Tips for Reconfiguring the Office in a COVID-19 World

May 14, 2020 Written by Oralie Chapman

While Hawaii’s stay at home order has been extended through May 31st, Oahu retail business re-openings will begin on May 15. If things go well, it could lead to more business re-openings over time. Businesses that re-open with in-person staffing will likely need to reconfigure their office spaces to accommodate social distancing guidelines of six-feet apart.


Corporate Environments International ("CEI") is a full-service commercial-contract furniture dealership and specialist in modular interior wall construction. They have served the state of Hawaii and the Pacific Rim for more than 25 years. Holly Terwilleger is a Workplace Planning Strategist from CEI Hawaii, who is helping businesses create a “new norm” as they begin bringing employees back to the office. Her role involves planning and project management. Said Holly, “I work with clients to help them plan their space and bring their vision to life with either new furniture or by reconfiguring existing office furniture. I am a point of contact between the client and designer and work closely with our CEI designers to plan and choose furniture and finishes. I help the project move along from start to finish. During this time companies are anxious to return to work and want to do it right. I can help clients to reconfigure furniture and add glass add-up panels and enclosures to keep employees at a safe distance as they bring employees back to the office.”


Q. How has CEI adjusted to work from home recommendations?


A. “We are all working from home and doing ZOOM meetings with clients. We’ve offered to do ZOOM coffee talks or happy hours on how to configure your home office. We’ve used our social media platform to showcase home office spaces and we’re trying to share expert advice and information on our website. We’re checking in on people and seeing if there is anything we can do to help.”


Q. What kinds of questions, concerns or needs have you been getting from businesses about how to protect themselves and their employees during the pandemic?


A. “People aren’t really sure how to bring their employees back. We are receiving questions like: How do we implement sneeze guards or use the furniture we already have but keep our employees safe?”


Tips for reconfiguring the office in a COVID-19 world


Said Holly, “As the state begins to re-open businesses and we all start to lean toward a sense of normalcy in the workplace, CEI Hawaii has been working on a “Return to Work Reconfiguration Service.” We are providing businesses with helpful tools that can provide useful ways for your employees to continue practicing safe distancing in the workplace.”


CEI is sharing some solutions provided by their furniture partner Knoll to support social distancing and help your employees feel safe in the office:


1. Add glass add-ups: if your office has moved to a semi or fully open plan, we can help you to create boundaries while maintaining the open plan feel through add-up glass that mounts to the top of existing panels. These glass add-ups can result in an increased height of 7 to 14 inches. The transparency of the glass allows for light to permeate the space, which creates a sense of openness with the protection of a solid surface.

2. Reconfigure your existing workspaces: stagger workstations so that each person can maintain the recommended 6’ distance.

3. Create enclosures: for large open spaces, there are a variety of ways to enclose these spaces while maintaining flexibility to reconfigure spaces on the fly. Drapery and modular wall systems allow for innumerable ways to section space as needed. Mobile marker boards can also be used for spatial delineation, as well as sliding doors for partially enclosed workstations.


4. Reupholster task and conference chairs: most of our task and conference chairs have modular parts where the seat can be removed or replaced with one that is upholstered in a textile that is anti-microbial and / or bleach cleanable.


5. Replace exterior fabric panels: most of our panels are modular and can easily be swapped out with panels that are either laminate or closed pore veneer for easy clean-ability.


Other strategies to create a healthy office:


1. Alternative shifts: stagger your employee schedules so employees are able to maintain the necessary distance without reconfiguring your office.


2. Allocate tools and storage: remove shared libraries and tools to avoid contamination. Digitize documents and make these available online to all employees anywhere, anytime.



3. Reduce the number of people in meetings: your same conference room will likely hold less people when you factor in the 6’ distancing measure. Instead of reconfiguring your conference room, reorganize your meeting so some participants attend remotely.


4. Conduct temperature checks: implement a policy where employees who are sick are not allowed to come to work.


Click here for more COVID-19 return to work resources.


Said Makai HR President Valerie Wang, “This wonderful information from our partners at CEI is so important to share as we start to see the end of the “Work from Home” order. Business owners are considering what does the “new normal” look like, and what does the office look like.”