Planning Your Office For Social Distancing How Will Social Distancing Affect Your Office Layout?
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses into quick fire changes and arrangements to enable them to continue to operate with minimal office based staff. Remote working has become the norm for businesses of all shapes and sizes as businesses look to shield their workers who fall into the ‘vulnerable’ category and all other staff too. And businesses will want to return to normal quickly as the lockdown is gradually eased.
Right now, many employers are having to “walk the workplace” to better understand where their employees work and how they move around the office so that they can reorganise the workplace correctly to enable social distancing.
But before you recall your staff to the office, have you considered how the social distancing guidelines will affect your business? Social distancing will force many businesses into some huge changes. And with COVID-19 showing no sign of disappearing any time soon, workplace social distancing may be something you need to enforce for the foreseeable future. So, with this in mind, is your business ready for workplace social distancing?
What You’ll Need To Consider
The truth is, at this moment, no one’s entirely certain what changes will be legally enforced and what changes you’ll be expected to make. By now, we’ve all visited the local supermarkets and experienced first hand how they’ve incorporated social distancing guidance. However, the truth is that office spaces will have entirely different social distancing requirements given the static nature of the day to day occupants of a typical office building.
Obviously, each workplace is different and therefore the setup, the type of work being carried out and the people are just some factors that need to be considered when social distancing. Some offices may struggle to incorporate social distancing due to size restraints whilst others may struggle due to accessibility issues. With this in mind, we’ve asked our health and safety experts what areas of businesses may be most affected by social distancing guidelines and what practical steps a business can put in place to address any issues.
Is Your Workplace Big Enough For Social Distancing?
A question that is going to cause nightmares for many businesses, what if your premises isn’t big enough to allow for social distancing? After all, if you must allocate a 2m ‘safe zone’ and a safe passageway for your staff, you’ll soon run out of space.
Even if the required distance is reduced, it still means workspace is a luxury and many businesses won’t be able to operate within these constraints. For example, businesses operating out of catering vans or small pop up retail units would find it incredibly difficult to have more than a single person present because of the lack of available space!
So, what do you do if this is affects you and how can you resume ‘business as normal’ when you can’t even have enough staff present? That’s an interesting problem that many business owners will now be facing and there is no definite answer as every business has different requirements. Hopefully, this isn’t an issue that affects your business. With limited staff available onsite, many SME’s will struggle which will lead to people finding creative solutions to exploit potential loopholes.
Planning Your Workplace Layout
As we’ve touched on, workspace is going to be at a premium due to social distancing. Under the current guidance you’ll need to provide a 2m ‘safe zone’ for every employee to work in as well as a safe passageway to allow people to move around the office without coming within 2 metres of their co workers.
Practically, this means social distancing will likely bring the traditional office ‘desk pod’ layout to an end. In fact, as important as it will be to ensure your office space has been correctly worked out, things will be fairly easy for businesses that operate within a traditional office or b2b environment.
Social distancing is going to be at its most problematic in customer facing roles such as the retail and hospitality industry. In retail, checkout areas must be reconfigured to create a safe environment for both customers and staff. Staff could find themselves limited to ‘zones’ whilst on shop floors. They’ll also be to enforcing social distancing policies on customers. This will likely mean big changes to a persons job specification and health and safety requirements.
Need help planning your workplace for social distancing? Our consultants are here to help!
Assessing The Workstation
Once you’ve got your social distancing layout sorted, you’ll need to ensure that the individual workstations are maintained correctly and only contain the essentials. We all know people who’s desks are covered in meeting notes from 9 months ago, random memos and other bits and pieces. Similarly, every people like to adorn their workstation with personal mementos such as family pictures. But, is it still practical and safe to allow this?
Once you’ve got everything in place to enable workplace social distancing you’ll need to conduct regular workstation assessments. This ensures that your employees are abiding by clear desk policies and aren’t potentially bringing contaminated items into the workplace.
We expect most employers will be undertaking regular workstation assessments. Your staff may see this as an overbearing move, however it’s your responsibility to provide a safe workplace. Once you’ve done your initial workstation assessments, ensure your ‘clean desk policies’ are robust and regularly enforced. It may not be a popular decision, but it could prevent a COVID outbreak within your business!
Our team can assist you with any workplace assessments. We can also review your health and safety policies to ensure they’re ready for the safe return of your staff.
Alternative Working Arrangements For Social Distancing
By now, we’re all familiar with the “work from home if you can” mantra. However, it’s not just as simple as letting people work from home for many businesses. Many simply don’t have the facilities, capabilities or operational ability to allow staff to work from home. So what alternative working arrangements can they put into place to ensure social distancing?
UK businesses are putting creative solutions in place for these issues. The answer is to allow those who can to work from home but what about the rest of your workforce? Many businesses are implementing ‘shift’ style working, where half working a morning shift and the other half working the afternoon. However, to enable this your staff would need to agree to the change. You would also need to ensure a smooth transition period to reduce the number of staff present at the same time (06:30 – 12:00 and 12:30 – 18:00 for example).
Obviously, not every business works 9 to 5 anymore so what works for one business won’t work for another. There are very strict requirements that only affect your business. The alternative arrangements you can put in place will be unique to your capabilities. The first step is determining who your ‘essential’ office staff are. You then need to determine who can carry out their day to day tasks whilst not being present.
It’s not just as simple as giving everyone a laptop and telling them to work from home!
Ensuring You Have The Right PPE For Your Business
We’re all familiar with how to properly wash our hands by now. And we’re all becoming accustomed to wearing a face mask when we leave the house. But what PPE requirements will your business need to put in place on your return to full time operations?
Most businesses had hand sanitiser stations setup prior to lockdown. You’ll need to keep this in place. But what other PPE will you need to help reduce the risk of a workplace outbreak? Is it as simple as asking all staff to wear face masks and gloves when at their workstations?
In truth, the PPE requirements will be entirely unique for your business. They will depend on what your business does, how many staff are present, available workspace and proximity to customers as well as a number of other factors. You’ll likely need to conduct a robust risk assessment to break down exact what PPE requirements you’ll need to enforce.
Shielding For Vulnerable Members of Staff
Most businesses will have at least one employee who falls into one of the group defined as most vulnerable to COVID-19. That could be because of age or a current or previous medical condition. By correctly implementing social distancing in the workplace, you’ll also be taking the steps to protect those that need it the most when they need to return to office working.
The current guidance is that anyone who fulfils the ‘vulnerable’ criteria must isolate and work from home. However, the restrictions will be lifted at some point. Businesses must start considering how to re-introduce those staff members to the workplace.
By following social distancing guidelines and planning your office accordingly you can be sure you’re at least welcoming them back to a workplace setup to protect their health. However, you’ll need to do much more than just social distancing before you can fully re-integrate those members of staff. The steps and assessments you’ll need to take are dependent on their level of vulnerability and the potential risks in your office. This includes your workforce and possibly their commute. With COVID-19 showing no signs of leaving any time soon and a vaccine some months away, you’ll need to ensure your health and safety procedures and HR policies protect those staff members at most risk!
Navigating Your Shared Common Spaces
In order to incorporate social distancing, your workplace common areas are likely going to need a huge overhaul. After all, social distancing must be adhered to throughout the workplace. Wherever practical, social distancing will need to implemented throughout your entire business. This means larger companies may have bigger problems!
Just think about the shared common spaces in your business. We’re not just talking about staff break rooms, toilets and car parking facilities. Many UK businesses now offer onsite gyms and other facilities. These will all need monitoring for social distancing. You’ll also need to consider how you can control the foot traffic in your corridors, stairwells and elevators.
With so many potential shared common spaces in every business, it’s something you need to put serious thought into. Will you need to stagger departmental start/finish times to reduce footfall on the stairs at the start/end of the day? Will elevators become out of bounds? Should staff eat lunch at their desks and will smoking breaks finally become a thing of the past? Will you have to reduce car parking spaces that are available to staff? How can you keep control buttons on elevators, security pads and the common signing in pen clean and safe for use throughout the day? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you need to speak to a health and safety expert today!
Emergency Protocols & Procedures May Need Reviewing
Your business has emergency protocols and procedures in place for events such as a fire or a first aid emergency. However, how practical are these procedures when it comes to incorporating social distancing?
As businesses incorporate social distancing, emergency protocols and procedures will need amending to allow for social distancing. After all, we’ve all been involved in a fire drill and know that it’s practically impossible to ask staff to leave a burning building in an orderly and socially distanced manner!
On the same note, will your first aiders need training to deliver first aid in a socially distanced manner? Given how COVID-19 spreads, the standard methods of CPR may not be advisable anymore. Imagine saving someone’s life, only for them to end up in intensive care because they’ve contracted COVID-19.
There are no certainties with these areas right now and these things will likely require further legislation and guidance. However, you should review your emergency procedures and protocols to see what can be changed to practically incorporate social distancing. Your protocols and procedures will then need drilling into your staff to ensure they’re able to do what’s necessary should an emergency arise!
Other Changes That You May Need To Consider
Social distancing is going to be affecting UK businesses for some time and it will have a big initial impact. Especially if it becomes a legal requirement. We believe it’s important for businesses to get in front of this before it becomes an issue in later months.
But these aren’t the only considerations you should be making. There is lots to consider the ensure your workplace is a safe environment. This includes risk assessing a whole range of potential issues including:
external contractors that work in your premises commuter habits of your staff and how you can reduce the risk of commuting attendance monitoring systems (especially if you use a fingerprint/card swipe machine) risks posed by a workplace dress code (specifically dress codes that may result in people wearing the same garments such as suits on multiple days) as we approach the height of Summer, office temperatures soar. How can you regulate who opens/closes windows to protect your staff from infection whilst managing office temperatures correctly?
Obviously, these aren’t the only things that you need to take into consideration to successfully implement social distancing. As we’ve mentioned, the requirements of your business will be entirely unique to you.
If your unsure about any of the above or want to discuss how to successfully incorporate social distancing into your business, book an online consultation with one of our health and safety experts today by completing the contact form or call our team today on
08450 50 40 60 to find out more about how we can help you!