Social Distancing in The Workplace: How To Ease Employee Fears About Returning to the Workplace During the COVID-19 Crisis

Welcome your employees, visitors and customers back to your workplace with these ideas to keep them safe.

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Returning to the workplace after stay-at-home orders can be a scary proposition for many workers. Whether they have been working from home, returning after furlough or starting work again after a layoff, the office and workplace can present challenges in this time of COVID-19. Here are some tips and ideas to not only make the workplace a safe place to return to, but a welcoming one.

Preparing your workplace for the new world of work

Make and Distribute “No Personal Contact” Rules

Prepare a return-to-work memo that outlines what is expected for interpersonal interactions. This could include:

  • No hugging or touching
  • Wearing of face masks when not at desk
  • No handshakes
  • No sharing of personal items such as glasses, chapstick, or sweaters and jackets

Give suggestions  for Office Item Sharing

Let employees know to limit sharing of items such as pens, staplers, etc. Move any “shared” items away and encourage employees to keep their own supplies at their workstation.

For shared work environments such as restaurants, gyms and salons, be sure to have spray sanitizer nearby for quick cleans in-between uses. Post a rule such as “put it down, clean it off” so every item is ready for the next person.

Eliminate Common Spaces

A best practice to keep everyone safe and comfortable during COVID is to temporarily remove common “gathering” areas. Some of these could include:

  • Closing breakrooms and encourage people to bring hot coffee and keep their lunches in a cooler near their desk or workspace
  • Removing access to common storage spaces such as locker rooms and closets temporarily
  • Closing off waiting rooms or other seating

Stagger Workspaces

Show your workers you care by giving them some space. Rearrange the office, gym, clinic or spa to make sure employees and potential visitors are 6 feet from each other whenever possible. For offices, rearrange desks to put more space between employees. If you have a workplace where visitors frequently enter and exit, clearly mark entrances and exits as two separate places.

Reduce the Number of People in the Workspace

A great way to reduce exposure and ease contamination fears is to simply let employees continue to work from home on certain days, or even rotate days off to include weekends for those who want to do so.

You should also consider having employees work in shifts to reduce exposure time to others. Some common shift times for offices could include:

  • 7-3: Shift 1
  • 8-4: Shift 2
  • 9-5: Shift 3
  • 10-6: Shift 4
  • 11-7 “Late Shift”

A great way to make this work is to have all employees set meetings for between 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. only. And speaking of meetings:

 Make Meetings Safer

  • Consider closing smaller meeting rooms and having employees meet in spaced circles in the common areas.
  • In addition, encourage Zoom and other virtual options.
  • Invest in rolling whiteboards for brainstorming sessions for open space meetings.

Enforce Cleaning Rules

The most important way you can make your employees and workplace visitors and customers feel safe is to provide them plenty of ways to sanitize and protect themselves. Here are some good options:

  • Many, many hand sanitizer stations dispersed throughout the workplace. More is better!
  • Post conspicuous “Cleaning Rules.”  Encourage everyone who enters to think of shared workplace items such as the copier, doorknobs, and pen-pads like gym equipment – “clean after use” every time. Make it clear that Everyone is responsible for cleaning and sanitizing, not just the administrative or reception / HR staff.
  • If available, provide individual hand sanitizers, disposable gloves, and masks to each employee.

Hopefully these ideas will help you feel more prepared to welcome your employees and visitors back to the workplace!

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