9/10/2020

Social Distancing in the Workplace [How to]

As businesses in North America shift towards re-opening and implementing workplace social distancing, there are many operational adjustments to consider.

Executing social distancing best practices promotes health and safety in addition to helping manage employee anxiety towards returning to work, as it aids in limiting the spread of COVID-19 while also protecting employees and customers.

Although this can seem cumbersome, addressing the needed changes—according to local law and common sense—allows companies to re-open and resume doing business.

Social distancing means physical distancing

To maintain social distancing in the workplace, there must be six feet between co-workers, customers and vendors.

Examples of what this can look like outside of the home:

  • Avoid non-essential travel
  • When greeting someone wave rather than shake hands or make other contact
  • Avoid crowds and crowded places
  • Whenever possible, maintain a safe physical distance from others

In an indoor office space, physical distancing can be achieved through changing office traffic flow patterns and workspaces, reducing office capacity and limiting the number of people allowed in shared spaces.

Modify workspaces and adjust traffic flow to achieve workplace social distancing

Spacing employee workspaces to maintain the appropriate workplace social distancing standards is an excellent strategy for decreasing the risk of spreading infection. While the space may have been originally organized to maximize usage and efficiency, the goals are different now and must be modified before employees can safely return to work.

Adjusting the office traffic flow will also go a long way in implementing workplace social distancing. Where possible, create one-way systems to reduce the chances of people coming into close contact with one another while in shared spaces.

When it’s not possible to reduce traffic flow or the distance between workspaces, consider reducing the number of people in shared spaces. By limiting the amount of employees in the room this will both increase distance and decrease risk.

Stagger work days and start times

No matter how large or small your business, staggered attendance allows more employees to work in the office. This technique is not new (think of the dinner reservation system at a busy restaurant, or ticketing for different show times at a theatre) but is often thought of more as a solution to managing large groups of people.

When applied to an office setting, adjusting when your employees start work, or staggering the days they come into the office, can achieve safe workplace social distancing without making any of the larger environmental shifts.

Once you figure out how many employees can be in the office at the same time safely, develop a staggered attendance policy in conjunction with a work-from-home policy and communicate it to your staff members.

Have personal protective equipment on hand

No matter how much planning and preparation you do, sometimes physical distancing cannot be maintained indoors. In these cases, employers must provide personal protective equipment (PPE) along with clear training and policies for when it is to be used and how to use it properly.

Examples of PPE are:

  • Masks
  • Gloves
  • Eye protection
  • Shoe covers
  • Protective clothing

This equipment adds a layer of protection in order to block infectious droplets created by coughs or sneezes. Employers can determine which employees require PPE by analyzing their level of contact with clients or customers. Take whatever precautions are necessary in order to ensure their safety, as well as your customer’s safety.

Conclusion

There are creative solutions to every problem, and social distancing in the workplace is no different.

Returning to work after months of uncertainty is difficult for both employers and employees, and there are many moving pieces to consider. In some cases, continuing remote working may be the best course of action but for many, offices must be re-opened in order to continue business.

While the burden is placed on employers to implement health and safety policies, it’s everyone’s responsibility to aid in identifying and mitigating possible health risks to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The specific details of physical distancing regulations change from region to region, so make sure to check your local government website for up-to-date recommendations and guidelines for creating a safe work environment.

A safe return-to-work strategy ensures business can return to near-normal conditions as the world adjusts to the health crisis as best it can.

For more, see Answering Return-to-Work FAQs.

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