Planning for Social Distancing in the Workplace with Microsoft Visio
Published Aug 11 2020 07:39 AM 16.6K Views

We are living through an extraordinary period in our history where we need to re-evaluate many aspects of our lives, including how we can safely co-exist within common workspaces. There are many technological innovations appearing from Microsoft and others to assist in these adjustments to our daily lives.


The Microsoft Visio desktop app, which includes Visio Plan 2, has templates for creating office and workplace diagrams to scale, and has the ability to embed CAD diagrams, too (see Create a Floor Plan and Featured Visio templates and diagrams for more information). Indeed, Visio users have been doing this for many years, but now the world faces the challenge of preparing these workplaces for a new normal where social distancing is required.


Most countries in the world have implemented guidelines and laws about social distancing in order to prevent the spread of communicable disease, such as COVID-19, through society. These guidelines may vary on the distance and units used (meters or feet), and so Microsoft have now released a new stencil of symbols and fill and line patterns to assist with making the re-planning of workplaces easier or simply checking if the existing layouts are compliant.


There are two main approaches to providing social distancing in the workplaces:

  1. Re-plan the workstation layout
  2. Reduce the occupancy by blocking off alternate workstations

It will probably require that a one-way system be denoted to walk around the workplace, and this may include designating lifts for access only and staircases for egress. It may also be necessary to place screens between or alongside workstations to provide greater isolation. Additionally, it may be necessary to restrict entry to restrooms and to reduce their capacity accordingly. There will also be a need to provide multiple stations where hand sanitizer is available.


Working shifts could be introduced to reduce occupancy, and staggered start and finish times to reduce the flow at entrances and exits. It will be necessary to add signage and floor markings to remind staff of the safe distances to keep to and the direction to walk in.


Microsoft Visio is a perfect application for planning workplaces, and the new Workplace Social Distancing stencils make it easy to analyze, review, and plan for the new guidelines.


Visio diagrams that are stored in OneDrive or SharePoint Online can be viewed within a web page, using the Microsoft Online Viewer (See any Visio Diagram for free), or within a Power BI report (Org Chart and Floor Plan). In the case of the viewer, there is also a JavaScript API that can be utilized to enhance the experience.


The Visio desktop app has a layering feature that enables shapes on layers to have a color assigned to them, and one great use of this is to reduce most of the diagram to gray-scale so that the important features are easier to understand.



Desk layout in colorDesk layout in color


Gray-scale applied to most layersGray-scale applied to most layers


This feature is particularly useful when using Power BI to color code visual elements automatically, such as the shift times for each workstation.


Display workplaces and shifts in Power BIDisplay workplaces and shifts in Power BI


The layer settings in Visio can be manipulated manually each time a new view is required or they can be automated with a third-party add-in such as LayerManager from bVisual.


Managing layers in Visio desktopManaging layers in Visio desktop


The Workplace Social Distancing Stencils

There are two almost identical stencils with the same title, Workplace Social Distancing, so users of either US Units or Metric Units are accommodated:

They should be placed into the My Shapes folder directly, or within a sub-folder, and preferably renamed tf45259688.vssx to WRKSOCDIST_U.vssx, and tf45492185.vssx to WRKSOCDIST_M.vssx. (Oh, the wonders of the web!)


The stencils contain a number of Masters, a Fill Pattern and Line Patterns to assist with the task of re-planning workplaces to satisfy social distancing guidelines. The scaled Line Patterns are provided in three different sizes because various countries and states have different distance requirements.



The MastersThe Masters

US Units Fill Pattern and Line PatternsUS Units Fill Pattern and Line Patterns Metric Fill Pattern and Line PatternsMetric Fill Pattern and Line Patterns


Masters Dimensions

Both of these shapes are on the Social Distancing Dimensions layer by default, and they can be formatted to suit.

  • Distancing Circle: The Distancing Circle shape can be dragged and dropped to the center of the position to check the exclusion zone. The shape can then be re-sized manually or by typing a value in the Width or Height row of the Size & Position window. The aspect ratio of the shape is locked, so it does not matter which row the value is entered into because the other will be kept synchronized.

Position centered over target position


Distancing Circle Step 1Distancing Circle Step 1

Set the diameter, optionally Lock Size and Hide Text using the Shape Data window or right-mouse action menu.


Distancing Circle Step 2Distancing Circle Step 2

Edit Dash Type to suit, duplicate as required, and Send to Back.


Distancing Circle Step 3Distancing Circle Step 3


  • Distancing Arrow: The Distancing Arrow shape can be dragged and dropped to show the distance between items. The shape can then be re-sized manually or by typing a value in the Length row of the Size & Position window.


Drag and drop, and set the Length



Rotate and edit Fill Color as required, and optionally Lock Size using the Shape Data window or right-mouse action menu.




Barrier Screens

These shapes are on the Furniture and Non-Moveable Furnishings layers, and are used to provide a physical barrier where the full specified social distance is not possible.


Screen: This a simple straight barrier, which could be solid or transparent.


Use Screen shapes to be installed specify where extra barriers should be positioned


Add screens as a barrierAdd screens as a barrier


Curved Screen: Similar to Screen, but curved.



These shapes are on the Social Distancing layer by default and can be formatted to suit requirements.

The Fill Foreground, Fill Background, and Line Color of these symbols can all be modified with the Format Shape panel.


Use Format Shape panel rather than Ribbon buttons


Formatted symbolsFormatted symbols


  • Direction Arrow
  • Feet Stop
  • Feet Walk
  • Keep Apart
  • Sanitizer Station
  • Escape Route
  • Disposal Station
  • Wear Glove

The symbols are placed, re-sized, rotated, and colored to suit.


Formatted symbolsFormatted symbols


Pattern Help

This shape contains some instructions for using the custom fill and line patterns.


Fill Patterns

  • Diagonal Stripes

Use Format Shape to select the Diagonal Stripe Pattern fill, then edit the Foreground and Background colors to suit.

Diagonal Stripes provides wider striping than the built in patterns.




Line Patterns

There are both unscaled and scaled custom Line Patterns to assist in demarking social distancing markings and instructions.



These patterns provide two-colored Banded or Striped lines.


  • [Blue | Cyan | Green | Magenta | Red | Yellow] Banded Line
  • [Blue | Cyan | Green | Magenta | Red | Yellow] Striped Line


Use Format Shape / Solid Line to select a colored Banded or Striped Line Dash Type, then Line / Color to select the second color.





These Line Patterns can be used to mark out the spacing, and the direction in two cases, of movement. These patterns work best with straight lines, and with lines that are an exact multiple of the spacing.

  • Keep [3’/1m | 4’6”/1.5m | 6’/2m] Apart Arrows
  • Keep [3’/1m | 4’6”/1.5m | 6’/2m] Apart Feet
  • Keep [3’/1m | 4’6”/1.5m | 6’/2m] Apart Lines

Use Format Shape / Solid Line to select a Keep x Apart Arrows, Feet or Lines Dash Type, then Line / Color to select the color.




Master shapes line Arc – graphical on the Drawing Tool Shapes stencil can be useful to define floor markings that need to be taped using the appropriate unscaled custom colored line pattern. The scaled custom line patterns define the spacing of floor taping or mats to be added. The appropriately colored symbol shapes define where stickers, mats, or posters need to be placed.  


The Layer Properties dialog can be used to recede the shapes on the Social Distancing Dimensions layer, or to make them invisible.


Social Distancing Dimensions recededSocial Distancing Dimensions receded


Adjusted layout with social distancing markingsAdjusted layout with social distancing markings


We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below with your experiences, questions, or suggestions. You can also submit ideas for future feature releases on our UserVoice site. Email us at for more detailed questions, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay current on the latest releases.


Written by David Parker, a Visio developer since 1996, and an MVP for the past 16 years, and writer of a Visio blog at In a prior life, he was an architect and space planner.

Version history
Last update:
‎Nov 08 2021 04:43 PM
Updated by: