Seven Useful Tips to Set Up Your Office Space for Social Distancing
It is necessary that you create a workplace environment that is safe for your employees as well as your customers. Setting up your office space for social distancing requires planning. It is a challenge to keep people in the workplace six feet apart all the time. But you can manage this important task with proper setup and controls.
Social distancing entails implementing one-way traffic flows, reducing the capacity of elevators and facilities, and staggered work schedules, among other things. These steps are crucial to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to comfort those who are still anxious to return to work.
Regardless of your workspace size, here’s what you need to do to maximize your office space while social distancing.
Examine Your Current Office Structure
Taking a good look at your existing office layout is the first step to preparing your workplace for social distancing.
Identify busy areas, high-traffic routes, and common areas such as the restrooms and pantry where employees usually gather to eat and chat. Think of other areas in the workplace most likely to become congested.
Consider surfaces frequently touched by everyone such as door handles, telephones, and other office machines.
Remove dead ends and create paths where you can implement a one-way system. This particularly applies to routes to busy areas and avenues to and from each workstation.
The key is to ensure that you can reduce the odds of workers bumping into each other less than six feet apart.
Create a Simple Map of the Office
Use the blueprint or basic floor plan of your workspace. If you don’t have one, create a layout that accurately illustrates the present configuration. Get the exact measurement of fixed features such as boundary walls, pillars, doorways, and the like.
You can use image-editing software to help create a map. If you’re drawing a map with pen and paper, use removable stickers to indicate the position of office desks or other furniture. This will allow you to adjust their positions from one place to another.
Your goal is to maximize the workspace while incorporating social distancing measures using this map.
Modify your Workstations
The general guideline for social distancing suggests maintaining a distance of six feet between people. You must physically measure distances within the workstations to ensure that this guideline is met.
You can modify or adjust desk positions where possible to maintain social distancing of six feet between employees.
Consider either removing chairs and furniture in the common area or marking those that cannot be used with visible signs like an "X" taped on them.
Install transparent shields (or any physical barriers) between desks or areas in the workstations where social distancing is not possible. This allows employees to communicate face-to-face and reduces the risk for COVID-19 transmission through airborne droplets.
Set Maximum Occupancies for Common and Busy Areas
You need to identify the spaces in your workplace where people tend to gather. These are common and busy areas that include meeting rooms, the pantry, cafeteria, and even elevators and escalators.
If closing these areas is not possible, you can set the maximum number of people who can use these areas at a given time. Limit the number of people based on the size of the area. For smaller areas, allow no more than two people at a time.
Limit the capacity of elevators to a maximum of four persons. Keep people at a six foot distance between the steps of the escalators.
Additionally, ensure that these areas are cleaned and sanitized regularly, at least after every use. Make sanitizers accessible for employee use.
Reduce the Volume of People in the Office
There are several ways to reduce the number of people in the office at a given time.
It is not necessary to require your employees to return to work all at the same time. Determine who among your employees can work from home depending on the nature of their work. If there are employees anxious to return to work, include them on your list.
Limit the frequency and size of face-to-face meetings by encouraging videoconferencing.
If circumstances allow, create consistent groups of employees working together in shifts or rotating schedules.
Use Signage and Posters to Reinforce Social Distancing
You can guide employees and visitors as to how your office is set for social distancing by using signs and posters.
Use standee signs to indicate one-way zones or detours and guide people on traveling from one area to another.
Put floor markings in the elevator to guide occupants on where to stand. Put "X" marks on the steps of escalators that must not be used.
Post signage at the door or near the specific area to indicate the maximum capacity allowed and avoid misuse.
Where possible, assign and mark “in” and “out” doors to common areas to control the flow of people.
Increase Ventilation in your Building
You must improve airflow in your office facility to prevent not just COVID-19 transmission but also other potential health problems. Consult with HVAC professionals when taking steps to do this.
Inspect the airflow system of your building and expand it if necessary. Replace filters to help maximize airflow. Add new vents in corners and tight spaces.
You can use natural ventilation such as opening windows if it is safe to do so and building requirements allow.
No matter what business you are in, the main principles in applying social distancing measures are the same: REDUCE, MAXIMIZE, and COMMUNICATE. REDUCE the volume of people in specific areas at a given time by setting occupancy limits. MAXIMIZE your office space to accommodate the six-feet-apart rule by removing seats and furniture and physically measuring distances. COMMUNICATE changes to your employees and customers and address social distancing concerns before implementation.
By applying these principles, you can ensure your employees return to a workplace that prioritizes health, safety, and peace of mind.
You can check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to explore other possible solutions.