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7 Social Distancing Tips for Employers and Employees

Toby Graham /

Remember handshakes? In retrospect, they seem pretty weird—even a little gross.

Well, it’s a deal. I guess this person and I should touch our hand skin together now. I hope neither of us is too sweaty. Oh hey, now they’re crushing my fingers. Cool. I wonder when they last washed their hands… Oh well!

Yeah, honestly, I wouldn’t be too upset if the handshake never came back. Hugs, however—those I would miss. As I would high-fives, group outings, maskless conversations in public, not worrying about staying at least 6 feet away from others at all times…

Sigh. 

We’ve given up a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic. And as the world gradually returns to work, we have to stay vigilant and continue making sacrifices and compromises. The virus remains as deadly as ever, testing and contact tracing efforts are slow-going, and there’s no perfect treatment or vaccine yet. That means we’ll need to wash our hands frequently, wear masks and other personal protective equipment, and—yes—practice social distancing for the foreseeable future.

Here are 7 tips for ensuring social distancing and preventing the spread of COVID-19 at your organization:

1. Redesign Workspaces

Humans are creatures of habit. During several recent on-site consultations with businesses reopening their physical facilities, we’ve witnessed employees congregating and chatting—because that’s what they’re used to doing. This behavior is understandable but highly dangerous.

As an employer, you need to help workers break old habits and develop new ones. You can do that through a mix of administrative controls (changes in policy) and engineering controls (changes to the physical environment).

Think about how, where, and when your people work. Do they really need to be crammed together in small spaces? Does every employee need to work on-site? Do they all need to enter and leave work at the same time?

Whenever possible, keep people at a distance from each other. Limit the number of people in the workplace at any given time. You may need to erect dividers between workstations, stagger employees’ schedules, extend remote work arrangements, or all of the above.

2. Break Up the Break Room

Any area in which people gather is a potential breeding ground for COVID-19. Be sure to close or restrict access to communal spaces such as break rooms, mailrooms, kitchens, cafeterias, game rooms, and gyms.

If these spaces are essential for your business, limit the number of people who are allowed in at any time. You can deter employees from entering or lingering by removing chairs and posting signage outlining social distancing rules. Furniture, countertops, door handles, and other shared items and surfaces should be cleaned and sanitized regularly.

Depending on the size of your workforce, you may need to divide employees into separate groups for lunches and breaks. For instance, Group A would eat lunch in the cafeteria (sitting at least 6 feet apart from one another) while Group B eats lunch in their cars; the groups would alternate every day, or every week or two.

3. Lock Down Locker Rooms

Given their confined design and the large number of shared surfaces, locker rooms can be especially problematic in terms of COVID-19 transmission.

If your employees need to use locker rooms, it’s essential that you limit the number of people inside. Only allow as many workers in as can move around comfortably 6 feet apart. It may have to be only a few people at a time.

Remember that locker rooms will need to be disinfected frequently. Ensure areas are well-ventilated. You may need to modify shifts to give people enough time to both use and clean these spaces. Again, staggering schedules can help.

4. Rethink Restrooms

If you haven’t already instituted single-occupancy bathrooms, now is the time to think about doing it. Otherwise, you’ll need to reduce capacity, perhaps by halving the number of stalls and urinals and only allowing a certain number of employees in at once.

As with all shared spaces, restrooms should be disinfected multiple times per day, on schedule. You will need to determine how to ensure proper sanitation while keeping restrooms generally available for employees. Unfortunately, convenient as they sound, “fogging” solutions may not be effective.

5. Reconsider the Meaning of a “Conference”

In-person group meetings should be avoided if at all possible. Conduct conference calls or online meetings instead. Perhaps not all people within a team or department need to be physically present for every meeting—or even need to attend every meeting. After all, most meetings are pointless.

If physical meetings are absolutely necessary, restrict the number of attendees, seat people at least 6 feet away from each other, and ensure everyone is wearing a mask. As with break rooms and cafeterias, you may want to remove chairs from conference rooms to discourage lingering and large gatherings. Conference rooms should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized often. (Noticing a pattern here?)

6. Minimize Visitors and Expedite Visits

If customers, clients, vendors, or others regularly visit your facilities, think about whether those people really need to make the trek—and if they do, whether they need to come inside.

The ideal option would be to conduct all business remotely. If that’s not possible, use drop-off. Sell online and inform customers when items are ready to be picked up curbside. Have people leave items that need to be repaired or serviced outside of your facilities.

If people truly need to come inside, ensure their visits are as fast as possible, with minimal physical interactions. Limit the number of people allowed inside. Put up partitions at point-of-sale areas. Collect payments digitally and waive signatures.

You can help visitors stay safe by providing handwashing stations, disinfecting wipes, and disposable gloves and masks.

All visitors should be aware of physical distancing and safety measures. Communicate and enforce the rules through signs and administrative controls such as floor tape.

7. Go Virtual Whenever Possible

Finally, keep in mind that remote work remains the best option for limiting the spread of infection at your workplace. Anyone who can do their job from home should continue working from home. Keep using those instant messaging, videoconferencing, and other telecommunication solutions.

This is just a brief overview of the procedures employers need to institute to keep their workers and customers safe. To help you adjust as smoothly, quickly, and efficiently as possible, KPA has developed a comprehensive Return to Work Safely program.

Learn more and get started here.

For more free COVID-19 information and guidance, check out our Coronavirus Resource Center.

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