Social Distancing in the Office

How up-to-speed are you on the latest workstation trends? While innovative and designed with good intentions, you’ll quickly note that most recent trends don’t mesh particularly well with the social distancing guidelines necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past several years’, open concept floorplans were designed to encourage a friendlier and more vibrant workplace. Panel heights that were lowered to inspire collaboration will now increase the risk of germs spreading throughout your workplace. And then there’s shared workspaces! Hoteling stations grew in popularity due to the rise of remote work policies that leave some employees not needing a permanent seat in the office.

There are plenty of solutions to prepare your workplace for social distancing and any other reopening recommendations the CDC announces, such as “installing transparent shields or other physical barriers where possible to separate employees and visitors.”

Social distancing is simply a numbers game. The less exposure to others – the lower the risk of being exposed to COVID-19. Despite your policies and reminders, you can’t guarantee that a worker will be wearing a mask during an untimely sneeze, but you can ensure that they are behind a mobile partition or glass stack panel. According to the CDC, “the most effective controls are those that rely on engineering solutions.” It would be great to have the time to and money for a major furniture overhaul, but the reality of the matter is most don’t. Check out these suggestions on how to get your space ready for a safe return to work:

First, analyze your current floor plan and create a traffic flow that is social-distancing friendly, especially in high foot-traffic areas. Designate one-way walking paths that limit condensed foot traffic. You don’t need anything fancy to accomplish this goal – some good old-fashioned duct tape can do the trick. Institute guidelines for six-foot distancing that are clear, well-communicated, and understood by your team. Be certain to have plenty of social distancing signage around your workplace, as many states have mandated its use. Read more here about Social Distancing Signage.

Social Distancing Workstations

Now let’s talk furniture. Distancing can be solved with a number of short-term solutions. States like Massachusetts have suggested that “physical partitions must separate workstations that cannot be spaced out (partitions must be taller than a standing worker).” Quick-ship products like free-standing panels can be an economical way to separate employees, and also come in mobile options.

Also fabric, acrylic, and glass stacking screens can be mounted to many work surfaces, turning existing furniture into a socially-distanced setup. If you need a visual – watch this video. Allsteel Office provides an array of setups designed to provide inspiration for what you can achieve in your own office.

But don’t stop at just panels – at a time like this some out of the box thinking is required, especially when no two spaces are alike. One of our local furniture specialists shared, “We have worked with one large client to install 9’ Hospital Curtains in between each of their two-person workstation setups. Once the customer saw how easy they were to install we’re now looking at doing this for multiple projects, there are plenty of ways to get creative here.”

Collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams provide flexibility to work efficiently in a virtual office setting. Employees continuing to work from home should be provided with the necessary furniture items to aid in efficiency and productivity. Vari® offers phenomenal height-adjustable desk options, and Humanscale® has some tips on how to create an effective remote workspace.

As time passes and states continue their phased approach to reopening – what W.B. Mason learns from our people, partners, and customer base will be repackaged to make better suggestions and enhancements. Our Interiors team is available to find a solution to satisfy any manufacturer, any system, or any budget.

Sources

1. Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. “Safety Standards for Office Spaces” www.mass.gov/lists/safety-standards-for-office-spaces “SECTOR SPECIFIC WORKPLACE SPECIFIC SAFETY STANDARDS FOR OFFICE SPACES TO ADDRESS COVID-19” Mass.Gov, 18 May 2020, Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, www.mass.gov/doc/sector-specific-workplace-safety-standards-for-office-spaces-to-address-covid-19/download. Accessed 19 May 2020.

2. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “COVID-19 Employer Information for Office Buildings”, Center for Disease Control & Prevention, 27 May 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/office-buildings.html. Accessed 1 Jun 2020.