfaction:

  1. The ability to do distraction-free solo work
  2. Support for impromptu interactions

Which are, of course, inherently contradictory.

Sound Matters

By far, the most informative, unbiased, and useful report EVER on acoustics in the workplace.  This universally relevant topic applies directly to the number one factor influencing employee performance and satisfaction – the ability to do distraction free solo work*.  Be sure to note the “mythbuster” on page 6 about cubicle partition heights…

*See Disproving Widespread Myths about Workplace Design for the top ten list of performance factors.

Designing a Workplace for Wellbeing

Two great design principles used to achieve the project goal: “How can our environment not just contain how work gets done, but be a catalyst [to evolve] the business?”  Seizing the opportunity to make a cultural and philosophical change interwoven with a consolidation of physical space – many of our clients have leveraged the same opportunity with great success.

How to Design a Workplace for Wellbeing: 2 Critical Factors

Make way for the Millennials

A more thorough article with great examples of specific space types – particularly the office commons as the new social hub of the workplace.  Our experience is consistent with the overall trend toward reducing square footage assigned to individual work-spaces and reallocating that square footage to these commons and other shared spaces.  However, beware the statistic on “average square footage per person” as there are many variations on how that is calculated, and the writer doesn’t elaborate.  Neither does this related press release from the source CoreNet data.

Some of these other statistics and calculation methods are described in:

“Space and Project Management Benchmarks: IFMA Research Report #34”, 2010, International Facility Management Association

“Workspace Utilization and Allocation Benchmark”, July 2011, with data updated July 2012; U. S. General Services Administration, Office of Real Property Management, Performance Measurement Division.

“A Unified Approach for Measuring Office Space: Fore Use in Facility and Property Management”, 2007 Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International and International Facility Management Association (IFMA)

Workplace Trends

Searching for the Holy Grail of workplace design?  Does it exist?  Probably not, or at least it looks a little different for every situation.  This article describes some changes in thought and direction that we have definitely been seeing and implementing over the last few years (Including opening a co-working space in Winston-Salem, Flywheel).  Schneider’s comments on transparency are true, but we are also seeing a trend toward transparency in terms of not keeping things behind closed doors…

Activity Spaces Defined

How can our building environments and spaces keep up with the fast-paced, ever-changing workforce? Gone are the days when private offices reigned supreme and when the water cooler was the only casual meeting place where you could share a collaborative conversation with a coworker. Today, you can have a video conference call while riding the subway on your way to your next client meeting.

Technology has changed the way we work and think. With a new techno-savvy workforce about to hit the market, our work spaces need to change too.  Knoll has provided us with a short illustrative video to inform us just what these spaces are and what they need to accomplish in order to make our work successful.

Refuge – ‘Get away’ space for focus or private one-on-one conversations

Enclave – ‘Get together’ area for a small group to exchange ideas

Team Meeting – Gathering space for a team project meeting

Assembly – Planned interactions and collaborative work

Community – ‘Town center’ spaces to encourage impromptu connections