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By Nai Kanell
Director of Marketing
Social distancing is the cardinal rule for businesses remaining open during the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone should stay a minimum of six feet from their coworkers at all times and avoid prolonged periods of contact whenever possible. Not only has it made waiting for the elevator a lot less tolerable, it’s shaken up the workplace entirely—from where we sit to how we navigate. New standards call for new rules, which is why every workplace needs policies for COVID-19 workplace distance and contact.
Too many businesses use the uncertainties of the pandemic as an excuse not to make significant changes to the workplace. They’re afraid to shake things up just in time for the pandemic to ramp down and revert everything back to normal. But the fact is, we don’t know when it’ll end, and proactive action is worth it.
Here’s what you need to know about writing temporary policies for workplace distance and contact during COVID-19.
CDC guidelines for workplace distancing
Before you create and institute workplace pandemic policies, check out the CDC website. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to create policies to protect your staff. The CDC has numerous guides focused on distancing and sanitization for all types of environments. Familiarize yourself with recommended best practices and borrow from CDC materials to create workplace-specific policies.
Adopt temporary social distancing practices
A good workplace naturally brings people together and fosters collaboration. Social distancing policies are difficult to conceive because they intend the opposite. More problematic, a good workplace distancing policy needs to preserve the best elements of productivity while keeping people apart. It’s a tall order.
The best way to approach COVID-19 workplace distancing policies is with specific areas and interactions. It’s not enough to say “stay six feet apart.” Employees need clear guidance on how to do this wherever they are in the workplace. Here’s a quick guide to social distancing in common areas of the workplace:
- Conferencing: Close conference rooms to only but the highest priority meetings and keep even those to only essential attendees. Urge employees to postpone meetings wherever possible and advocate video conferencing as a viable alternative. Zoom, GoToMeeting, CISCO WebEx, BlueJeans, and numerous other apps support multi-person video chat with robust conferencing tools.
- Peer communication: Face-to-face communication between employees shouldn’t cease, but it needs moderation. Urge employees not to mingle idly and if they do need to chat at length, stay six feet apart. Find a small breakout area to occupy for a brief time out of the way of others.
- Travel and visitors: If you haven’t already, suspend non-essential business travel and restrict visitors to your workplace. Here again, video conferencing is a suitable alternative for most in-person meetings. If it’s essential to travel or welcome visitors, supply PPE to employees and guests, and advocate high-level hygiene.
- Break rooms: Temporarily rearrange break rooms to accommodate distant seating arrangements. Advocate that employees eat lunch at their desks or at their designated workspace for that day. For larger workplaces, consider setting staggered lunch times by department.
- Thoroughfares: Commonly trafficked workplace areas need specific attention. Prohibit lingering and congregating in these areas and emphasize constant flow through them. You may need to relocate workplace assets like the copy machine.
- Congregation: Don’t let employees congregate in areas where it might be second nature. Elevators, for example. Post signage in these areas to remind them of social distancing policies and offer solutions that prevent clustering. For example, tape marks set six feet apart on the floor.
COVID-19 workplace distance and contact policies don’t need to be dramatic. Simple adjustments to the workplace and people’s interaction with it can be effective. Remember: preserve the workplace’s utility, but be mindful of proximity.
Be clear in your policies
However you choose to adopt and enforce workplace distancing and contact policies, make sure they’re clear. There shouldn’t be any uncertainties. Employees need clear, easy-to-follow instructions and guidelines that take minimal effort to adopt.
Additionally, make necessary changes to the workplace that allow for compliance. Keeping desks side by side and asking employees to maintain proper distancing sends mixed signals. Follow clear policies with your own action to set a precedent for the seriousness of the situation. Good leadership and stewardship in the workplace sets the tone for a healthier, safer workforce.