How to Change Spacing in an Open-Plan Office

Daniel Walsh

05 May 2021

Spacing Open Plan COVID hero

There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has completely turned the world of open plan office working upside down. When the first UK lockdown was introduced back in March 2020, these innovative and collaborative workspaces went from being bustling hubs of productivity to being shut down practically overnight.

Social distancing in the office

We’ve become accustomed to the idea of social distancing by now, whether we’re queuing at the checkout in the supermarket or taking a walk with a friend.

But for those working in an office, this rule may take some getting used to, with many businesses having to completely rethink the layout of their spaces and how they carry out certain processes in order to comply with the government’s guidelines - particularly the two metre rule.

If your workforce has yet to return to the office, it might be a good idea to start thinking about what the easing of social distancing means for you and your employees. To learn more about office layouts in a post-COVID world, and what the lifting of restrictions could look like for your workspace, keep reading.

How to layout an office post-COVID

When we arrive at Step 4 of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, we can breathe a sigh of relief, all restrictions will be lifted, which means that there will be no need to follow any guidelines in terms of social distancing - even in the workplace.

Of course, this is subject to change, but if it does go ahead, how can you adapt your office space so that your returning employees feel safe and comfortable in their place of work?

From socially distanced workstations, to partitions positioned between desks, to making the most of unused office meeting rooms for extra space, here’s what you need to know about the layout of your office post-COVID.

Do office desks need to be 2m apart?

Do office desks need to be 2m apart? The government’s current guidelines advise that workers should maintain social distancing when they are at their workstations. As previously mentioned, this means that work areas should comply with the two-metre rule, or at least one metre plus risk mitigations if two metres is not possible, such as using side-to-side or back-to-back working, rather than face-to-face.

From June 21st, the government has said that it hopes to be in a position to remove all social distancing rules, meaning that in theory, you will no longer be required to comply with this guidance when it comes to the layout of your office space.

However, that’s not to say that you have to ditch the rules completely once June 21st rolls around. To ensure that your employees feel safe and comfortable, and to help keep the spread of infection to a minimum, you could choose to incorporate some elements of the current guidelines, even though this will no longer be legally required.

For example, you could choose to stick to the two-metre rule, or at least introduce some distance between workstations, and you could even make back-to-back or side-to-side working the new normal for your employees. To get employees used to the idea of social distancing in the workplace, you may want to use floor paint or tape too.

To keep the two-metre rule in place as best you can, you could invest in more compact, modular style desking options, and you might also want to introduce savvy, space-saving storage solutions that allow you to make the most of the space you have so that it’s easier for your employees to be spaced apart from each other

Do I need to set up partitions between desks?

According to current government guidelines, setting up partitions between desks is recommended if you are unable to maintain social distancing by positioning workstations two-metres apart.

In this situation, it is advised to keep a distance of at least one-metre with the addition of risk mitigations - one of which is the use of screens or barriers to separate workers from each other.

Installing partitions between workstations provides an extra layer of protection for your employees, creating a physical barrier that can help prevent the spread of germs within the office and making workers feel more comfortable - especially where social distancing cannot be maintained in full.

As we head out of lockdown and back to normality in the workplace, you could still make use of partitions, even when social distancing is no longer required.

You might find that some of your staff members feel more comfortable performing in their roles with these screens in place for the time being. It’s possible to purchase transparent partitions, such as designs made from glass or plastic, so even when they’re in place, they are not obstructing views and your employees can still see and interact with one another.

Can I use a meeting room in an office?

Especially if you’re short on square footage in your office, you could consider making the most of your office’s meeting rooms by turning them into functional workspaces.

As long as the rooms are well ventilated, big enough to accommodate the furniture and equipment needed, and allow your employees to start apart at a safe distance, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make the most of these rooms if you have them at your disposal.

At Hunts, we offer free advice on your post-COVID office, covering everything from social distancing to hygiene. Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help you.

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