Creating a safe office space

Adapting your workplace to suit uncertain times

Paul Heywood
© Shutterstock / nito

It is likely that many organisations will not return to normality for some time – for others this could mark a complete overhaul of their workplace policies that will remain even after this current pandemic is over. This article goes over some tips for how to adjust your workplace for optimum safety.

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease around the world, and employees begin to return to work, it is incumbent on organisations to ensure that workplaces and offices are safe. In many countries where lockdown is being relaxed, social distancing measures remain in place. This means the way we work and our physical office spaces need to evolve to accommodate these changes.

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No one-size-fits all policy

At Puppet, we have over 400 employees globally with offices in Romania, Northern Ireland, England, Singapore, Australia and the US. Each one of these offices has its own unique requirements to manage when considering how we return to work. Local circumstances, government guidance, numbers of employees, and the space itself all need to be taken into account.

In addition to this, every employee has their own set of circumstances that also need to be considered. Organisations contemplating when, how and even if they return to their offices need to keep the wellbeing and safety of their employees, their families and communities at the forefront.

The ability to work remotely is assuredly a privilege at times like these, but it is also worth noting that it can come with challenges: Some people have families, smaller homes or flatmates to navigate. Others live alone and appreciate personal interaction with colleagues. Because of this, companies should not be rash and should try to balance all these needs when formulating a policy.

There is huge opportunity for companies of all shapes and sizes to be innovative in this space and this should be viewed as a chance for companies to re-calibrate their workplace policies with a renewed focus on employee welfare and satisfaction.

Puppet is developing a re-entry playbook to ensure the highest degree of control and safety for employees, as well as guidelines to ensure the workforce remains hybrid in the future where possible. The playbook will be open source and can serve as a base for any organisation to adapt and modify for their own environment and circumstances.

The hybrid-remote workforce

With physical offices likely to be operating at reduced capacity, there will be a need for some staff to work remotely. Here, flexibility will be key. Adopting a hybrid-remote policy and developing guidelines for employees to help them thrive in this environment is one way around this.

It will be incumbent on companies to ensure that their employees have the necessary tools, skills and knowledge to optimize their capabilities whilst working remotely. This will be especially true of organisations less experienced with flexible working.

Sharing advice and resources for these workers to help them adapt and thrive will be of high importance. Hosting employee surveys to gauge employee’s wellbeing and responding appropriately to concerns quickly, offering additional support and adjustments when needed can ensure that companies stay on top of this. Virtual training, brainstorms and workshops can allow companies to train and upskill their workers as well as offering inclusive environments which will also help to motivate employees. There are myriad ways in which your remote workforce can remain productive and much of this is down to open and honest communication and the ability to react to any problems quickly as they arise.

Creating a safe office space

For the times when employees are at the office, there will be a need to keep them safe and confident that their place of work has made necessary changes in accordance with local government guidelines and scientific advice. This starts with the basics; the provision of PPE, if that is advised, sanitizer stations and visual cues to remind employees to keep social distance.

Social distancing can be difficult, and depending on cultural norms around the world, 6 feet of distance does not always feel natural. You can however influence spatial memory – like muscle memory – to help employees to better recognize the space around them and develop intuition for social distancing. Influenced by the principles of wayfinding, this can include visual reminders for distancing like marking a 6-foot radius around desks, or visually communicating on the floor a safe distance for queues in kitchens and other shared spaces.

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Technology can help

It is also worth organisations investigating what kind of technology they can utilise in order to help make their offices safe for their employees. Innovative tools that support temperature scanning, contact tracing, touchless retrofits, air filtration, self-cleaning film for high-touch areas and the incorporation of materials like copper alloys (brass and zinc) all of which can be used to minimise the risk of infection. An additional consideration – especially during times in which your office is running at reduced capacity – is to empower employees to schedule when they will be in the office. Companies can leverage the many utilization and scheduling apps available to allow employees to reserve office time or desk space. Such technology provides office managers with a quick and effective tool to monitor office capacity.

All of these options can be considered seriously. It is likely that many organisations will not return to normality for some time – for others this could mark a complete overhaul of their workplace policies that will remain even after this current pandemic is over. As companies begin to consider their re-entry plans, it is important that decisions are not rushed and that whatever they choose to do is in accordance with scientific guidance and keeps employees’ wellbeing at its core.


Paul Heywood

Paul is responsible for accelerating Puppet’s growth and overseeing the company’s corporate development, sales and revenue management across the globe. Paul joined Puppet in August 2019 and brings with him vast experience in IT sales leadership, most recently in DevOps.

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