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The ‘social distancing office’ leads to a 1.2 million reduction in workplaces

The Dutch government, employers and unions are currently working on regulations that will allow society to carefully start up again. With a so-called ‘one and a half meter economy’, in a few weeks or perhaps months time, we can look forward to returning to the office after a long period of working from home. It will not be all at once though. For the average office, social distancing will mean that 60% of the workplaces are for the time being, unusable.

The Dutch national policy is focusing on "flattening the curve". Returning to the office will therefore be shaped by strict rules. Keeping a distance of one and a half meters between each employee will probably become the norm. In Wuhan, the city where it all started, similar measures have been introduced in the reopened factories and offices. It is a necessary intermediate phase on the way back to a fully running Dutch economy.

More than a million workstations less
Keeping distance from your colleagues means that the number of usable office workstations in the Netherlands will decrease considerably in the coming period. Of the two million workplaces available in the country, 60% cannot be used under this measure. This amounts to no less than 1.2 million office desks that temporarily lose their function.

The required distance between employees alone makes half of all workplaces unusable. That number decreases further, because desks can no longer be shared by colleagues on the same day. According to the new standards, an office offers one permanent workstation per employee per day, which is then thoroughly cleaned.

On a positive note, 800,000 workplaces will come back into use, compared to the current situation where 100% of people are working from home. Although all the digital options for working from home have become commonplace in a short matter of time, the importance of human contact remains invaluable. Teamwork thrives best at the office.

Pods with four desks
If the measures are of a longer duration, the capacity can be expanded by rearranging the office interior to as many blocks of four workplaces as possible. This arrangement is most favourable to ensure a distance of one and a half meters and to optimize the available space. With blocks of two times two desks, you can maintain distance from your colleagues.

By devising protocols now, companies and institutions can being to prepare themselves for reopening. This is not only about the redesign of the office – the planning of how to execute is what will take time. Not everyone can be in the space at the same time. It is therefore necessary to draw up a schedule in which each team can work together at the office for at least one day. For example, every day a limited part of the organization will have access to the office to strengthen cooperation and maintain human relationships.

Good for mental health
Partially returning to the office is not only good for the economy, but also for our mental health. After weeks at home, it is important to get out of that cocoon at least one day a week. With the ‘social distance office’ as an intermediate step, we can keep the curve flat and gradually restart society.

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Harold Coenders

Partner | Director Occupier Services


Harold Coenders is Director of Occupier Services Netherlands.  Harold is thought leader on hybrid working and the impact on the corporate culture, the workplace and the real estate. He is an expert in developing strategic real estate solutions and innovative hybrid workconcepts  linked to the productivity of the workforce and in organisational cultural change programs.

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