The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to dominate headlines all over the world, and while some sectors are beginning to get back to work, we're still a long way from business as usual.
Social distancing - staying at least 2 metres away from anyone you don't live with - remains crucial. Staff should ideally work from home, but since this isn't always possible, many employers are now looking at ways to implement social distancing measures in the workplace.
Are you wondering how to get your office up and running again without putting your employees and their families at risk? Here are some workplace social distancing tips from Hyper Recruitment Solutions...
Social Distancing Measures for Offices
This advice is based on current recommendations from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
- Enable people to work from home if possible. The surest way to protect someone from catching COVID-19 in the workplace is to keep that person away from the workplace entirely. If some or all of your employees are working from home, be sure to check in regularly and make sure those individuals have everything they need to do their job properly.
- Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment. Before you allow staff to return to the office, you should conduct a thorough risk assessment in order to identify potential issues. Will employees be able to stay 2 metres apart while working? Are there any communal spaces (e.g. kitchens and break areas) that will need to be regulated? Don't forget to include your employees in this process - they know how they work, and they may be able to point out potential risks that you've overlooked.
- Set up the office to facilitate social distancing. You may have to move work stations further apart or rearrange desks so that people aren't sitting face to face while working, but don't stop there! Think about what you can do to keep social distancing at the front of your employees' minds - for instance, the HSE recommends marking floors and providing signage to remind people to stay 2 metres apart.
- Erect physical barriers if necessary. Some workplaces (particularly those where it would be difficult to observe the two-metre rule at all times) have used screens or barriers to separate people and make it harder for the virus to spread.
- Try to stagger arrival and departure times. If everyone arrives at and leaves the office simultaneously, your entry / exit points may get quite crowded - which will increase the risk of infection. Consider staggering people's work times to ensure that only one person is ever coming in or going out. Staggered shifts can also be used to minimise the number of people in the office at any one time.
- Implement a one-way system if appropriate. If you've visited a supermarket recently, you may have seen the arrows encouraging shoppers to follow a specific one-way route through the store. This means that people aren't passing each other in narrow aisles. A similar system may be useful for your office - for example, if your premises have a front and a rear entrance, encourage workers to arrive at the front and leave through the back so they're not walking past all of their colleagues on the way out.
- Consider how your employees are travelling to and from the office. If at all possible, encourage your employees to take their own transport - driving, cycling or walking to work are safer than using buses and trains. If any of your workers are using public transport to get to work, make sure they are familiar with the latest travel guidelines and encourage the employee to observe them. For example, should they be wearing a mask while travelling? Would it be safer to buy tickets online than to use the ticket machines at the station?
- Avoid meetings if possible. We've all sat through a meeting that could just as easily have been an email, haven't we? Well, that's now a health and safety matter! Use emails or your company's preferred instant messaging software to communicate with co-workers; if a longer conversation is necessary, a conference call or video meeting may be a suitable alternative to gathering lots of people together in one space.
Of course, social distancing is only part of the battle. In order to combat COVID-19 as effectively as possible, you will also need to:
- Ensure that employees can frequently wash their hands with soap and water
- Keep work areas clean
- Provide any necessary PPE
- Train employees to follow any new measures you have implemented
- Remind everyone to practise good hygiene (e.g. coughing into one's elbow)
- Ensure that individuals stay home if displaying coronavirus symptoms
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Further reading: COVID-19 tips for jobseekers, recruiters and employers