Building Office Walls Gains in Workplace Significance

The ripples of office space change caused by the pandemic remain in motion across more than 3.9 million SF occupied by state agencies.

Establishing new norms for workplace proximity among staffers is still taking shape along with other COVID-inspired considerations.

Anne Laidlaw, director of the Arkansas Building Authority, won’t be surprised if the density of staffers per SF is reduced over time in response to viral concerns. How that translates into future space demands is uncertain.

In the meantime, crews are working to extend cubicle wall heights to a minimum of 54 inches in response to a new goal set for state office space.

“It’s not so much how close the people are; it’s how high the wall is,” said Laidlaw, whose agency manages state office space. “As we plan for the future for larger groups, the density we thought we might get might not happen.”

While the private sector is acclimating to more remote work as part of the ongoing office equation, the same can’t be said for state government.

“The state doesn’t really have a remote work policy and wasn’t looking to formulate one,” said Alex Johnston, chief communications director for the Arkansas Department of Transformation & Shared Services.

The outbreak of COVID-19 did crack the door open by prompting the Public Health Emergency Remote Work Policy.

State employees were separated into three categories:

  • 16,433 whose duties prevented working remotely;
  • 7,189 who were equipped to work remotely; and
  • 2,050 who didn’t have the duties or equipment necessary to work at home.

Child care and health concerns are among the variables for departmental approval to work remotely.

Under the emergency policy, in-home, in-person work-related meetings are prohibited, and the state won’t pay for any expenses associated with personal equipment or supplies used in remote work.

Inspections are also part of the protocol. An employee’s remote workplace is subject to on-site inspection during normal work hours for the purpose of determining that the remote workplace is safe and free from hazards and to maintain, repair, inspect or retrieve state-owned equipment, software, data or supplies. A minimum notice of two hours is required before a remote workplace inspection.

Coronavirus disruption did not afflict the scheduled migration of the Department of Labor from leased private-sector space in west Little Rock totaling 44,377 SF to 36,937 SF in the state-owned 900 W. Capitol Ave. office building. The move is expected to be completed by Aug. 31.

Efforts to stem the outbreak led to the temporary filling of a lingering, 14,109-SF vacancy on the Capitol grounds. The Department of Finance & Administration set up a call center on the second floor of the Big Mac Building to support the tsunami of unemployment claims caused by restricted business activity.