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Returning to work: how to keep connected while remaining socially distant

Companies all over the world are deciding when and how to return to work. In the age of the coronavirus, health and safety have taken on a whole new meaning. The alternatives for office renovation to bring employees back securely are perplexing.

How should desks be situated to allow for social separation while still reaping the benefits of being in the same room? Is it necessary for people to return five days a week?

Many businesses are looking to have certain workers work from home on a part-time basis. However, unless careful consideration is given to this, businesses risk becoming stuck in the middle, obtaining neither the benefits of the traditional workplace nor the security provided by the home.


Lessons from the COVID-19 Lockdown


Companies need to incorporate an essential lesson from the COVID-19 lockdown: Zoom works surprisingly well. However, there are numerous advantages to informal interaction that a prearranged video call can not replicate.

In light of this, we propose a hybrid system that combines the best of both worlds. If fewer people are coming in to maintain social distance, it is best to have all teams represented. And the office layout must facilitate connections between people rather than keep them apart.


Planned vs. unplanned communication


There is a significant difference between planned and unexpected communication at work. Unplanned communication often occurs through chance contacts and, significantly, involves talking across teams. In this case, proximity is essential.

Because various teams are often not part of the same reporting line, communication is dependent on unexpected interactions such as overhearing each other’s conversations or chance encounters in the corridor. This can have significant business implications.

In the case of scheduled communication, distant conferencing technology has reduced the importance of proximity. Because intra-team communication is often planned and systematic, all that is required is a digital platform.

As a result, physical proximity is essential for unanticipated communication. It means that remote working can continue with minimal disruption to planned communication. And it could imply that if corporations wish to bring a small number of workers back to the office, they should prioritize having at least one member from each team. This will allow for cross-team collaboration, which is dependent on physical closeness.


Keeping everyone interested


Another significant aspect of workplace architecture to consider is how well it encourages employee engagement—whether individuals leave their workstations to interact with one another. This is critical for improving workplace connections and corporate culture.

To make this possible, the emphasis on social distancing must distinguish between distance and accessibility. While distance limits people’s ability to engage with and collaborate with one another, architectural studies demonstrate that ease of access and facilitating movement can somewhat compensate for distance.

To achieve this connectivity (while keeping social distance), employers can use employees’ staggered returns to remove certain desks and build a hallway around the outside of their open-plan workplaces, allowing employees to quickly access each other. Encounters and talks can be enhanced further by nooks and corners outside of a hallway, allowing employees to have quick one-on-ones without interfering with traffic.




The return to the office after months of remote working allows businesses to improve their settings. They can include the advantages of remote working while ensuring that people may engage and exchange ideas in a more secure manner than if they just repeated their pre-COVID work arrangements.