September 5, 2022 | 5 minute

Office Space Planning Guidelines For Returning To Work and a Better Occupant Experience

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Nearly three years after the pandemic turned everything upside down, we’re still seeing the ripple effects of the massive changes that it brought to the workplace.

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First, employees stayed away en masse in the time of lockdown, then we went through a period where businesses and employees came up with patchwork hybrid solutions. Now, we’re seeing signs that a near-full return to pre-pandemic times is on the horizon for many organizations, with calls for staff to soon move back into their offices full time.

This means that thousands of offices will soon be reoccupied but employees won’t simply be returning to their old desks. Things are different now and the reset created by the pandemic has created an opportunity to rethink some long-held assumptions about what workplaces look like

Here are some guidelines for workspaces that will soon welcome back more employees returning to the office.

Office space design for the post-COVID-19 workplace

While there is no one template for all offices, when planning office space in the post-pandemic era there is one idea that should guide everything — flexibility. In this new reality, most spaces are not dedicated to a single person or purpose. Instead, workplaces are there to accommodate whoever needs such a space at that moment.

Office space plans have to be ready for sudden surges in attendance, groups that meet to collaborate and then break up, offer a mix of private and common areas, and more. In the old days (way back in 2019…) it was expected that certain desks were reserved for specific people for forty hours a week. Now, desks are there for whoever needs them, whenever they need them.

Make your office hybrid-friendly

The hybrid model of spending a certain amount of time in the office and the rest somewhere else is sure to endure into the future. Too many employees value the work-life balance that it brings and employers know this.

Being ready for a hybrid workforce means analyzing workflows and using attendance data to make reliable forecasts about future needs. In an office of just a few people, manual observation is enough to inform your decisions but larger offices will need digital tools to help set a baseline for space planning for the office.

How much space do you need per employee?

Again, there is no single “correct” answer to this question but when planning an office space there are certain approximate figures that can serve as a guideline.

Prior to the pandemic, each employee occupied anywhere between 75 and 150 square feet on average. The pandemic, with its awareness for the need for more distance between employees, pushed this number up to about 200. Now, moving forward from COVID, the space intended for each employee is heading back to, and even below, earlier levels.

It may help to think in terms of workstations per employee instead of in square feet or meters. Pre-pandemic, the ratio of employees to workstations was essentially 1:1, with each employee with their own workspace.

Now, in an era dominated by hybrid models, a good rule of thumb is to use a ratio of at least 2:1. If an office has more remote employees than average, that ratio could be much higher.

What kinds of workstations does your office space plan need?

The amount of space you have to work with is obviously important but don’t overlook the need to have the right mix of areas designed for different kinds of work. This is a key element of any flexible office space.

A typical workday will see the need for various sizes of meeting spaces for different kinds of work. In addition to individual workstations, you might want to be ready for everything from private spaces to take phone calls, designated quiet rooms, and spaces for meetings for from two people to twenty.

The numbers of each will vary according to different needs but you’ll need a mix of:

    • Private / Quiet spaces. Whether it’s to take a phone call away from others in an enclosed booth or get away from distractions elsewhere, these spaces need to be available for those who need them.

    • Spaces for small gatherings. “Small” could mean two, six, or more depending on the office size but when small teams get together to collaborate or brainstorm, office space planning needs to be done with their needs in mind.

    • Small & large conference areas. Again, definitions of “small” and “large” will vary but there will be occasions when large teams or groups of employees need to be in the same room. Be sure to count standing space in the capacity for these areas since it’s not unusual for attendees to outnumber seats for meetings held here.

Returning to work is easier when decisions are based on data

You might be facing return-to-work issues of your own now, like remodeling an office, rearranging how space is used or right-sizing your office space to fit your post-pandemic needs.

If so, getting the new design of your reimagined space right is much easier when you have data that shows how you use the space you have. IoT-based solutions that give you extensive insights into every aspect of your space utilization are within easy reach.

Join Accenture and as they discuss if you want to hear practical steps from Accenture & on how you should prepare a strategy for hybrid workspaces that actually works for people, and helps to save money on real estate click here to watch our on-demand webinar.

You may also be interested in How to optimize your space with data.