With the quarantine measures relaxed and thousands of people going back to the office, social distancing at work will likely be the first subject of the conversation. After months of working from home, we can be a little apprehensive with the idea of returning to the office. How exactly do we “social distance” in the workplace?
There are social distancing measures that people must follow in the office, such as the six-feet distance that people must keep between themselves and others. We don’t know how long these social distancing requirements will last, but employers and employees will need to work together to introduce and implement these guidelines to keep workplaces safe and secure.
Social distancing measures have set in motion a change to office life that is unanticipated: the office layout. How can people maintain the six-feet distance between themselves and others when they’re sitting right next to their coworkers, for instance? How will people eat in the pantry? The main problem that arises, then, is this: how can employers and employees work together to make sure that our offices are safe spaces that will keep its occupants healthy?
Why Social Distancing?
Before we dive into the changes serviced offices or offices in general must implement, we must discuss why it is important to follow social distancing measures in the first place.
Covid-19 is a disease that spreads through people who are in close contact with each other for a prolonged period of time. When one person sneezes, coughs, or even talks without a mask on, droplets emitted from their mouth will be propelled through the air, eventually putting everyone nearby at risk of contact to the virus. Social distancing measures are especially important in an office, which are usually compact, enclosed spaces where airborne diseases can easily spread.
Keeping a safe six-feet or two-meter distance from other people can help mitigate the spread of Covid-19. Avoiding crowded spaces and refraining from close-contact social interactions such as shaking hands and hugging can also help. Rearranging office layouts and lessening the density of the workplace are just two ways to adapt to social distancing measures, thereby keeping office occupants healthy and safe from disease.
How to Promote Social Distancing in the Office
Not all offices are the same; every office will face different sets of problems when adapting to social distancing measures. However, the following changes can work for every office, no matter its size, shape, or design. Follow these changes and practices to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in your workplace.
1. Allow some employees to continue working remotely
While there are employees who are ready and raring to go back to a socially distanced office, there are still others who are cautious and wary about entering public spaces, especially during commutes. Let those who can work remotely do so; this will lessen the office population and thus reduce the chances of spreading Covid-19.
a. Stagger start times
It would be better for the employees who are going back to the office if they came in at different times, and not all at the same time. Stagger the start and end of shifts so that there won’t be a morning and evening rush. This will ease the number of people congesting elevators and other common areas, as well as help those who use public transportation avoid heavy traffic.
b. Rotate schedules
Alternate the weeks on which certain people can come in. For example, split employees into teams and have Team A come in during the first and third weeks of the month, while Team B will come in during the second and fourth weeks. While one team is at the office, the other will be at home, thus halving the office population and giving people more space to practice social distancing properly.
2. Take a good look at your current office
The first step to making adjustments that adhere to social distancing measures is giving the existing office layout a good look. More likely than not, removing every other desk will not be the best option. When changing the layout of the office, one must consider foot traffic, high-touch surfaces, spaces that can become easily congested, dead ends, and common areas. Once those spaces have been identified, then the hard work of restructuring the layout of the office can begin.
a. Make a simple map of the office
Adjusting the office begins with careful planning, and careful planning starts with making a map of the existing office layout. Make sure to include pillars, boundary walls, doorways, power outlets, and other immovable features in the map. By making a map — even a simple one — employers can plan out a new, socially distanced layout that will maximize the space of the office and ensure the safety of their employees.
b. Identify high-traffic areas
One simple way to identify the areas where people usually walk is by checking the spots where the carpet is worn out. These areas are the high-traffic pathways of the office. Take note of the locations of these high-traffic areas and keep them in mind when making the office map, because these areas are where congestion is likely to happen.
c. Consider routes to and from desks
Employees should be able to go through the office entrance to their desks without passing by a lot of people. When adjusting the layout of the office, make sure to create new paths that avoid busy, high-traffic areas and pass by the least number of people possible. Implement a one-way traffic system for best results.
3. Change the office layout
Social distancing protocols will have to change the way that offices look. While this includes removing some desks, that is not all that there is to it. Socially distant offices must have the following adjustments made.
a. Put partitions for unavoidable face-to-face interactions
There will be places where employees will have to have face-to-face interactions, such as the reception desk. For these places, consider installing transparent partitions. While these partitions aren’t as effective as masks and social distancing, they do allow communication while creating a physical barrier that can protect employees.
b. Measure six-foot buffer zones around each workstation
Social distancing measures call for a six-foot or two-meter distance between people to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 through tiny droplets that fall through the air. To make sure that employees are socially distant while at their workspaces, employers must create a six-foot buffer zone around each employee’s desk. This means that some desks must be taken out, if the distance between each adjacent seat is less than six feet.
If the office has rows of desks that face each other, it might be enough to just remove every other chair at each row. This would create vacant seats on either side and in front of each employee, thus satisfying social distancing protocols.
Once each desk has been arranged in a socially distanced way, then employers can determine how many employees can come in at any given time. This information is very useful when deciding who will work at home and who will come into the office.
c. Remove some seating
There will be areas in the office where social distancing will not be possible, such as the lobby, break room, pantry, or reception. If there are seats and tables at these spaces, some of them will have to be removed to enforce social distancing measures. Aside from removing these seats, one can also face them to the wall or cover them in signage that will prevent people from using them.
d. Set maximum occupancies for meeting rooms
Without proper social distancing measures in place, shared spaces like pantries and meeting rooms can quickly become overcrowded. Employers must determine how many people can be in these rooms while still maintaining the recommended six-feet distance between each of them. Make sure that the new number of people allowed in the break room or conference room is communicated to each employee.
Employers must also consider ways to reduce the use of these rooms. Encourage employees to eat at their desks, or have their meetings via video conferencing tools such as Zoom.
4. Put up signage and posters
Ensure that employees understand and remember the social distancing protocols that are in place by placing clear signage and posters in all areas. Make sure to set down big, brightly colored floor markers six feet apart so that employees can more easily follow the recommended safe distance from each other. Enforce the one-way traffic flow of the new office layout by putting arrows on the floor. Add posters about maximum occupancies and proper social distancing measures outside each meeting room, common area, and elevator.
5. Expand office space
Once the hard work of adapting to social distancing protocols has begun, employers might discover that they do not have enough office space to safely host their employees. For those with budgets, expanding office space is always a good idea. Those without budgets might start looking for office leasing or space leasing. By moving some employees to a satellite office through serviced offices in Makati for example, employers adapt more quickly to this new normal.
No matter the size or shape of the office, changing to the new socially distant layout that increases space and reduces density will no doubt help reduce the spread of Covid-19. While no one can truly say when the pandemic will end, it is always helpful to make the office a place that prioritizes the safety and health of its occupants.
If you’re looking for a safe office space for your team, please drop us a call or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org