As we exit the first phase of the COVID-19  pandemic, people are asking what their offices will look like when they return to the workplace. Many business leaders find themselves wondering what steps they need to put into place to mitigate the risk of infection and how to redesign their workspace for the long term.

Whether your employees traditionally work in coworking spaces across several cities or at a dedicated office in one metropolitan area, your office will likely need to change to follow OSHA’s guidance on preparing workplaces to meet the current public health challenge.

The good news is that you don’t have to start from scratch. The model for a socially distant workplace already exists – it’s just not the coworking paradigm you’re used to. Here are seven elements to consider as you design your own workspace, drawn from our very own Firmspace locations.

1: Secure Access and Controls

As people begin to return to the office, one of the big challenges will be how to monitor foot traffic. Firmspace already has a keycard-based access system that allows us to secure elevators, stairwells, and hallways. There are a couple of reasons we believe this is the way forward:

  • Key cards are touch-free. And touch-free access to offices and conference rooms is no longer a luxury. They’re a necessity.
  • A remote system gives you control (and flexibility) from a safe distance. The use of digital key cards can allow your security team to leverage data to understand how your team uses your office space so that you can adjust policies accordingly.

For professionals whose work requires a secure environment for confidential conversations, it may not be unusual to have a workspace where access to the lobby is limited, but for many workers, we predict this will become the new norm.

2: Staggered Remote Work Schedules to Reduce Office Numbers

As states and cities roll out their return to work plans, many include a stipulation that meetings must remain below a reasonable size, typically ten people or less to a room.

For professionals in traditional coworking spaces, this means that access to their work environment may become extremely limited. For those who already have a dedicated office or suite, these restrictions will pose less of a barrier.

Whether you choose to stagger your staff’s office time by weekday or by week, we recognize the need to limit the number of people in common spaces within Firmspace offices. 

3: Limit In-Person Meetings and Implement New Guest Protocols

Whenever possible, we recommend our tenants opt for virtual meetings, but if there is a guest coming to the office, we ask that our tenants meet their guests at the front door. This can help new visitors navigate an unfamiliar space, and it gives our tenants a chance to equip them with any PPE, such as facemasks or gloves, that you wish to provide.

4: Make PPE and Cleaning Supplies Available

In the COVID-19 era, return-to-work plans must provide clear guidance around use of face masks and gloves. At Firmspace, we provide these resources to anyone who wants to use them, and we believe that these safety tools are important to build professionals’ sense of personal safety in the workplace.

In addition to offering PPE, Firmspace has added cleaning stations at entry points and at strategic points within the office so that people can sanitize their hands as they navigate common spaces.

For those who would like to wipe down their own spaces, we also provide Clorox wipes on demand and set up a designated email address for questions related to COVID-19 to streamline our response to urgent inquiries.

5: A Return to Cubicles, Walls, and Closed Doors in the Workspace

As of the first quarter of 2020, up to 70 percent of all office spaces were primarily or partially open plan in design. This balance is about to dramatically shift back toward private office spaces that prioritize individual safety and security.

Firmspace’s office suites all include walls that go from floor to ceiling and doors that provide a soundproof connection. While doors can always be left open to encourage guests to drop by, a socially distant office space requires doors, as well as walls.

A closed door no longer symbolizes a lack of opportunity – it’s a necessary barrier between you and your colleagues that provides a sense of psychological and physical security that a cubicle panel can’t match.

6: Reconsider Your Office Layout and Foot Traffic Patterns

Firmspace offices, like any professional space designed with privacy in mind, are designed to limit the flow of traffic within hallways.

Whether or not your space has this advantage, consider adding recommended traffic flow patterns to help reduce contact between individuals. You may have already seen these measures in the form of floor appliques in grocery stores or in hospitals: the idea is the same for office spaces.

As the experts at Cushman and Wakefield explain, “Using arrows on the floor, people are also encouraged to walk clockwise, and only clockwise, in lanes around the office. This one-way traffic is the same approach that healthcare workers take in hospitals to help avoid the spread of pathogens.”

While these patterns are only suggestions, they can make a huge difference in reducing individual contact in the workspace.

7: Additional Workspace Cleaning Requirements

Before our spaces in Houston, Austin, and Denver reopened, we had to ask the question so many office managers are faced with: how much cleaning is enough?

We opted to do an electrostatic deep clean of every space and increased the cleaning regime for common spaces by hiring additional day porters to provide cleaning services in high-touch areas around the office.

We’ve also cut down the reservation slots in shared conference rooms from 60 minutes down to 50 minutes so that our day porters have time to do a total wipedown before the next group enters the space. These adjustments to room reservations may sound like small changes, but they are essential to creating a safe, socially distant workplace.

Encourage Social Distancing through Design

Social distancing may seem impossible to enforce, but in a professional environment designed to put personal space, privacy, and security at its center, staying 6-feet apart should feel almost natural. And in some office buildings, these spaces already exist.

Whether your business implements mandatory health screenings upon entry or you opt for self-reporting wellness guidelines, the workplace of the future will be increasingly agile in a new way. Your workspace, like your office, must be prepared to meet your physical and digital security needs, wherever you’re working tomorrow.