Insights: Maintaining Open Office Layout Post-COVID

As we enter the current stage of our COVID-19 pandemic experience, many sectors of the economy are preparing to restart their operations and reopen their buildings. Workplace standards and protocols are being reevaluated to ensure the safe return of the workforce. Health and wellbeing, connection, and productivity are key challenges and opportunities.

The office environment in particular faces unique challenges in the current situation. Immediate adaptation must be made to welcome the initial flow of returning workers. Near-term planning is underway to prepare our environments while long-term changes are inevitable.

Kristen Collins, RA, ASID

The timeframe aspect (immediate, near term and long term) is one factor in designing the “new normal” office. Additional and equally important factors include individual wellbeing, workplace culture and flexible adaptability. It would be very easy, although expensive, to simply build walls everywhere and completely abandon the progress the open-office environment has made. A knee-jerk reaction to these unusual circumstances will undoubtedly go too far in the direction of isolation and sterilization, losing much of the wellness features evolving in the modern workplace.

At C&S we have been reevaluating and reinventing our workspaces across the country for some time now, long before the terms global pandemic and social distancing became part of daily conversation. The changes we implemented before this pandemic will serve our team well through the reopening phase and into the ‘new normal’ due to their focus on wellness principles.

To begin the transformation of our existing offices we began by reducing or eliminating as much printed material as possible. By transitioning to a digital rather than paper format, we have been able to reduce our storage needs allowing for more generous individual workspaces, increased circulation zones and team centered collaboration areas.

Panel heights dividing individual workspaces strike a balance between allowing natural light to penetrate the space and offering visual and acoustic privacy.  Personal storage units create a defined boundary between the individual workspace and the circulation zone. Live plants atop this boundary line add privacy while enhancing a community atmosphere.

Each workspace is outfitted with storage for personal belongings as well as necessary reference materials. Guest seating is missing from the individual workspaces to maintain privacy and encourage social distancing.

Open office layout
Click to enlarge.

All surface materials are low maintenance and easily cleanable. Patterns in the finished floor material reinforce the distinction between public circulation space and private workspace.

With the foundation established for our new normal, planning for the near term and long term phases will seek to balance individual health and safety with community culture while being flexible and adapting to new opportunities and challenges. Enhancements to current office environments will need to bridge the divide between work-from-office and work-from-home staff while making the transition of employees who do both seamless and stress free. Office norms and protocols will continue to evolve, balancing safe distancing and community, all in an effort to make our work environments feel as safe as our home environments – without sacrificing productivity in either setting.

Kristen Collins, RA, ASID
Senior Project Architect

If you would like additional information or want to see how the team at C&S can help you implement similar improvements in your spaces, please do not hesitate to contact Kristen Collins at (315) 455-2000 or by email at

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