How To Implement Social Distancing In The Workplace

Haley Walden
June 23, 2020

As organizations and small businesses across the country head back to their offices in the wake of COVID-19, workplaces are adapting to social distancing regulations. Social distancing in the workplace may seem straightforward, but the steps to implement it effectively vary from one workplace to another. 

In this article, we’ll highlight some ways you can help protect your team members through social distancing measures at your office. But first, we’ll take a look at the basic social distancing regulations provided by OSHA (Occupational Safety And Health Administration): 

COVID-19 Workplace Regulations

OSHA has implemented a number of workplace regulations to help slow the spread of COVID-19 as teams go back to work in their brick-and-mortar offices (read the entire OSHA handout here). According to OSHA, Office Nanagers and team leaders should:

  • Encourage sick workers to stay home
  • If a team member begins showing symptoms at work, isolate them until they can go home or to the doctor
  • Allow flex shifts, flex hours, and remote work where needed 
  • If you have a retail store or place of business where customers visit, tape off the floor in six-foot increments so they know where to stand
  • Limit how many customers can be in your store, shop, office, etc.
  • Make sure break times are staggered and seating areas are properly spread out/cordoned off 
  • Spread workstations out where feasible or put partitions (plexiglass) between stations
  • Have an open-door policy if team members have safety or health concerns

This covers the basics of social distancing in the workplace, but there’s more that Office Managers can do to go the extra mile. Let’s explore what we can all do in our workplaces to keep employees healthy during this unprecedented time. 

Comprehensive social distancing measures can be implemented across the board at workplaces, starting at home before the workday begins. 

Here are some best practices to help implement social distancing in your workplace:

1. Before team members arrive at the workplace

Suggest that your employees take their temperatures before they leave the house in the morning. If they have a fever above 100.4 degrees, ask that they stay home. Additionally, request that employees stay home if they have symptoms of illness, including a cough, scratchy throat, or runny nose. 

Implementing flexible remote work policies in your workplace will help employees stay out of the office if they’re having mild symptoms, but still feel well enough to work. This will not only help retain productivity but will incentivize employees not to come into work when they’re sick.

2. When employees arrive at the workplace

Suggest that employees wear masks in crowded hallways, elevators, cafeterias, and shared spaces. If you have a large team that shares an open office, consider implementing mask-wearing policies, depending on the degree of social distancing you can maintain. 

Employees should get familiar with the company’s COVID-19 policies so it’s easy to comply with the rules. Make sure you disseminate information and regulations widely and regularly, so everyone knows their role.

3. Keep hand sanitizer and sanitary wipes on hand

Hand sanitizer, sanitary wipes, and other cleaning products should be readily available to all team members. Keep cleaning and sanitizing products available in the office for community use. Additionally, make sure employees have hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes at their workstations. 

Ask that employees wash their hands after handling shared items and surfaces. If available, keep a small supply of disposable face masks in the office for emergencies.

4. Regularly wipe down shared surfaces

Sanitize all shared surfaces throughout the day. Some of these include: 

  • Doorknobs and cabinet pulls
  • Microwave buttons
  • Sink handles
  • Printer/copier buttons
  • Refrigerator handles
  • Water cooler spigot (when the water cooler is open)

To help ensure these tasks are completed each day, consider hiring a day porter mid-day to help sanitize these shared surfaces.

5. Have team members stay in their work areas whenever possible

In order to maintain effective social distancing in the workplace, have employees stick to their work areas whenever possible. Request that they refrain from congregating by the water cooler or at someone else’s desk. Encourage team members to eat lunch at their desks if they can.

If colleagues must work collaboratively, they’ll need to make plenty of space in order to stay six feet apart. You can always request a conference room so there’s a large table available where everyone can spread out. 

Some workplaces and facilities are installing plexiglass shields between workers’ desks. If it’s feasible--and particularly if it’s hard to socially distance your desks and workstations--this could be a great solution.

6. Hold smaller meetings

If team meetings are a regular occurrence in your workplace, they may need to be broken up, with only a portion of the team present. You’ll need plenty of space in the conference room so no one is sitting too close together, and there aren’t too many people congregated in the room at once. (Ten people or fewer is ideal, depending on the size of the room. Smaller rooms will require smaller groups.) 

Here are several questions you and your team leaders can ask yourselves before scheduling team meetings: 

  • Is it necessary to have a meeting on-site? 
  • Can the meeting be conducted remotely?
  • Does everyone on the team need to be present? 
  • Can I send this message in an email just as easily? 
  • Can we record the meeting and send the playback video to our team? 
  • Can we use alternative methods for disseminating the information (i.e., video, messaging software, etc.) 

Although more work is required on the front end, giving deeper consideration to meetings will help you and your team streamline operations and save valuable time. 

7. Arrange for sick team members to go home

If a member of your team is feeling ill, have a plan in place for isolating them, then getting them home safely. Supply them with a disposable mask if you have some available in the office, and have them go to a separate area away from coworkers until they are able to leave.

Offices should consider implementing standard procedures (SOP) for team members notifying management when they feel unwell. A potential SOP for sick employees might involve: 

  • Having the employee discreetly let their direct supervisor know they feel sick
  • Issuing the employee a mask
  • Asking that the individual leave the office and go home
  • Isolating employees who can’t leave immediately
  • Issuing the team member a laptop or any materials needed to work from home until they’re well
  • Arranging transportation to a doctor’s office, urgent care, or hospital ER if needed 

Slowing the spread, one office at a time

In order to continue controlling the spread of COVID-19, social distancing should be observed across as many of our activities as possible. When we practice social distancing in the workplace, we’re making a significant positive impact on our team members as well as the community at large. 

Need more resources on adapting your office to protect your team during COVID-19? Check out our Workplace Resource Center for downloadable guides, checklists, webinars, and more.

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