empty office cubicles

Separation anxiety: the coronavirus pandemic has given this phrase a whole new meaning. Instead of stressing out when we’re apart, we now have to worry about being together. And, over the years, the workplace has become a place where individual spaces are few and far between the prevalence of shared workspaces, common areas, and open office plans make it challenging for employees to keep their distance from each other.

As we work towards flatting the curve of COVID-19, proactive employers should start considering how they can safely bring their employees back to work and comply with applicable social distancing requirements. Here are some ways your organization can achieve appropriate social distancing in the workplace.

1. Enable remote working.

Consider whether you can permit some or all of your staff to work from home. Make sure your employees have access to the technology and resources they need so they don’t feel left behind.

2. Add space between staff.

Move workstations so they are at least six feet apart; indicate appropriate spacing using paint or tape to mark the floor. Enclose open areas and install privacy panels around workstations.

3. Avoid the need to share workspaces.

Avoid “hot desking” and assign each workstation to an individual; if workstations must be shared, limit the number of people sharing the space to the extent possible. Conduct meetings virtually; if in-person attendance is required, consider holding meetings outdoors. For indoor meetings, ensure adequate spacing between seats, and provide hand sanitizer.

4. Ensure adequate space for meals and rest periods.

If your employees tend to congregate in common areas at the same time, ask them to stagger their meals and breaks or designate additional space for these purposes, if possible.

5. Reduce contact by staggering work.

Even if you cannot allow all of your staff to work remotely all of the time, perhaps you could stagger the workers who are permitted to work from home, so that a third or a half of your employees work from home on alternate days or weeks. You may also stagger the timing for entry and exit to avoid congestion when people are coming into and out of the workplace.

6. Change the way employees do work.

If it is possible to adjust your processes and workflows to reduce contact, consider whether it is feasible from a cost and resource basis to do so.

7. Designate one-way entry and exit points.

To limit congestion, mark separate doors as entrances and exits for all employees and customers; do the same for flow through larger offices or buildings.

8. Limit contact at entry points:

Eliminate turnstiles; instead, opt for security pass checks or another method that minimizes the need for contact.

9. Use alternatives to touch-based devices.

Give employees ways to access buildings and offices other than keypads. Where measures such as these aren’t possible, employers should take steps to limit the level of interaction between people by erecting physical barriers. Furthermore, they should frequently clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are touched regularly, such as stair rails, tables, and printers. They should also remind employees about the importance of hygiene, particularly washing their hands for 20 seconds with soap and water and staying home if they feel sick or notice any symptoms of COVID-19. Reinforce these safety measures with a poster outlining key CDC requirements for employees.

Finally, employers should train their employees and managers on their social distancing protocols. Managers should be prepared to enforce these protocols with appropriate disciplinary action.

As the situation evolves and you refine your return-to-work strategy, continue to review guidance from federal government agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as from your state and local government. Keep in mind that federal and state OSHA inspectors may visit your workplace to audit your compliance with social distancing requirements.

Get your COVID-19 safety poster now to reinforce your employees’ good habits and provide evidence that you are taking the coronavirus threat seriously. Then subscribe to receive updates for your state, as we continue to monitor COVID-19 developments and their impact on employers.