HomeDesignOffice Design After COVID: What We’ve Learned About Returning to Work
Two workstations in separate rooms with glass doors.

Office Design After COVID: What We’ve Learned About Returning to Work

How quickly things can change. At this time last year, our team was working to design and build workplaces that helped bring people together. We were creating spaces that included environments like cafes, conference rooms, and other gathering spaces. Many offices had open plans that made it easy for people to collaborate. In some cases, we even got to create fun amenities like office gyms and game rooms. And then, just a few months later, the coronavirus pandemic hit and we suddenly had to rethink the way we approach workplace design. 

As we continue to cope with the ongoing effects of the pandemic, one phrase that has come up very often is “the new normal.” Given the substantial impact the pandemic has had on society, the things that used to be part of our everyday life are going to look very different for the foreseeable future — including going to the office. Even though many people will continue working from home for a while yet, some people have gone back to the office and their experiences have given us some insight into what the new normal means for workplaces.

Workstations featuring tall cubicle walls.Putting Up Barriers

In recent years, open offices were one of the biggest — and most controversial — trends in workplace design. Even before the pandemic hit, there were a lot of concerns about some of the problems a lack of barriers can cause, like a loss of privacy and how easy it can be for germs to spread. Now that there’s a very real possibility of a potentially fatal illness being spread in the workplace, many companies have started installing things like high-panel cubicles, plexiglass partitions, and other types of screens to minimize the spread of germs while people work. 

Desk partitions also have the benefit of adding some privacy for people who need to attend virtual meetings from their desks. Even though some people are returning to the office, that doesn’t mean they’re having in-person meetings like they used to. Instead, people are very commonly using video conferencing technology and conference calls to reduce face-to-face interactions. 

Reworked Office Layouts

As people return to the office, lots of things that used to be part of the everyday workplace experience are now considered a health hazard. Impromptu conversations by the coffee maker, team brainstorming sessions, meetings in the conference room — all things that used to be encouraged can now pose safety risks, and you may need to make changes to your office layout to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Very often, workstations need to be spread out to allow for social distancing. The benching workstations that were a common feature in pre-pandemic offices may become a thing of the past since they don’t allow for six feet of space between employees. Seating in reception areas and other meeting spaces may need to be reduced or rearranged to create more room between people. If you have hallways with seating and other furniture in them, you may want to consider temporarily removing that furniture to give people extra room to walk past each other and to discourage people from gathering there.

Two workstations in separate enclosed enclaves.Reinvented Collaborative Areas

In the pre-coronavirus world, one of the most common goals for office renovations was to help promote collaboration and interpersonal connections. While collaboration and connection will remain important going forward, spaces that had been created to facilitate face-to-face interactions need to be reconsidered or reinvented.

In many cases, companies are completely closing off areas like lunch rooms and office lounges for the time being. But take some time to think about all the places where people tend to gather during the day and see if there’s anything that can be done to safely give them new life. For example, some companies are temporarily turning their conference rooms and other meeting spaces into individual work areas so that people can be more spread out while they work. 

The Rise of Touch-Free Solutions

A big part of our new normal means being cautious about touching surfaces that are used by many different people. Things like door handles and communal items like copy machines and microwaves are high-touch surfaces, and many companies are looking for ways to minimize the need for employees to come in contact with them. Some popular solutions include automatic sink faucets, touch-free trash cans, motion-activated lights, and hands-free entry options for doors. 

While partitions are going up in offices, many companies are taking down some of the interior doors in their offices. Not only does this reduce the need for people to be touching door handles, it helps improve air circulation in spaces like conference rooms and other meeting environments that are being used as individual work areas. 

Stairwell with graffiti art painted on the walls.Elevators Decline in Popularity

At the beginning of 2020, taking the stairs instead of the elevator was being recommended for people who had made new year’s resolutions to be more active. By the time we got into summer and some people started returning to their offices, taking the stairs was still being recommended, but for a different reason.

Given the need for social distancing, the idea of spending any amount of time in a crowded elevator is something that simply doesn’t appeal to many people right now. Not only are elevators small, enclosed spaces, the control buttons are a high-touch surface. Elevators won’t be disappearing from offices anytime soon, though. Some people aren’t physically capable of taking the stairs and in high rise buildings, taking the stairs can be very difficult for most people. But for now, the stairs will remain a more popular option than they were pre-pandemic. 

Outdoor Work Areas Grow in Popularity

Before the pandemic, outdoor spaces were often simply thought of as amenities that are nice to have. On a beautiful day, being able to step outside and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine while you work is great for morale. But now that the coronavirus has forced so many types of businesses to move their operations outside, outdoor work areas are being valued more than ever before. If a company was toying with the idea of creating an outdoor space as part of a renovation before the pandemic hit, they may now consider it a must-have in the post-COVID world. 

Need help creating a safe environment for your employees? Premier Construction & Design has been working with companies in the Metro Detroit area to help make their offices safe for people as they return to the workplace. Contact us so that we can learn more about your project.