How will
employee workspace
needs change

Determining the right number of employees to welcome back at a time

June 19, 2020
How will employee workspace needs change post-Coronavirus?

COVID-19 has drastically altered nearly every aspect of our lives, including how and where we work. Office-occupying industries in many regions are now planning re-entry into office space after successfully “flattening the curve.”

Each organization’s re-entry plans should be extremely customized. First and foremost, plans must hinge on national, state and local guidelines and requirements—and then on the needs of each individual business.

When it comes to the critically detailed work of planning safe re-entry, you may be wondering how much office space you need per employee and how to redesign your office for optimal safety. We break down those questions below.

How to determine a safe number of employees to have in the office

Many studies on optimal workplace design over the last decade promoted office densities that ranged from 75 to 150 square feet per person—far lower than the 325 square feet typically allocated to employees at the start of the 21st century.

JLL Research reports that the average square footage per employee varies by industry, location and workplace model. Regionally, the average square foot per employee in 2020 was 196.

This average, and the generally accepted norms of adequate space, will likely change in the post-COVID workspace. According to a JLL survey, “People are generally concerned about returning to work and are worried about the close proximity of coworkers and cleaning procedures.

According to Susan Wasmund, JLL Managing Director and Occupancy Planning Practice Lead, implementing social distancing floorplans for most businesses means increasing the average square footage per employee by almost 50 percent.

But in general, the number of employees you welcome back to the office shouldn’t exceed the amount of clean, safe space you have per person. That means you have to consider things like:

  • The number of seating areas and workspaces you have that would allow employees to remain six feet apart.
  • If shared areas, like kitchens, elevators and restrooms, can accommodate social distancing.
  • If hallways, stairways and other high-traffic areas can accommodate more than one person at a time.
  • Whether a rotating schedule or phased approach to re-entry works best for your business.
  • If your office has any potential “bottlenecks,” like lobbies, doorways, bathrooms and cafés.

When you calculate the number of individual workspaces you need in a post-COVID work environment, SmithGroup recommends considering the following factors:

  • Your total number of employees.
  • The percentage of your employees that need to continue working from home (they are part of a vulnerable population, they don’t have access to childcare, etc.).
  • Conversely, the total staff that can come into the office daily.
  • The percentage of your staff that can accommodate a flexible schedule.

Based on the range of factors listed above, it’s clear that each organization’s needs are unique—and every business’s arrangement must be individualized. For a successful transition, it’s crucial to estimate usage as accurately as possible, monitor and manage density and flow, and encourage flexibility to make adjustments and communicate protocols as you go.

Office design considerations for workspace re-entry

As you plan to welcome employees back to the office, you’ll need to focus on designing a space that offers greater dedication, privacy and separation from others.

According to a JLL survey of more than 1,000 employees, 69% of respondents that worked from home zero days per week before COVID want to incorporate work from home in the future. This may mean a more permanent redesign of your office for greater privacy, hygiene and employee comfort.

Recently trending workspace arrangements like benching, hoteling stations, pods and soundproof booths could be a good solution, as they offer a greater allocation of space per employee. Also, because they’re basically semi-private booths, employees can escape from the rest of the office while enjoying the hygienic benefits of their own personal space.

Above all else, give employees autonomy

While planning for re-entry is exciting for any company leader, it’s crucial that employees don’t feel forced to come back to the office before they’re ready.

You cannot mandate who comes back and when. It has to be a choice on the individual level, or the pressure could result in turnover.

Leadership must communicate they're supportive of each individual choice. Employees should never question whether their jobs are in jeopardy if they don't go back when the office reopens.

Guidelines for working in the next normal

JLL has prepared a full suite of resources for employers planning re-entry into the workspace. Access webinars, research, articles, and downloadable guides to help you plan a safe and successful office re-entry. Start learning here