Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Office space: How coronavirus is reshaping the workplace

As people return to work, businesses are having to change office layouts in order to promote social distancing. (WYDaily/Flickr)
As people return to work, businesses are having to change office layouts in order to promote social distancing. (WYDaily/Flickr)

As people return to work across Virginia, the offices they’re coming back to might look a little different.

Since March the coronavirus pandemic has caused many employees to work from home in order to social distance themselves. But as they return to the office, many businesses are having to readjust their layouts in order to protect the health of employees.

“The trend in the past 10 years has been an open workplace consent,” said Stede Barnes, business development director for GuernseyTingle Architects. “But I don’t think that lends itself to providing that peace of mind to employees coming back into an office place.”

Barnes said many offices are starting to reorient their furniture and think of new solutions to keep employees distanced from each other.

In James City County, employees have started returning to the office but the county is doing so in phases, said Jason Purse, assistant county administrator. 

A limited amount of employees are returning to the office as the county reassess its spatial parameters. Purse said the county had already started working on a space needs survey prior to the pandemic to evaluate how building layouts should be adjusted based on need.

That survey is now helping county departments understand where and how to space people.

“We want to give people adequate distance and separation so they’re not right on top of each other,” Purse said. “So we’re looking at how to space people.” 

The county is also looking at the frequency with which an office space is used. For example, Purse said there are some jobs that require people to be out of the office a lot, such as social services, so those offices might be better used to help spread out employees more.

The county is also looking at installing partitions between desks and making sure that if employees were sharing an office or desk before, then they alternate schedules in order to stay distant from each other. 

The environment of the workplace might change as offices continue to create distance between employees

“We have a real collaborative workforce here and for me that’s been the hardest,” Purse said. “Because you can’t get together and talk about what you’re working on and Zoom calls can only go so far…I think we work best when we’re bouncing ideas face-to-face.”

But Barnes said employees and businesses will learn to adapt to the new environment, especially as many create a hybrid system of working from home and coming into the office.

“Over the past couple of months, businesses have been open and relying on alternate means of collaboration,” Barnes said. “We’re adapting as a workforce to bring in some of these technologies and learning to collaborate in different ways.”

Barnes said businesses most likely will continue to bring employees back to office spaces, but they’ll have to be innovative in looking at how the space can promote employee safety. For example, light switches and doorknobs are essential to an office space but they’re also some of the most-touched surfaces. So moving forward, businesses need to analyze how to best adapt those tools to prevent contamination. 

The workspace most likely will continue to change and businesses will have to change with it. Barnes said many will have to find ways to use technology more and continue to have conversations with the community about public safety.

“There’s going to be more [businesses] collaborating in the digital space,” he said. “So really the focus will be on digital infrastructure and security so we can transition in a way that keeps communication flowing and collaboration alive.”

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Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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