The New Normal Workplace

The New Normal Workplace

What does the new normal workplace look like for you?

What will the new normal look like for people and how will the workplace landscape change? Interior Designers Tom Shelley and Laura Baarda have been discussing the prospect of returning to the workplace with Ultimate’s joints owners Mark Hickey and Mark Naisbitt.

Here is a review of five key areas for consideration before returning to the workplace. We have also created a checklist to help you understand your workplace with suggestions of potential changes that you can make to help you return to the workplace as safely as possible.

1. Back to the Future

LAURA: We are all aware of the new two-metre social distancing measures. This is expected to continue for a period after the lockdown. This will dramatically affect the layout and density of our office spaces.

The old office layouts of the ’90s where everyone had their own cubicle or office would have been better suited to a post-pandemic office landscape. However, most offices have adopted an open plan layout that is densely occupied. Therefore, to achieve the social distance of two-metres the layout will need to be de-densified, potentially working on every other desk and staggering employees to ensure that no one is directly facing another.

TOM: As we spread out across the office, we will need to consider the impact on acoustics. A simple conversation will be louder than usual. Mark has suggested some flexible acoustic screens that could be added to help with this;

MARK H: The new Guialmi NoS Systems show different seating arrangements to the typical face to face benching offering a primarily offset position. Another solution we are seeing more of is bench-style layouts with larger worktops, say up 3.2 metres, thus having no joints dictating a person’s personal space. This would allow the distances between people to increase without a noticeable barrier.

LAURA: Workspaces that have agile working facilities and hot-desking will need to formally assign seating for at least 24 hours to an individual and should be thoroughly disinfected between users. If possible, limiting tech sharing across the workplace by assigning each member of staff a mouse, keyboard, or headset to help reduce the chance of spreading infection.

It is likely and sensible that most office spaces will need to have a staggered return due to the reduced number of desking ensuring staff can keep their social distance. This also empowers people to return to the workplace in waves, giving individuals greater control over their own health. People could consider working from home part-time, or condensing working hours into a four day week, allowing teams to stagger their time in the office over five days. This will reduce the density in the office by 20% on any given day.

How can social distancing be achieved in the office?

MARK H: By reducing the size of the work desk and changing the footprint or furniture types within the office space will allow for gaps between, therefore, the ratio may be better than originally thought. A good process would be to re-plan a currently planned office space to the ‘new’ way of working.

Also, more mobile types of desking such as the Steelcase Flex Desk would offer staff flexibility to where they locate their desk in the office ensuring social distancing can be maintained. They are looking into an integrated battery pack to power the individual’s IT equipment which would offer even more freedom.

MARK N: Desk to desk partition screens are likely to come back into the workplace as a common item, although the felt options provide acoustic properties these new Plexy screens retain the open plan feel of the office whilst providing protection from face to face interaction.

Plexy screens


TOM: Analysing circulation space is an important area to consider, by providing two routes around an office a clockwise direction could eliminate the need to cross paths and will assist with social distancing. It will also mean staff have to walk further which is a bonus for well-being.

2. When Will We Meet Again?

LAURA: The social distancing requirements will need to be applied to all conference rooms and meeting rooms, reducing the capacity to avoid large group gatherings. It would be good practice to evaluate team sizes and ensuring that only the essential members meet in the groups to avoid any unnecessary social interaction.

How can meetings rooms and meeting styles be adapted to suit the new regulations?

MARK N: Another option for reducing the number of chairs in a meeting room is to maintain the virtual norms that we have been getting used to. Utilising two meeting rooms or joining a meeting from a quiet area within the office space through Microsoft Teams or Zoom for example. This eliminates the need for large gatherings and major modifications.

Utilisre multiple meeting rooms for distance working
Utilise multiple meeting rooms for distance working


Where meetings are required to bring different departments together, production, design, sales, accounts, etc, it is important to think of different ways of conducting the meeting. Utilising a chair with integrated work tablets rather than grouping around a single table.

3. Don’t Leave Your Hat On

LAURA: To help protect people, it is important to have dedicated locations for the containment of clothing, bags, coats (and hats) away from desks to avoid the risk of contamination within the office space. This is especially important for those members of staff that take public transport into the office.

Dedicated outer wear location


This may also include a requirement for indoor shoes to avoid the risk of spreading the virus throughout the office space…. or some very attractive shoe covers!

How could these containment areas be implemented?

MARK N: We think this has been happening for some time, but we will see an increase in demand for these areas. What we will possibly see is a move away from traditional handles and locks, replacing them with intelligent locking systems on lockers to minimise touch such as the Flexlock Invisible:

Also, undoubtedly we will see a lot more material finishes being changed to antimicrobial such as laminates for lockers, desk, doors, etc. for example Formica Protec:

4. Every Breath you Take

LAURA: Where possible employers should think about installing anti-purification and sanitisation systems to help to continuously disinfect the air. Although a more accessible option for many without air systems is to add some humidifiers into the office space, as dry air is not only is bad for your well-being but can increase the survival time of viruses and bacteria. By increasing the humidity levels to 40-60% it will help to reduce the spread of the bacteria as it remains active for a shorter period.

By increasing the humidity levels to 40-60% it will help to reduce the spread of the bacteria

5. Clean Up Your Act

LAURA: Lastly but most importantly, the cleaning protocols when returning to the workplace will be crucial, ensuring that workstations, conference rooms, collaborative areas, receptions desks, door handles, etc are continuously cleaned throughout the day. Each team member should have access to hand sanitisers, disinfectant wipes and potentially face masks and gloves at all times.

Good hygiene must be practised by everyone, if possible, install touchless soap dispensers and no-touch bins. Cleaning supplies to be anti-viral to help to reduce the spread of bacteria.

TOM: A sensible approach within your workforce is to implement a daily fever check, to be completed by the individual, to evaluate themselves (and the people that surround them) before leaving their homes and getting to work. You could create a scoring system by which to evaluate themselves or a personal temperature monitor. 37degrees is optimum (36.1-27.2), above 38 is fever territory and people should work from home. This ensures that the social responsibility for the workplace and their community starts at home before getting on public transport or into the office space.

What does the future hold for the workplace?

TOM: As we emerge back into the workplace, we can’t help but think about how this will change the face of the workplace landscape and the social side of the working environment. Will this be the end of tea rounds?… I am sure this won’t be bad news to some!

MARK H: I think that we may see a move to more passive and automated entrances. We will see more requirements and demands for antimicrobial products and finishes such as Camira Fabrics: and Agua Fabrics:

(Note: No tests have been carried out directly against the human strain of Covid-19 but against the feline strain of coronavirus.)

TOM: There is no denying that going forward the layout of offices will be designed with potential social distancing and pandemic potential in mind. This may be the move away from open-plan office spaces that we have been so used to. Spaces will probably include more anti-microbial materials in their make-up especially for areas such as facets, blinds, paint and door hardware that are commonly touched by employees and visitors. This may be a crucial factor in the design of lobbies, reception desks and shared common areas.

To start thinking about your workplace and what you might need to consider, download our “New Normal – Workplace Assessment”. Aimed to help you understand your workplace, it highlights potential changes to consider when thinking about your workplace and what the new normal might look like for you.

If you have any queries or comments about the checklist or your “New Normal” and how you can introduce some of the measures we have discussed please email

Thank you for reading, keep well and stay safe.

Click here to download this as a PDF.


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