COVID-19 BCO Briefing Paper

29 Apr 2020

A cooldown on hot desking, screens for receptionists and unisex superloos – office experts consider how COVID-19 will change the workplace, and how Britain can get back to work.

Hot desking is likely to become less popular as a result of COVID-19, according to a new thought paper by the British Council for Offices (BCO), the representative body for the UK’s office sector. The paper outlines how the workplace may change as a result of COVID-19, and how Britain can safely return to work in the coming weeks and months.

Written by the BCO’s Technical Affairs Committee, a group of industry experts, the paper notes that “desk sharing is likely to become very unpopular”, however the practice remains possible if desks are frequently and intensely cleaned.

Throughout, the paper states the importance of hygiene and the need to adhere to social distancing whilst the virus is still active within society. Ideally, the paper states, offices will feature adaptations that allow for Britain’s new reality, including:

  • The introduction of screens to protect receptionists from potentially virus carrying visitors
  • The replacement of gendered communal toilets with pod-based ‘superloos’ that feature touchless doors, taps and soap dispensers
  • An increase in bike storage, with workers likely to ditch public transport’s commuter crowds in favour of cycling
  • Limits on the number of people that can occupy a space, use a meeting room or share a lift at any one time
  • An end to communal cutlery, coffee pots and water bottles
  • The adoption of ventilation and humidification systems which create environments that make transmission tough for viruses


The paper also speculates on the introduction of tech-based ‘smart solutions.’ Workplaces might introduce “apps for location-based reminders to use hand sanitiser, to wash hands, or to clean desks, laptops and other technology devices,” while more “’out there’ apps” could monitor face touching.

Neil Pennell, Chair of the BCO Technical Affairs Committee, said:

“COVID-19 has had a significant impact on how we work. While we do not know when we will all be back in the workplace, it’s important to start planning ahead.  Adaptations can ensure that the risk of virus transmission is reduced and can accommodate our new reality, enabling us all to gain the real benefits that come from working in an office while ensuring we are safe.”

Richard Kauntze, Chief Executive of the BCO said:

“Working from home has provided an effective temporary measure for business, but it is not an effective long-term solution for how we work. We are social beings and we work best together, in an office. When we’re together, we share ideas, draw inspiration from each other and form valuable, long-term relationships. COVID-19 will alter the future of work, however the office will remain at the heart of this future.”

The paper, titled ‘Thoughts on office design and operation after COVID-19’, is free to BCO members and non-members and available to download now.

The BCO is providing guidance and though leadership throughout this period, including webinars and online events. The organisation has launched ‘New Normal’, a YouTube series that features the thoughts and predictions of renowned experts and industry figures.



Sam Barnett: 07768 866572,

Imogen Sackey: 07850 922332,

About the BCO

The British Council for Offices (BCO) is the UK’s leading member organisation representing the interests of all those who occupy, design, build, own or manage offices in the UK. This year marks 30 years of the BCO providing thought leadership and best practice in all issues related to the creation and use of office space – through its research, awards, conference and events programmes. You can learn more about the BCO at

The following people contributed to ‘Thoughts on office design and operation after COVID-19’:

  • Neil Pennell – Chair BCO Technical Affairs Committee, Landsec
  • Peter Williams – Stanhope
  • Mark Burgess – JMA Architects
  • Derek Clements-Croome – Emeritus Professor, Reading University
  • Helen Garthwaite – Wedlake Bell
  • Jason McColl – Make Architects
  • Megan Royston – Adamson Architects
  • Peter Stocks – Cundall
  • Saul Tyler – Hoare Lea

This briefing note is based on an internal briefing paper produced by Stanhope, and the BCO is grateful to them for sharing the insights and advice contained within it.

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