Your office, desk space and conference room will likely look different when your return to work

Posted at 6:10 AM, May 18, 2020

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — As regions across New York State begin the reopening process, you should expect things to look different when the time comes for you to return to your workplace.

"There's going to be a different feel when we go into a space now," explained Christine Vargas, from Vargas Associates. "People are looking for their own six-foot diameter around them."

Vargas is working with companies to make safe, cost-effective changes as they come up with their reopening plans. Many of those changes will mean a different feel in office spaces.

For example, expect to see more division if you had an open-office floor plan at your work. Companies are now considering how to safely separate employees by building up cubicle walls or using easily-cleaned movable dividers.

The conference room is another area that will likely look very different. Vargas says companies are going to have to cut down on the number of people who are physically in meetings, and sitting across from one another gathered around a table probably won't be the safest way to communicate. She's suggesting companies consider giving people individual work spaces that all face the same way, similar to a classroom setting.

"If everyone is facing the same way now, it just creates a sense of personal space," she explained. "This is my space, it's mine and I know people aren't infringing on my space."

Some Western New York companies are already changing work spaces. Daniel Buttery with Black Lab Metal Fab in Lewiston is already making different custom protection pieces for businesses.

"It's a protective shield for the workers, for the incoming people that come in," he explained. "So you have a barrier between the customer and yourself so you're not getting exposed.

Buttery has already installed at a few local companies. Right now, he's working on a shield for nail technicians. His turnaround has been only a day or two - but as demand increases, that could change.

"All over the country a lot of countries are making sneeze guards and custom guards for companies. So it's harder to get the stuff," he explained.

That's why Vargas says companies should act now to figure out what will work best for their spaces. They may also need to consider additional costs - including what has to be purchased to safely keep employees apart, or even storage for extra furniture. She says the sooner a business analyzes what needs to be done, the more options they will have when it comes to changes."

"Right now I think money is going to be tight. But the sooner we identify all the costs we can make decisions around them, and try to make the most cost-efficient decisions," she explained.

Vargas spoke to a number of companies through an event organized by the Amherst Chamber of Commerce. She says while it's so important for companies to plan - it's even more vital that they consider how their employees feel as they come back to work. She suggested surveying employees to see what their concerns are in this new normal, and take into account emotional needs so the employees and company can be successful.