Return to the office – considerations for workplace leaders

Planning for your team to return to the office?

Don’t feel alone. 


As our communities look forward to re-opening offices back up after quarantine, those of us in the commercial office design industry are thinking through how we can help with both knowledge and access to our industry’s solutions.

So how can you prepare your office environment to be safe during this strange time?

Consider these three key areas when planning for your team’s return to the workplace:

1 – Remember the Simple Things

The simplicity of personal and workplace cleanliness will be paramount. Routine expectations and reminders to wash your hands and not touch your face. Supplying masks or clear face shields may be an option. If PPE products are required, understanding the challenge to create a connected team culture could be an issue. Increasing cleaning of workspaces and break areas should be considered. Consider disinfecting facility for confidence through deep cleaning by your maintenance team or fogging through a service company like the innovative

2 – Communication Counts

Communication is always fundamental for all successful teams and it could not be more true when it comes to pandemic issues. Visual COVID signs, clear policies and friendly reminders communicated with a lens of compassion and caring will go a long way to a smooth transition to the new normal. Visually communicating traffic flow in hallways and desk aisles – similar to grocery stores – can be an easy adjustment with tape or signs.

All stakeholders in your organization will need distancing reminders to keep up physical distancing, wash hands and avoid touching faces. Once we reconnect with co-workers in a familiar place, the challenge will be to maintain safe physical distance and diligence. But the truth is that coworkers, clients and customers can still transmit COVID-19. So signs and posters are in order.

3 – Social Distance Planning – for now and later

Immediately implementing measures such as temporarily working from home, shifting times of work for portions of staff, providing alternative work areas, moving free-standing desks away from one another can achieve a lot. To provide space, strategic decommissioning of certain workstations may provide the room needed. As for furniture additions, Tamara Howkins, interior designer with atWork, suggests finding budget-friendly solutions that can be installed and possibly removed down the road with minimal disruption. Tamara believes having the ability to freely and easily move shields and then store them for future use may be key.


As officials talk of 12-24 months of COVID19 challenge ahead, it may be wise to make longer-term investments in change. Creating regular physical distance between workers (2 meters / 6 feet) in offices will need to be reviewed and in many cases, planned and budgeted. Office cubicle layouts have not historically been designed to facilitate social distancing but to economically achieve more workers per square feet. Hiring a qualified office designer could be your best plan for larger planning situations.

Also consider…

  • Clear sneeze guards or office plexiglass barriers for reception desks as “front of house” staff come in contact with the most visitors and staff members
  • In open offices where people work side by side, adding workstation divider shields could be an option. Both temporary/move-able and attached options are now available. 
  • Office panel systems and cubicles may be augmented by adding to or replacing panels with ones of increased height.
  • Reassigning meeting rooms for additional lunch and refreshment space. 
  • Adding simple break and lunch room furniture to spread people out, even into other parts of your space or building. 

Thinking through the impact on your own reopening plan? 


“Start with a visual layout of your space… literally draw it out. Then mark the regular meeting spaces that need to be considered. Then also walk through the space on paper, looking at smaller bottlenecks where people will meet by happenstance and not have room to physically distance themselves. This will give you a shortlist of problem areas to consider planning for.” Rodney Lover, one of the atWork location principals, recommends.


If you have unique ideas and solutions to help your team get safely back to the work environment, share your story with us – we’d love to hear them. We will be stronger together as ideas are shared, and office spaces and the economy is opened in the coming weeks and months. 

Reach out anytime.

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