Returning to Office Life Post-Pandemic

May 28, 2020 | By Jeff Mulcrone, AIA, LEED AP

As the country slowly begins to open back up, the prospect of returning to the office raises many challenges. Before the pandemic, many modern-day offices were designed to be open concept which allowed for collaboration and different types of gathering spaces. With the new normal where we need to practice social distancing, these communal spaces we used to thrive in may no longer be as beneficial as they once were. Each employer’s main priority needs to be making sure their employees feel safe in the office, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

While the workplace conversation began at BSB Design offices well before the COVID-19 pandemic began, it is now shifting to address new standards of safety in these challenging times. Across the country, we all transitioned to remote work in a very short period of time. Some of us adapted very quickly, and some of us took a bit longer to adjust. Thankfully, BSB Design already had a remote work framework in place, but it was not uniform or utilized by every employee.


Innovation Lab workspace at BSB Design headquarters (designed pre-pandemic)

One positive that can come out of this crisis is that many companies, including BSB, are realizing that working remotely has been quite successful, if not more successful than working five days a week in a traditional office setting. Remote work also saves time and money since employees are not commuting to offices.  

As we each consider how to “get back to normal”, I have seen articles that suggest companies should consider increasing the size of office spaces in order to effectively practice social distancing. I do not believe that is the right solution. In fact, I think that companies can and should decrease office sizes. By transitioning to unassigned work stations, formalizing work remote schedules for all employees and exploring other new and progressive workplace solutions (such as four day work weeks which studies show make employees happier and more productive), companies can reduce rental costs and save money to create win-win solutions for employers and employees. 

My work from home space

A transition to unassigned work stations would allow for more flexibility. Each employee would work out with their manager which days they would work remotely and which days would be “in office” days.  

Personal items can be kept in lockers to be safely stored when employees are not in the office, keeping the work stations clear for anyone to use. Each individual would have access to cleaning supplies to ensure work stations could be wiped down after each use, and personal wireless mice and keyboards can be used for additional personal safety.

I assessed the potential savings if a company were to transition to unassigned work stations and formalize remote rotating work schedules for each employee. These numbers are only built from averages, but they can offer a general idea about how an office can cut down on unused space.

Based on an office size of 35 people:

• One remote work day every other week generates 15-20% unused desks per week. 
• One remote work day every week generates 25-30% unused desks per week.
• A four day work week generates 25-30% unused desks per week.
• A four day work week plus one remote work day (three days in the office) generates 45-50% unused desks per week.

Companies can address concerns related to gathering spaces, such as break rooms, by spacing out appliances so individuals can safely be in the room together while staying a safe distance away from each other. They can also invest in no-touch features such as buttons, faucets, door handles, etc. – anything to reduce high contact points.

It is clear that offices will need to evolve post-pandemic, but there are more ways to solve the puzzle than simply adding more space to socially distance. It’s important to consider all the factors so that we can all work safely and productively. 

Questions or comments on how office spaces will change? Email me to start the conversation!

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn. Read that version here.