As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to disrupt our everyday lives, a significant portion of office workers are still working remotely. While these workers lean into their new normal, employers should consider what an appropriate return-to-office approach is for their workforce, and what adjustments are needed for existing workspaces.

Reevaluating Workspace Needs

Companies are largely split on their desire to continue this current virtual work environment. For every company that announces its employees will work remotely on a permanent basis, there’s another company that is anxiously awaiting the day its employees can safely be in the same office again. No matter the approach, employers everywhere will likely need to make at least some workspace modifications to help ease the transition for workers.

For example, businesses considering flexible remote and in-office schedules might reconfigure a standard cubicle layout to include more conference and collaboration spaces with access to online tools. Adjustable workstations would also allow multiple individuals on staggered in-office schedules to share one cubicle, reducing open, unused space. COVID safety protocols could also be considered in design and layout of these spaces, even after the pandemic. Providing boundaries and room for employees to spread out while still engaging in conversations may help reduce anxiety as workers adjust to fully occupied workspaces again.

Renovating at an Ideal Time

Whether companies are looking to create a flexible environment or execute long-overdue renovations, now is an ideal time to move forward. With many workers at home and offices well below capacity, contractors may be able to execute the project with fewer overall restrictions, such as the reduced need for temporary barriers, worker relocation protocols and off-hour scheduling of noisy activities. Performing construction activities in a vacant or nearly vacant space in this manner has the potential to greatly accelerate project timelines, while eliminating significant disruption to the workforce.

The Burns & McDonnell office in Columbus, Ohio, took advantage of this exact benefit by completing a previously scheduled renovation while employee-owners were working remotely. Knowing that workers would eventually return to the space, we expanded into another wing of the building — tearing down walls and reconfiguring the layout without impacting our employees’ daily work lives.

Our firm is navigating the same uncertainties as all businesses today, and we understand that when the time comes, returning to past routines and office life might become the next disruptor for employees. To help smooth that transition, we offer comprehensive design-build solutions to help companies evaluate the current and future functionality of their spaces and determine the right modifications to invest in before welcoming employees back. By taking the time to go through this process now, employers can serve their teams’ evolving needs and employees can look forward to a safe, comfortable and tailored workspace designed to boost morale and productivity. Together, we can elevate our teams and shape a stronger workforce.


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Brandi Sauter, LEED AP, is a project manager at Burns & McDonnell, specializing in mission-critical and commercial design and construction projects. With a strong background in architectural design and master planning, Brandi leads multidisciplinary teams through complex designs in critical environments, typically on accelerated schedules.