COVID-19 and post coronavirus offices

Introduction to post coronavirus workplaces and what to expect.

Returning to work

In the coming weeks and months, we will be gradually getting our teams back to the workplace, but it is likely that social distancing will be necessary for many months to come. 

Returning to work will happen in stages and there is no doubt that this transition time will be stressful for both employers and employees.

We have therefore compiled a quick checklist of simple measures to help protect your employees and greatly reduce the risk of the spread of bacteria.


"The office culture across the UK is about to change. Due to COVID-19 pandemic, most businesses will not return to business as usual. When companies reopen their offices, re-configuring office space and introducing additional safety measures such as managing movement in the offices and ensuring workers are shielded and working more than two metres apart from each other will be key."

Steve Bays
Managing Director, Century Office

What to expect when returning back to work 

Most offices are going to see big changes in the way they work, in the way they interact and in the way they collaborate. COVID-19 outbreak has impacted most of us especially our emotional wellbeing and mental health. Now we need to get ready for the next step. The transition in order to get our businesses and economy back on track. Although, it is impossible to predict what may happen next, we can only guess and be ready for what is about to come. It’s important to understand that everyone deals with transitions differently. Some people adapt quickly to changes and some struggle. The anxiety of change can be very difficult to deal with and it’s likely the expectations will be different from person to person in your organisation which could create strains across generations in the workplace.

Mitigate the risk 

The biggest priority and challenge for post coronavirus offices is controlling the infection. How can we control contamination in open plan high density offices? 
How can we control infection in hot desking environments? Or communal and social spaces? 
The challenges are many. We have to respond to COVID-19 crisis and mitigate the infection risk by introducing new safety features and measures and improving sanitisation and disinfection processes in our offices. It’s a big change that will create new work styles and build new working culture which we need to be prepared for.

Overcoming the current office set-up challenges – Being safe, feeling safe in the workplace

Century Office have been investigating options to help our customers to re-configure their offices in simple but effective ways which will offer more protection to their office workers than their current office layouts. Employees will not return to an office if it isn’t safe and companies’ current contemporary informal open plan set-up needs to be modified. So how can we make offices safer but still promote togetherness, innovation and efficiency? 

2 meter rule

We have created some illustrations showing ways of changing office desk configurations to create greater space between your team members.
Here are some points to consider when you are thinking about re-configuring your office:

  • Can you turn back-to-back desks currently in the centre of the room around, so the operators face the walls?
  • Reducing density: Can you separate banks of desks so there are gaps between each set of two or four? 
  • Can you spread workspaces around, so people are at least 2 meters apart?
  • Consider moving pedestals so that they are in the centre of the desks between two users, so they are physically unable to come together side by sideIf you have mobile pedestals, consider moving them out so they sit between the desks, increasing the space between the users
  • Consider moving filing cabinets/cupboards between desks to increase the space between the users
  • For face-to-face users, consider introducing additional barriers on top of desk top screens to increase protection from coughs or sneezes. Add screens beside and behind office workers, the higher and wider the better
  • Hot desking: Eliminate or introduce a strict clean in and clean out measures

Meetings and social spaces

It’s likely that before we start welcoming visitors to our workplaces, we can expect to spend much time meeting virtually with our customers and suppliers rather than sitting face-to-face around the meeting table.

With that in mind, we would recommend to thin out the meeting rooms to safely accommodate smaller groups with greater distancing. It’s important to remove alternative chairs and ensure there is always a 2m space in every direction between the chair positions.  There is also the potential to use these rooms to create working space for members of the team thus allowing us to provide greater distancing in office areas.  If meeting tables are modular and can be separated, do so to increase the distancing further. It’s recommended to even meet standing up in the open areas of your office. By using flexible tools, movable furniture solutions and screens you can easily create a safe and productive meeting area.   

Floor plan ideas

  • Decrease density by staggering lunches and breaks in cafes or other staff areas
  • Incorporate higher space division to naturally encourage distancing by introducing barriers such as screens, storage, large plants and partitioning    
  • Introduce cubicle style office to protect personal desk space with higher screens
  • Adapt an owned desk space approach and reduce shared desking
  • Reduce guest seating in reception areas and introduce individual seating in lounge spaces
  • Easy access to disinfecting stations