In order to prevent a second wave of coronavirus infections workplaces are expected to implement social distancing measures for the country’s estimated 13.1 million office workers in the first weeks or even months after businesses are told they can reopen their offices. These measures will mean 60 per cent of the country’s 11.8 million desks will be unusable when a two metre, or six foot, gap between staff is introduced, meaning 7.8 million people will have to continue working from home daily.

Businesses will be expected to split their staff into daily or weekly shifts to provide access to the office. Under the new norms desk sharing will be impossible: staff will be allocated one dedicated desk per day, which has to be cleaned intensively between shifts. 

JanJaap Boogaard, head of Colliers International’s EMEA Workplace Advisory service, said: “After weeks in lockdown and working from home, many people are looking forward to the opportunity of some normality and getting back into the office. But businesses have a duty of care for their staff and incorporating social distancing in offices is a necessary intermediate step, to help keep the curve flattened and restart society and the economy step by step.”

There are a lot of additional measures organisations now need to consider when the lockdown is relaxed. Small meeting rooms are likely to be turned into temporary individual offices, and larger meeting room capacities will be slashed in order to enable employees to maintain a physical distance from each other. One-way systems to access buildings are likely to be introduced, as well as restrictions on access to lifts, breakout areas and canteens – the much anticipated ‘water cooler’ moments may not be a feature for a few more months. 

If social distancing measures are in place for longer, organisations can consider redesigning their office space with blocks of four desks, as opposed to the normal bank of six or eight typically found in the UK, increasing capacity in offices, while reducing the need for staff to walk past each other when accessing their workstations. 

JanJaap added: “But it’s not just the physical office measures that will be temporarily changed, there will continue to be challenges as staff may still have to juggle childcare arrangements if schools and nurseries remain closed for longer, and those with underlying health conditions or vulnerable people within their household may still need maintain isolation measures. 

“In addition to accessing the office, the way people travel to work will also be a factor. Once the wave of COVID-19 cases begin to reduce in the regions it may be easier for employees to return to offices outside of the UK’s major cities, than those which rely on staff using public transport on their commute, like in London, Manchester and Birmingham.”

In order to help businesses plan for returning back to the office, data scientists from Colliers International Netherlands have created the Office Social Distancing Calculator which will indicated how many usable workstations will be available after introducing distancing protocols.

For support on planning the return to the office  businesses can email: Janjaap.Boogaard@colliers.com