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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Frye

Reopening America’s Offices

Updated: Jan 12, 2021

Everyone in office design and commercial real estate has been thinking about one thing: returning people to work spaces. What should office environments look like in this “new normal”? One thing is certain: the office you enter in May or June will look different than the one you left.

Informal collaboration spaces like this one will need to change in the "new normal" office.

In this post, I’ll share three key areas to consider as you make plans to reopen your office, with an emphasis on design solutions that companies can implement quickly and cost effectively.

  1. Change management. Ultimately, this is a change management process. It’s similar to what companies face when moving into a new office. The reason is different, of course, but the need for clear, consistent communication with teams is the same. So be sure you’re communicating specifics about what you’re doing to keep people safe, including any new health protocols or changes to your office space that you’ve put in place. Then keep lines of communication open, so you know how employees are feeling and what other changes may be needed to increase people’s comfort level.

  2. Surfaces. Making sure team members have easy access to sanitizer and surface wipes is just the beginning. Another key element is eliminating as many high-touch surfaces as possible. That might mean getting rid of doors to spaces such as break rooms or using open shelving in a copy room. There are always trade-offs with these changes (noise, clutter, privacy), but in this environment, erring on the side of health and safety makes sense.

  3. Furniture orientation. Furniture placement can make a big impact by encouraging social distance. In open offices, orient workstations so that people face away from each other. In many cases, this doesn’t require new furniture. In lounge spaces, push furniture farther apart. Remove chairs from conference rooms to decrease capacity.

Over time, companies likely will need to invest in longer-term solutions, including more touchless systems for entries, elevators and other high-traffic areas. New workstations may be needed to create more distance between team members. Whatever changes happen in the workplace, they will need to address two very real needs: the need to keep employees safe and healthy and the need for people to feel safe at work


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