Re-occupying buildings: spatial distancing toolkit\

How can we reoccupy education buildings while ensuring the safety of its users?

Mission Statement

At Hawkins\Brown, we believe buildings have the power to shape our everyday experiences by facilitating physical, economic, and social wellbeing. They can also act as forums that invite chance encounters and an exchange of new, creative ideas.

The Covid-19 pandemic poses a challenge in how we re-occupy education and research buildings and harness the various benefits of being together whilst minimising risks to health and safety as much as possible. This also opens up opportunities for upgrading the ‘health management’ of the building in order to see long-term benefits beyond this pandemic.

Our team has developed a toolkit highlighting a range of strategies that could be explored to facilitate spatial distancing and better hygiene practices in buildings.

The Guidance section of the toolkit provides example strategies that could be applied to any building.

The Case study section applies some of this guidance to a typical building plan, in order to showcase the impact of these strategies on occupancy and day-to-day functioning of the building.

If you have any questions and would like to find out more about education social distancing strategy planning, please get in touch.

“We have developed a toolkit highlighting a range of strategies that could be explored in order to facilitate spatial distancing and better hygiene practices in buildings.”


Our Education and Interior design teams worked together to conduct analysis on some of our past education projects to assess the impact of implementing spatial distancing. This process has been broken down into three steps:

Step 1: Analyse existing spaces. Identify pinch points, one-way circulation routes, etc.

Step 2: Test and apply new spaces standards against the building's existing occupancy levels.

Step 3: Implement the above findings and considerations to formulate new layout proposals.


Below are a range of strategies for how to occupy buildings in a safer manner, subdivided into the six categories below. This list will be updated as the scientific advice becomes more detailed.

  • Building occupancy / population
  • Management & logistics
  • Layout considerations
  • Contactless interaction
  • Zoning & marking
  • Furniture & fittings

Building occupancy / population

How will your workplace be affected?

  • Who needs to be in, and when?
  • What are the key on-site activities?
  • Assess individual work-from-home provisions
  • Assess impacts of social distancing guidelines on your workspace occupancy
  • Consider opportunities to repurpose existing spaces in order to increase occupancy
  • Optimise remote working capabilities

Management & logistics

Adapting to new ways of working

  • Ensuring management changes are clear and understandable to all building occupants
  • Staggering work times
  • Create clear procedures for common-use areas
  • Create clear procedures for closed-off areas
  • Implementing designated seating rather than hotdesking
  • Avoiding equipment-sharing where possible – e.g. encouraging packed lunches to be brought in, rather than using a shared kitchen
  • A clear and shared cleaning regime
  • Windows opened by a single person where possible
  • Improvements to building ventilation / filtration systems
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) provision
  • Management of cleaning / sanitiser stations

Layout considerations

Key spaces

Implementation of a one-way circulation system

  • Clear wayfinding signage to make circulation system clear to understand, particularly for first-time users of the building
  • Welcome and reception allowing spatially distanced queuing, with a glazed screen.
  • Clear communication of Health and Safety protocols
  • Creating a strategy to allow phasing and adaptability of the building over time, to allow for future occupancy increase
  • Assessment of fire strategy to changes to layouts and occupancy, to ensure buildings are safe
  • Amenity & welfare provision
  • Clear cleaning / hand sanitiser stations

Contactless interaction

Key spaces

  • Identify typical routes through your building, and the various ‘contact points’ where surfaces may be touched
  • Installation of automatic doors
  • Remote controlled opening of windows or having one individual responsible for manual opening of windows
  • Using existing outdoor space for socialising / learning
  • Upgrade to motion sensors e.g. toilet flushes, taps
  • Upgrade equipment so it can be controlled via Bluetooth/mobile devices
  • Foot pedals to all bins
  • Foot pedals to doors
  • Redefining circulation routes to avoid contact with surfaces
  • Clear, user-friendly signage as reminders
  • Strategic hand sanitiser stations provided in areas where contact with surfaces can’t be avoided, such as handrails or outside toilet lobbies

Zoning & marking

  • Zoning open-plan spaces using colour to floors, walls and ceilings
  • Zoning of open-plan areas using furniture
  • Clear graphics
  • Indicate 2m zones using graphics
  • Use dividers / screens where possible
  • Clearly indicate one-way system
  • Clearly demarcate entrances and exits
  • Maximum occupancy markers
  • 2m spacing indicated on the floor, in areas
  • Grouping of related activities near each other, to prevent long routes from one space to another

Furniture & fittings

  • Assess occupancy to see how many people can be accommodated by existing furniture layout
  • Assess existing furniture arrangement and how it may be adapted to maintain 2m distances
  • Divide open-plan spaces into zones, using furniture or floor/wall markings
  • Separation of desks to allow spatial distancing
  • Arranging seating so people are next to each other as opposed to directly opposite
  • Transparent dividers between desks to maintain visual links
  • Upgrade ironmongery to anti-bacterial finishes
  • Introducing individual rather than shared storage, such as lockers and bike racks
  • Designate desks to specific people rather than hotdesking

Get in touch

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