Rethinking Shared Spaces in a Post-COVID-19 Office

Design Oct 01 2020

Work has not been confined to the workstations anymore. Some of the most successful ideas happen away from the desk, outside of meeting rooms in more relaxed and informal surroundings where people can communicate more casually and work together to bounce off ideas. A casual chat over lunch can spark an idea. Bumping into a colleague on the way to the coffee pot can lead to collaboration.

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Workplaces that facilitate more frequent and higher-quality contact between people and teams have been shown to have improved communication and collaboration on tasks, job satisfaction, and social support.

And then COVID-19 happened and everything changed. Social distancing challenged the very idea of a social office. It has already drastically impacted the way employees work across industries and its effects will undoubtedly carry back into the physical workplace when people return, especially in an office's shared spaces. Even though there have been numerous strategies to encourage remote collaboration, we have to admit, it's not the same. The simple joy and pleasure of working together with a cup of coffee in an inspiring space, cannot be replaced by a video-conferencing software.

What do people look for in a shared space?

It's important to consider how collectively shared spaces can help people focus, socialize, collaborate, learn, and rejuvenate. Here are a few things which draw people to shared spaces:

Amenities – People tend to pick spaces which has amenities similar to workstations e.g. working surface and ergonomic seating.

Power access – People will always prefer to choose a working space that has easy access to power.

Privacy – Even if it is a social space, many would like to have the option of designated stations with visual and acoustical privacy.

Choices – A shared space should give the user the freedom to choose any space as per his/her will.

But, post-COVID-19, shared spaces are the most challenging to address, as these spaces are inherently designed to encourage gathering. People may be apprehensive to choose a space shared by many people.

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Safety and Design challenges

The concern for safety in a shared space still remains when we get back to the office. We are all striving need to find a balance. Now, shared spaces must support the physical distancing and cleaning protocols that are required to create a safer work environment. These spaces that employees most enjoy must be adapted to ensure that the people using them can be safe and feel safe too.

There are three main design challenges for creating a safer work environment during COVID-19:

Physical distance – To maintain 6ft distances between individuals, furniture must provide adequate spacing to allow each person to keep a recommended distance from others.

Traffic flow– An understood traffic flow will minimize crossed paths, as employees enter and exit in a set route. Safe circulation through and around shared spaces can be addressed with adequate width, directional traffic, and additional shielding.

Spatial context – Every space is different and understanding context is important to adapt the design. Thoughtful, solution-oriented design can help each company adapt their shared spaces to feel the most comfortable for their staff.

Design solutions

Here are a few key strategies that can be used to tackle the design problems:

Capacity limitation

There might be a changeup in space allocation, shrinking shared spaces to limit their capacity, and isolating their placement within the office to provide more distance from traffic flow and other work areas. 


Open spaces

Open and outdoor spaces can provide greater flexibility for physical distancing and circulation patterns and better safety than enclosed social spaces.

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Spatial rearrangement

Changing the arrangement of the furniture to maximize distance and minimize face-to-face orientation.


Integrating technology to allow for a safer, more touchless experience at work, to support more inclusive in-person and distributed collaboration, and to track occupancy and density in the office.

Physical division

Adding screens or panels to create boundaries and barriers between people, spaces, and pathways and thus reducing the chance of infections and increasing safety.


Material Selection

Furniture that has finishes or upholstery that can be easily sanitized or have antimicrobial coatings/properties is required for prioritizing safety measures. 

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The Takeaway

Designing high performing, inspiring, social, and safe shared spaces will benefit both employees and organizations because these are the spaces that spur creativity and fuel innovation. By evaluating things like density, materials, traffic flow, seating arrangements, and touchless technology, shared areas can bring life, safety, and energy to work in the post-COVID-19 workplace.


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