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Social Distancing at Work

Over the past few months, we have all become familiar with the concept of physical distancing. For many of us it has become second nature to give other people a wide berth, keeping at least 2 metres away whenever possible.

With many businesses reopening and employees being recalled to work, there’s now the added challenge of enforcing physical distancing in the workplace. If employees return to work, leaders must ensure physical distancing is maintained as part of their WorkSafe BC mandated COVID-19 Safety Plan. But keeping staff physically separated from each other and customers while collaborating smoothly as a team is tough. After all, it’s hard enough to stay 2 metres apart in public, never mind in an enclosed workplace!

So, what should employers know to implement effective physical distancing protocols in the workplace? Here are some best practices to keep in mind.

Resume operations gradually. Fewer people in a space=more room to physically distance! Consider a “soft opening” to test out physical distancing protocols. If staff can continue to work from home effectively, encourage them to do so, and provide the supports to make it easy. Though many staff can’t perform all of their job duties from home, most jobs have aspects that can be done remotely. Reduce the number of employees in the workplace by staggering schedules and having staff work from home some of the time, perhaps only coming into the workplace when truly necessary. This also gives you time to adjust your procedures if you realize something isn’t working before everyone is back full-time.

Minimize arrival and departure contact. Stagger workday start and end times so that employees are coming and going at different times. Where possible, ensure arriving and departing employees enter through one door and exit through another to eliminate potential bottlenecks and prevent accidental close contacts.

Increase empty space. Plan a revised office seating chart, shuffle tables, move workstations, and create more empty space between desks.  You might want to strategically place big plants or other dividers between stations or to force people to walk in a particular flow.

Close common rooms. While kitchens are a great place to eat and gather, it’s also hard to maintain physical distance and eliminate surface contact. Remove common utensils, coffee makers, chairs, and tables as a visual reminder that common spaces are temporarily off-limits.

Use visual cues. Posters can be a helpful visual cue to ensure people remember to keep 2 metres away from colleagues, customers, and clients. If you’re not a graphic design whiz, WorkSafe has printable templates available. In addition to posters, introduce floor markings to indicate where people should stand, so that people have consistent reminders of what 2 metres looks like.

Limit in-person meetings. Reduce activities that require close physical proximity, like weekly team meetings. Choose instead to continue to hold these via video conferencing or hold them in a bigger space and in smaller groups to maintain the required space for physical distancing.

Remind customers, too. It’s not just other staff that need reminders to help them maintain physical distance. If you have customers or clients coming in to your workplace, ensure there are visual cues and protocols in place to remind customers, clients and other visitors to the workplace as well.

It won’t be perfect. Even when we’re all doing our best, there are times when you just can’t stay 2 metres away from another person. When that happens, keep it quick! Limit closer contacts to the shortest time possible.

Your Engaged HR Assignment:

If you have employees back at work, take time today to review the list above and make sure you’re ticking all the right boxes! After that, schedule a few minutes in your calendar at least weekly to revisit and fine tune your physical distancing protocols.

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