‘It's Kind of a Puzzle': How Offices Are Adapting Space for Social Distancing

A Boston design company is helping dozens of firms redesign their offices to safely return to work

NBC Universal, Inc.

Companies are getting help with redesigning their workspaces, creating room for social distancing so they can bring people back to work safely and in accordance with state guidelines.

Boston-based architectural firm Margulies Perruzzi, now working with upwards of 40 companies, is coming up with a blueprint businesses can follow to figure how to create space for social distance in the office.

"They definitely won’t look the same," senior partner Daniel Perruzzi said. "We are advising clients to see how many people they actually have to have in the office and then try to fill no more than 25% of the seats."

In addition to advising them to limit staffing levels to 25% capacity with desks and cubicles organized at a safe distance, they are designating pathways throughout the office so that people move in just one direction.

Many companies plan to keep people home through summer and fall, which has prompted some to reconsider whether leasing office space is really necessary.

"It’s kind of a puzzle," said Rachel Zsembery, vice president of Bergmeyer, a design firm based in Boston.

It's getting tougher to work in retail stores these days, as employees are faced with enforcing new social distancing rules.

Bergmeyer is already redesigning their space, she said, with new signage for designated walking paths in the office and reminders for social distancing when staff start to return.

“We’ll start with 30%, then 60%, then the full group, but even within those waves, only half of the employees will be in the office at any one time," Zsembery said.

That means many offices -- including NBC10 Boston's station in Needham -- will continue to run with many employees working remotely.

"It’s really tough because so much of what we’ve done in the last 10 years has been all about creating community in the workspace," Perruzzi said. "Now we're almost designing the exact opposite. We are trying to keep people from congregating and creating a community."

Governor Charlie Baker stressed that he will wait until Monday to release specifics.

Meanwhile, reopening the Massachusetts economy is going to be a gradual process, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday, offering few specifics of the plan he’s preparing to release on Monday.

Baker has said that businesses involved in the first phase of reopening will be those "likely to be successful," ones that don't have a lot of close contact with customers or organizations designed in such a way so their ability to execute on a strategy of distancing would be "relatively uncomplicated for them to do."

Reopening is scheduled to begin Monday as long as testing data continues to trend in a positive direction, but Baker has repeatedly stressed that he will wait until that day to release specifics, saying he doesn't want to address the issue until his Reopening Advisory Board issues its report.

The Reopening Advisory Board's report is expected to include the activities and industries that will be safe to resume in each phase, and the safety and cleaning protocols for how different industries should operate.

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