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Best Practices for Social Distancing in the Workplace

office space, empty
Thierry Diallo
Published on
June 10, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in every shape and form, from the way we travel to how we approach work. 

No one is sure how long we’ll have to socially distance. Until then, office managers have two main challenges ahead of them: 

First, they have to make sure to create a safe environment that limits the spread of the virus. Second, managers have to reassure employees who may still feel anxious about returning and workplace safety.

In fact, according to a recent poll by Eldman, around half of employees mark office safety as the main deterrent in returning to work.

So how can you create an office that not only protects employees but doesn’t hurt your performance? In this blog post, we’ll discover the main roadblocks that come with social distancing and the steps you can take to adapt your office space.

Let’s get started.

Why is Social Distancing So Important?

According to health organizations across the globe, the growth of COVID-19  is partly due to the behavior of people who don’t show symptoms and unknowingly pass it to others.

COVID-19 spreads through coughing, sneezing, and physical contact. By minimizing physical proximity in a closed space like the office, it reduces the risk of others getting infected.

Anyone, regardless of age, can catch the virus. It’s therefore your responsibility to slow the spread and keep your employees safe. 

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Challenges With Social Distancing at Work

While social distancing has been a hot topic this year, there’s a lot of confusion on how to apply it in the office.

After all, it does feel easier said than done. How can you enable productivity and collaboration when people need to stay physically distant?

Not to mention, we’re social creatures. One of the reasons people come to the office is for its social outlets, so the change management associated with staying distant from coworkers can be an obstacle to overcome too

Here are some of the main challenges that come with respecting social distancing measures in the workplace:

Managing Your Team’s Stress and Morale

2020 has been stressful and full of surprises for everyone. From the COVID-19 pandemic to an election day like never before, everyone has had their mind full this year.

As a result, you can expect employee morale to take a hit, especially as the world continues to deal with the pandemic. You’ll need to find ways to support your team’s mental health during these hard and unpredictable times.

Survey your people regularly to get regular pulse checks on how they're doing and what they need out of a hybrid (partially in-office, partially remote) workplace strategy. What would make them feel safe? What would make them feel motivated? 

Listening to people and then following through based on feedback is crucial for company culture.

Making Sure that Everyone Follows Safe Social Distancing

Don't forget change management is a key piece of making sure your new social distancing guidelines are followed. 

There are some that simply don’t believe that the pandemic is not a big deal. Around 55% of US employees report not being scared of COVID-19 exposure in the workplace.

Not only is it not safe, but it could also create more stress for other employees that take the necessary precautions. People might feel too shy to ask the person to wear a mask or remind them to keep a physical distance.

Let’s be honest: social distancing and wearing a mask is not the most pleasant experience. 

However, it’s vital for the time being until there’s a vaccine available, and your employees must understand this.

You’ll have to be more assertive and ensure that everyone follows the rules. It’s going to consist of explaining to your team how social distancing not only saves lives but benefits everyone in the office.

Respecting Social Distancing in Group Meetings

Sure, it may be simple to respect the 6 feet apart rule while waiting in line for your next coffee or lunch.

But it’s a whole different story when you’re having group meetings with employees. Communicating effectively is challenging when there’s no proximity or physical contact between people.

As a result, it could hurt your team’s productivity, and employees may not feel like they’re getting the most out of their meeting.

With these roadblocks, you’ll have to find creative ways to maximize your meetings. For example, you could be privileging the use of technology to host video meetings between team members.

Another way to social distance during meetings is to only invite the right people that need to be there. Having too many attendees at your meetings can make it difficult to keep a distance between others.

A simple solution here is making it clear what the maximum number of attendees are for each of your conference rooms by labeling them with signs and updating your workplace management system with those occupancy levels too. 

Interacting with Others Outside the Office

Social distancing doesn’t just come with challenges for how you manage people in the workplace. You’ll also have to restructure the way that you welcome outsiders (such as clients or partners) in the office too.

You’ll have to make those visitors not only feel safe but ensure they respect social distancing. That can include putting floor signs across the office or adding a protective barrier to your reception desk.

Putting in place a screening protocol for people that walk through the front door will also be vital, which is something we’ll get into more detail later.

How to Redesign the Workplace for Social Distancing

These challenges may seem overwhelming at first glance. But if you do it right, you can design a post-coronavirus era office that’s safe without hurting your peoples' productivity and well-being.

You may have to change the current layout of your office entirely, but it’s worth it in the long term. Here’s how you can prepare your workplace for social distancing and bringing employees back:

1. Review Your Existing Office Layout

The first step is to dive deep into your existing office layout and figure out how foot traffic flows. 

For example, there may be areas in the offices that get congregated with employees quickly. These could be coffee machines, office printers, and any other areas where employees cannot respect a distance.

Also identify high-touch surfaces such as keyboards, door handles, tables, etc. These surfaces can become hotbeds for germs and infections if you’re not careful.

2. Create New Paths in the Office

Once you understand how traffic flows, it’s time to create new routes for employees in your office design. It’s going to be necessary to make sure they keep a distance as they walk through the office.

The goal should be to help employees navigate the office while running into the least people as possible. A good tip is to include floor arrows to guide them through paths with little foot traffic and keep an updated socially-distanced office map so people know where they’re going before the stand up. 

In areas such as the coffee machine or elevator, you can also use floor signs six feet from each other to let them know where they should stand and wait.

3. Keep a Distance Between Desks

To respect social distancing in the office, you’ll have to rearrange the setup of your desks. You must make sure that each desk is six feet apart from each other so that they respect the right distance.

Not only is it going to give employees more room and personal space, it’s going to limit the spread of the virus. As a bonus, if possible, you can include physical barrier glass around your desks to reduce virus infection.

Floor map with Robin

Robin's distance planning tool makes it simple to map out a socially-distant floor plan.

4. Establish new guidelines on cleaning

Routine cleaning is vital to create a safe work environment. According to CDC recommended guidelines, washing your hands regularly and cleaning equipment is key to slowing the spread of most pathogens. 

You'll need to create a set of cleaning guidelines for everyone to follow. For example, you can create a rule where each teammate has to clean up their desk right after use. 

Make sure to also equip your office with enough cleaning supplies, such as hand sanitizer and wipes for your team.

5. Include a Screening Protocol at the Front Door

Just remember that it doesn’t take long for COVID-19 to spread. 

All it takes is one employee to be positive for the whole office to be infected. It’s the reason you need a screening protocol for everyone that walks into your office so that the workplace remains safe.

One way to do so is to get security to use temperature screening in front of your door. It’s going to help identify people who may be showing symptoms of the disease and decide whether you should send them home.

You can also reject anyone from entering that’s not wearing a mask, which leads us to our next point.

6. Have Employees and Visitors Wear a Mask in the Workplace

According to epidemiological studies, wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to limit the spread of COVID-19. They reduce the exposure risk from an infected person, even if they’re asymptomatic.

As a safety measure, employees should be wearing a mask the second they step into the office. Masks are also necessary when a social distance of 6 feet is not possible or anytime teammates spend more than 15 minutes in proximity to others.

7. Limit Occupancy in Shared Meeting Spaces

Many businesses are applying measures to limit the number of people in their space.

For example, there are gyms where you have to book a training session before going. Some supermarkets require that only a specific amount of people can be inside, while other shoppers have to wait outside.

Your office must do the same for its shared rooms to respect social distancing.

Take a look at all your shared office spaces, such as your cafeteria, conference rooms, and more. From there, find out how many people can share these rooms without breaking a safe distance, and create a limit on the number of people who can occupy them.

How to Manage Social Distancing in the Office

Restructuring your office layout for social distancing is just the first step. Next, you need to think about how you can maintain it for the long-term and make sure that employees are following the rules. 

Here are our best tips for managing social distancing in the workplace as your office adapts to the “new normal”:

Invest in the Right Workplace Management Software

Adapting to new social distancing measures can be tricky. Thankfully there’s technology you can use, such as office management software, that helps you make the switch easily. 

The right platform should provide workplace analytics that give you data on how employees are using the office space, such as who was in the room before and if you have enough desks.

It should also allow you to create socially-distanced seating plans all in one place.

For example, with Robin, you can determine the capacity of your office and experiment with different social distancing layouts. You can set up a distance planning strategy within minutes. You can update seating assignments and restrict access to certain desks to make sure employees keep a distance.

Use Digital Signage to Keep Employees Up-To-Date With Office Changes

As mentioned earlier, making your office COVID-friendly means you’ll have to redesign its layout. Employees that are returning may get confused about all the new changes in the workplace. 

That’s where digital signage can help. Status boards and interactive maps help visitors quickly orient themselves in your office and get information on what health measures to respect.

Consider a Split Weekly Work Schedule

If you’re a big company with many employees, you may have a hard time being consistent with social distancing. 

Social distancing requires that you lower the amount of desks. It means there could be a fraction of your team that won’t be able to do their job in the office.

A smart way to combat this and lower the traffic in your company is to create a split schedule. You can have certain days where specific employees work in the office, while others do remote work at home. 

It’s going to limit the number of people in the workplace while ensuring that everyone can do their job. You won’t have to worry about managing too many people at once in the office.

Give Employees the Support They Need to Respect Social Distancing

Employees must know that you’ve got their back. To make sure they keep up with the new safety measures, give them all the resources they need to stay on track.

For example, you can work with your human resource department to create office playbooks and updated office policy plans that you can share with employees on the latest safety measures.

You can also install posters all across the office that outline the social distancing rules to respect. If an employee ever feels lost, they can look at these banners for guidance and get back on track.

As your office adapts to social distancing, listening to your employees’ feedback is crucial. Do they overall feel safe in the office? What can you do to continue improving the workplace and protecting their health?

Get Your Office Started With Social Distancing Today

The world is changing, and offices must adapt new reopening measures.

Protecting your employees’ health is vital to not only limit the spread of the virus but give them peace of mind. If you do it right, you can still optimize the office in a way that protects people and keeps them productive.

Ready to welcome employees back into your office? We can help. Book a demo today to learn more.

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