What is social distancing?
Social distancing is defined as: ‘the practice of maintaining a greater than usual physical distance (such as six feet or more) from other people or of avoiding direct contact with people or objects in public places during the outbreak of a contagious disease in order to minimize exposure and reduce the transmission of infection.’
What does social distancing mean for office workers?
Social distancing in offices takes a number of different forms. Primarily, for a socially distanced office you will want to remind workers to maintain a 1 or 2m distance from one another wherever possible. When seated at desks in particular, this is a challenge - which is where social distancing screens come into play. Transparent partitions made from Perspex acrylic or glass are essential tools in combating the spread of illness in a workplace. They form barriers between seated workers, ‘catching’ the infectious virus particles in the air released when someone breathes, talks or coughs and thereby minimising the risk of transmission between colleagues. ‘Screens and barriers are likely to have benefits in reducing the risk of exposure to larger aerosols and droplets from exhaled breath when people are face to face and close together’ and therefore offer protection from illnesses such as Coronavirus, flu, the common cold and Norovirus.
In addition to using screens and dividers to artificially preserve social distance, you might also see other methods in use in your workplace such as one-way systems, limited personnel numbers in certain rooms such as kitchens or recreation spaces, regular hand sanitisation points throughout the building and even on-site testing centres.
Though social distancing measures do of course have positive effects on the health of your workforce, there can be downsides to installing them, particularly in offices which have previously been open-plan. Teams that have worked collaboratively together, chatting openly across desk banks, may struggle with new screens and measures in place to work in the same way as before. Similarly, while workers who prefer peace and quiet may thrive under these new conditions, extroverts may struggle with a different approach. Taking your employees emotional needs into consideration, as well as their physical wellbeing, is essential. This is why both the type of screen you choose to implement social distancing measures, as well as procedures and attitudes of your staff can be very important when it comes to preserving your office community.
How do you preserve social distancing and hygiene in the workplace while promoting cross -team collaboration?
There are a number of different ways you can maintain employee collaboration in a socially distanced office. Just because rules are in place to protect staff does not mean the welcoming, friendly environment has to disappear.
Methods for maintaining collaboration in a socially distanced office fall into two categories: physical changes and intellectual adaptations.
- Install Sneeze Screens and Dividers - Some office spaces already have fabric or acoustic screens installed, but while these offer noise reduction and privacy, they can be a hindrance for collaborative working and communication between team members. Fabric panels are relatively difficult to sanitise, meaning they are not effective measures against virus spread, whereas glass and Perspex acrylic are smooth materials, and therefore easy to keep clean and sanitised. Their transparency also aids in promoting communication and collaborative working, despite the challenging circumstances we all face as we continue to battle the pandemic.
- Zone Collaborative Workspaces - Investing in affordable products such as desk or table divider screens means you can adapt your pre-existing office furniture into a socially distanced meeting space where communication is both safe and easy.
- Communicate Differently - During the height of the pandemic with many offices around the country closed completely, people found new ways to communicate using online meeting apps, with virtual interactions becoming commonplace. We all know that sending email after email is an ineffective way to communicate, and that with more and more people working flexibly or remotely, ‘popping over’ to someone’s desk for an update is no longer always a possibility. Investing in alternative communication methods can help to keep colleagues collaborating even over long distances.