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How to deliver social distancing in your office

The media are now talking about lifting the COVID-19 lockdown. A change in tone and approach that has us all thinking about the next steps and our working environments.  Social distancing will remain an important feature. So, how does that work within the office environment, what do you need to consider and how will it look?

A successful agile working environment is based on understanding what you need to operate your business. The same principles apply when you introduce social distancing. The only difference is this may be a short-term solution that will need to be changed going forward. Like most of our working practices, COVID-19 has accelerated our thinking on office environments.

Space planning and furniture adjustments

I doubt any office space will currently operate a 2.0m social distancing. Which means you need to think about your teams, the space they occupy and who needs to be in the office.

You could operate a rota system that has certain people in the office on specific days. The rest of the time they will be WFH. But make sure you provide your staff with all the necessary equipment for a safe and productive WFH environment. Desks, office chairs and technology are just as important at home as in the workplace.

Within the office environment, you need to look at space planning. This will enable you to understand how many people you can accommodate within the space. Operating safely around the 2.0m social distancing.

How your desks are configured will need to be looked at. Many traditional offices have a bank of desks either side by side or in a cluster. You will need to put distance between workstations, maybe only have people on alternate desks.

It might be possible to install temporary floor mounted screens that can be repurposed when the rules are relaxed to create a private space or meeting room afterwards. Another option is anti-viral guards. These are perspex screens that can be attached or positioned next to your desk and will give you a working booth at each station. Staff can see each other but not touch, similar to the checkouts at supermarkets. They are also easy to clean regularly unlike fabric screens where germs can linger.

And don’t forget your meeting areas and social spaces. These could be more challenging. As people relax away from their desks they still need to be aware of the distancing rules. Clear signage and floor graphics will help with this. Maybe a standard screen saving message on computers which pops up when people leave their desks.

Communication and visibility in the office environment

Once you have planned how your office environment is going to work, you need to make sure it’s consistently understood by your staff. Anyone who comes into the office to work must follow the same process for moving around and working.

The best way to do this is through floor graphics and signage. The floor can work as your roadmap. Showing people where they can operate. Indicate the distances people need to stand so they can safely talk to another person.

Signage will complement this and reinforce the message. For example, it can be used to ensure only one person at a time can use the toilet, kitchen area or photocopier. Some of the areas where people will congregate during a normal working day.  A constant reminder of what is expected of you in the office and how to respect the social distancing.

There are quite a few options with floor and wall graphics. If used in the right way they will help your staff in the office to stay safe.

- A one-way system with T junctions can be confusing and cause stress

- Dots or symbols on the floor at a 2.0m distance are more effective which can be branded and provide additional information

- Large floor graphics are costly and not necessary

- If you have carpet tiles, change the colour of the tile every 2.0m

- Wall graphics or suspended ceiling signage can give more information

And don’t forget this will be a new approach for your staff. The office environment they are walking back into is different from the one they left. Online training for returning to the workplace is a great option. A way to prepare your staff for what they will experience and the process they will be asked to follow.

Maintaining your health and safety

Health and safety are paramount in an office environment. For any changes or adaptations you are making to your office it’s important to ensure you maintain these standards. Before you open the doors it would be beneficial to obtain a health and safety assessment. These can be done with COVID-19 in mind and will give you additional peace of mind.

Office cleaning is something that is already carried out. You may need to look at the frequency and extent of the cleaning process. It will be important to wipe communal areas down throughout the day. This is something that would need to be monitored by an individual. Give someone ownership to ensure this happens, perhaps an office manager or someone within a team has the responsibility for their area.

And don’t forget the WFH environment. Staff who are WFH need to maintain their health and safety. You need to ensure you have an effective working environment from home. How your desk space is configured in terms of distance from the computer screen, chair positioning and posture while working are all important.

But most importantly, ensure you take into consideration the mental health of your staff. Moving from an office-based job and combining it with WFH might take some adjusting. Additional online training will help with this but maintain regular checks on their status.

Additions to the office environment for increased protection

These are unusual times which means there are some items you need to think about introducing. PPE has been the number one topic for weeks. Face masks could be a requirement for the office environment. In an enclosed space it will increase protection and reduce the risk of infection. The NHS will always be the main priority for PPE so there may be alternatives suggested by the Government.

Handwashing stations is another addition. Hand sanitisers and antibacterial sprays have become part of the routine when food shopping. This will also be needed for the office. As people arrive and leave. Manufacturers are already producing all-in-one handwash stations and they could become a new permanent feature for our office environments.

Security is another consideration. In much the same way that supermarkets use security guards for limiting the number of people in-store at any one time. You may need this to control the number of people coming in and out of your office. If you have a receptionist, this might be all that is required but you will need to brief them.

As part of your space planning, you have already decided on the number of staff who will be in the office. It’s now important to get them into the building one at a time. Which means using the lift or stairs on their own to avoid coming into close contact with anyone else. Visitors may be another factor which a security guard or receptionist can manage.

Going back into the office environment will require you to follow the Government guidelines. Which is why LOF Office Furniture is working with our trusted partners to provide advice and guidance to businesses within this framework.

Get in touch today if you’d like some help or to find out more.

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