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Tips for Social Distancing in the Office

As companies are gearing up to go back to the office post-pandemic, they must take into consideration social distancing measures. Read on for design ideas.

You probably think you’ve heard it all by now, and maybe you have. You’ve been listening to the “Social Distance” mantra for over a year now and have likely been practicing it in your personal life. However, now it is time to apply it to your workplace. This is new for everyone, so it’s normal not to know where to start when it comes to the post-pandemic workplace. We hope these simple best practices will help you create a safer office for your team and guests.

Consider What We Know

We know that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and health professionals everywhere have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to get us the most accurate information about the spread of COVID-19. While the vaccine continues to be distributed worldwide, it’s still important to keep these things in mind to slow the spread:

  1. Social Distance (6 ft between you and the closest person)
  2. Wear a Mask (especially when you are inside or within 6ft of someone)
  3. Sanitize (your hands, your workstation, and other high-touch areas)

 2 women working at desks with gray PET wing dividers

After considering these important ideals when it comes to a safer workspace, you then need to examine your space to see what may need to be changed. The CDC recommends examining ventilation in the building and finding ways to increase air filtration. Checking the temperatures of employees before they enter the building may also be a good way to help stop the spread of the virus in your building.

Rearrange Your Space and Your People

You’re going to need a plan to create the ideal safer office. The majority of the changes you will need to make revolve around your space and your people. If the thought of change makes you start to squirm, don’t worry: we’re here to help you through it.

Let’s start with the space

The key to social distancing in your space is first considering all the ways you can reduce unsafe interactions. Many companies have realized social distancing measures are just simply not possible in their existing buildings. Some, who have the budget, have relocated to larger spaces or even expanded their existing ones to have more room for appropriate spacing. (Not you? We’ll cover that shortly.)

No matter your size, you’ll need to identify high-traffic areas in your office. After looking at routes to different parts of the office, place 6-feet markers and arrows to encourage traffic flow. You can also rearrange the furniture you have in common areas like break rooms and lounges to keep people distanced. Next, get out that tape measure and measure 6-feet around individual workstations that are without any sort of dividers.

Man putting blue tape on the ground in an X and a line

This certainly isn’t the end of the open office; it’s just a revision. If moving your workstations is not an option for your space, you can always add desk dividers. Consider what height you think will be best for your employees’ safety, and find the style that best fits your office. Juniper offers affordable dividers in easy-to-clean PET as well as stylish vinyl, fabric, dry-erase frosted glass, and clear acrylic. Learn more about the many divider options here. If you want to go all the way, the cubicle is making a comeback in the modern office. Browse modern cubicle desks

(If you’re looking for more room-specific guidelines and best practices, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) created an in-depth document you may find interesting.)

4 images of different types of dividers: PET, cubicles, frosted glass, moss wall

Now, we can bring in the people. 

If you are wondering what to do if you cannot expand your space, there are several options -  most of which surround the idea of a hybrid office. Essentially, it’s an office that exists seamlessly between the physical office building and employees working from home. Its main goals are safety and flexibility for all. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends staggering breaks, and many offices are also staggering employee schedules, so fewer people are going in and out of the office each day. This may mean rotating employees’ in-office work weekly, daily, or staggering their start times. Be sure to order enough office supplies and have enough workstations so that employees don’t need to share tools or workstations when possible. While you’re getting more supplies, stock up on hand sanitizer, antiseptic wipes, and face masks. Finally, determine maximum occupancies for each space to avoid overcrowding.

Execute Your Safer Office Plan

Now you have your grand plan, however, 6-feet markers only work if people use them and Sanitizer stations become simple decor if they aren’t being used. You now must execute your plan. We’ve found that, when aligned, education, communication, and accountability help any well-crafted plan succeed.

1. Education

If you are part of the policymakers at your company, you need to first educate yourselves. Learn about the problem, proposed solutions, and any attempts other people have made to rectify the problem (successes and failures). Then, before you simply roll out a new policy, you need to educate employees on the rules. Whether it’s in a formal presentation for the whole company, shared in a newsletter, or rolled out using a tiered approach (educating department heads who will then educate their teams), there are many ways to show everyone why the new policy is important.

2. Communication

The difference between education and communication is no large gap, but consistent communication is what will bring meaning to education. Once you teach people why something is an issue and your proposed plan for fixing it, you must continue to communicate between the policymakers and the rest of the company. Create an open and transparent line of communication and encourage employees to bring any of their safety concerns to your attention. When employees give you feedback, don’t simply write it off. Take the time to examine its potential validity and perhaps even make updates to your original plan. 

3. Accountability

You’ve educated, you’re communicating, and now you need to stay accountable. For the plan’s execution to succeed, people need to keep each other accountable when it comes to following company policy - whether they have the largest salary or the smallest. Medical News Today encourages employees to be assertive about social distancing. It may seem uncomfortable to speak up about it at first, but the more people who take this to heart, the sooner your safer office will become a reality.

Having trouble getting people to stay accountable? Positive reinforcement could be the way to go. Consider offering incentives for safer office practices. Some ideas: vouchers for local rideshares instead of public transportation, or ordering lunch for the office some days, so people don’t go out all over town during their break. Get creative and allow people who are consistently displaying good social distancing practices special privileges like the first pick of the rooms they’d like to reserve for the day. 

The purpose of focusing on social distancing in the office is to create a safer space where ALL employees can feel comfortable enough to do their best work. Business doesn’t need to stop; it just needs to adapt. If you need help doing that, Juniper has the safer office solutions and the expertise to get you through any changes you need to make.