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Why a social distancing map should be part of your return to workplace plan

graphic illustration of office space
Belynda Cianci
Published on

In the last six months, the COVID-19 pandemic has given most of us a crash course in physical distancing and public health behaviors: Standing back six feet in a line, taking turns in a small shop by waiting outside, waiting patiently for someone to pick something out of the dairy case. But navigating the office with your colleagues is a little different than a quick trip to the store.

Firstly, while we're used to accounting for personal space in public in the wake of the now-familiar stay at home order, issues like density, desk placement, and traffic patterns within the office make it important for everyone to be informed and reduce the potential spread of germs. How do you know you have the space to accommodate everyone, the plan to keep them moving effectively, and the tech to help them work autonomously? 

Outside of promoting the use of face coverings for your workplace, one of the best ways to achieve each of these goals (while keeping everyone on the same page) is to create a social distancing map for your office. This document can serve as a reference for working and congregating safely in the office and help everyone move through the office more comfortably.

While a social distancing map can come in handy even for sparsely populated offices (where most of the team is working from home) it will become even more valuable and important as businesses move back toward normal operations in the office and populations of in-house staff begin to climb in the months ahead.

Welcome your people back with confidence. See how with Robin Return.

Why your office needs a social distancing map

The humble office map has always been a bit of a neglected topic in the office. Updated infrequently and destined to occupy a lonely bulletin board in the corner, the office social distancing map has now come to the forefront as an effective and valuable tool for reopening. Because of its infrequent updates and varied use, it tends to be a low-trust document in the office. 

However, in light of the increased focus on public health and the need for a solid social distancing protocol, the office map is taking on new life in light of the pandemic. Informed by CDC guidelines and driven by the organizational mandate to create sufficient, safe working space for everyone, office managers and facilities professionals are taking a fresh look at the office map in an effort to set up effective, easy to follow systems. 

The newly reborn workplace office map serves several important purposes for employees as they re-integrate into the office setting. In the beginning stages of your reopening plan, it can help you set effective office priorities in terms of the number of people occupying the workplace, what roles must be included in a stage one pandemic return plan.

In the long-term, a social distancing map will be a key tenet of more hybrid and flexible ways of working as folks split their time between the office and home. A few highlights of a solid social distancing map: 

  • Gives everyone visibility on spacing in office and makes it clear what desks are available or taken.
  • Offers optimal entry paths to areas of the office in order to minimize traffic through common areas.
  • Provides easy reference for essentials like sanitizing stations and supplies. 
  • Reinforces capacity for meeting areas and helps admins plans against capacity limitations in general.
  • Serves as a reminder about the importance of social distancing guidelines and reminders about good social distance in the office. 
  • Helps admins set up flexible work strategies and makes it easy for employees to adopt to those changes.

Having a well-constructed office map is a vital part of your personnel management for your overall office social distancing plan. 

How an office social distancing map works

Creating a social distancing map can give everyone a visual plan and expectations to work by when they’re visiting the workplace. A social distancing map works by giving each person a designated space to come in and get work done, Without the awkward (and now socially distanced) interaction of accidentally taking a workspace someone else is working in. 

example of an office social distancing map
Social distancing maps should make it clear which desks are available or unavailable for use

Ideally, the interactive office mapping will allow employees to care for their own needs and social distancing requirements without a lot of input from your administrative or facilities employee on a daily basis. If set up well, this map should be a"set it and forget it" for admins. Employees using the app are routed automatically, distanced appropriately, and empowered to make use of the spaces they need. This level of autonomy can make a safe return to work that much smoother for all involved. 

The interactive office map can take the burden off the facilities person administrative staff who might otherwise be manually handling things like desk check-ins and meeting room appointment-setting.

With an interactive map, everyone can take care of their needs automatically through an app or kiosk, meaning the receptionist or assistant typically handling these matters won’t become the office’s first-line responder for bookings and changes. This greatly reduces both foot traffic and contact points for the most interactive and important problem-solvers on your staff. 

The office map can also aid in sanitization efforts in the office in other ways. Desks and spaces can be set to “offline” for routine cleaning, without the need to put a “no not use” sign on a desk or lock a conference room door to prevent its use. This way, offices and meeting spaces can be ready when they need to be, allowing for flexible use and management across the organization. 

How an office social distancing map keeps employees safe 

Using social distancing mapping can help companies plan their space effectively, understand their density constraints, promote effective disease control, and lay the office plan out in such a way to maximize available desks and meeting spaces without compromising on the safety of their employees.

The first step in the process is to use an office space calculator and audit the types of space you have, and if they may be better utilized through re-staging or redesign. From there, you can make a decision about the new office map and how those spaces will be used going forward. 

Improved way-finding

When using an interactive office map, users have the ability to sign into desks on demand, giving everyone the confidence to head into the office knowing there will be a spot available for them. This cuts down on unnecessary traffic through the office as a newly-arrived guest or employee hunts for a place to sit. Employees can select a spot that works best for them before they ever enter the building. The app can also help them plot the best entry point to the office and the fastest route to their destination for the day. 

An interactive office map can also help control the traffic flow within the office in other ways. Much like one-way streets control congestion in major cities, office maps can be drawn to create single-lane systems for socially distanced movement throughout the office. When used in conjunction with visual cues such as floor, wall, and free-standing signage, the office map can improve traffic flow to keep people from intersecting unnecessarily during the workday.  

More effective space usage 

Interactive office mapping can improve office utilization and curb bad habits. While an analog map can display location data for where an employee is sitting, a digital map system used with a booking system or status board can tell others when (and if) someone is in the office at all.

Using this technology, colleagues can use the app to see who’s available and where they’re located without leaving their workstation, again reducing the amount of foot traffic through the office at any given time. When integrated with a corporate communication tool such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, employees can also look appropriately distanced space in order to collaborate safely, instead of just popping between desks for impromptu meetings or visits. 

social distancing map showing office capacity
Digital social distancing maps help keep track of capacity and space usage

An interactive map can also cut down on office behaviors like conference room “squatting.” When people can’t find a conference room, they tend to make do with whatever space they can find. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in employees taking up more space than they really need. With an interactive office map and a booking system, no one has to resort to meeting room theft when occupancy levels begin to climb in the near future. 

Considerations for offices social distancing software and tools

If you’re interested in using software and tools to create an interactive social distancing map as part of your overall healthy return to work, there are a few items you’ll want to consider as you decide. These components of the system are important to the overall functioning your office distancing software, and can help make the most of your social distancing efforts within your organization. 

  1. Makes change management easy - Keeping everyone socially distanced is much easier when you have effective communication tools. This can keep conversations virtual more easily, and can also provide updates on space utilization and availability throughout the office, all with an integration that allows you to search for, book, and communicate space usage right from an app. 
  2. Supports iterative space planning - Using space planning resources and software can help you measure your space and develop the most effective social distancing map for your office, maximizing space in creative ways. Getting to know your office capacity, square footage, and utilization rates can help you build the best floor plan for your company’s needs. 
  3. Uses interactive workflows - Creating a digital social distancing floor plan is one of the most effective means to empower employees to manage their own space and public health within the office. One of the components of going digital is understanding the assets you have (or will need) in place to get the most out of your program. For instance, upgrading meeting spaces with touchscreens for room information is an excellent way to close the loop on creating a touchless, digital booking and use experience for your employees. 
  4. Meets employees where they are- Finding a system that allows for app-based booking and real time communication with the workspaces in your office will reduce the amount of contact required to take care of ordinary business within the office. It also allows your employees to plan their days in the office before they even step through the front door, making everyone feel at ease and prepared to take on the day once they arrive.

Interested in upgrading your current office map to an interactive social distancing map? Robin makes it easy. Check out more details here.

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Return to Office Report 2024