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Considerations for Socially Distancing in the Workplace

At PRS we’ve had many different conversations with suppliers, customers and professional bodies to explore and understand the impact on how work, workers and the workplace may change after COVID 19.

Workplaces and its people are different, so the solutions that are right for each company will vary. We are here to help you implement changes that are right for your business.

This article is a brief extract from a larger document and is aimed at guiding you through the changes you may consider to implement immediately and in the longer term. The full document can be obtained via the contact details on our profile or at the bottom of this post.

PHASED APPROACH

The return to work post COVID 19 is likely to be in phased – Each phase will require a different approach and consideration, but in each of them, the key consideration must be employee’s /customers safety and wellbeing. People will return to work having had very different experiences during these uncertain times and their physical and mental wellbeing will be important for them to feel safe and valued.

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL WELLBEING

Steps should be taken to ensure employees are able to physically work in an environment that minimises their exposure to pathogens that may cause illness.
By providing the right physical space employees will not feel fearful for their safety and therefore be more comfortable being in the office and able to focus on being productive.
Employees that feel their employer has looked after their physical and mental wellbeing will feel valued.
Similar principles apply if your workplace also needs to accommodate customers.

NOW – ADAPTATION

This is the stage where some people start returning to the office – but social distancing measures need to be introduced. Employers may utilise or repurpose existing spaces to facilitate social distancing, alongside measures such as barriers and new cleaning and safety measure.

NEAR – ADAPTION AND RECONFIGURATION

This is when most of the workforce return to the office – social distancing measures are still required but the workplace now needs to facilitate a higher number of employees, therefore reconfiguration of workstations and other work areas may need to be considered.

FUTURE – RETHINK

The way offices are used will change. Taking on board lessons learnt and advances in the use of technology and progress that have been made during a period of change. A focus away from costs of space per employee to that of productivity, health and wellbeing of employees. Home working is likely to increase.
Many aspects of the open plan office that has become so popular are those that will now pose the biggest concern for many companies.

Both the adaption and reconfiguration stages will rely heavily upon:

• Create a space that gives employees 2 meters distance from each other
• Using space dividers and signage to reinforce social distancing
• Facilitating cleaning and sanitising products throughout the workplace

ADAPTATION

Here are some of our top consideration for adapting the workspace:

1. Alternate desk occupancy to create a 2-metre gap between employees: On double back to back benches ensure the opposite desk is not occupied – Similar to a check board pattern.
2. Remove spare chairs and IT equipment from desks that should not be used - This will act as a reminder that the desks should not be occupied.
3. Separate desks or add screens or storage between desk. Using transparent dividers on desks allows employees to see and communicate with one another – This also aids light transfer, creating a brighter workspace.
4. Remove soft seating and collaboration furniture - These attract a lot of transient users and should be avoided. Some type of seating also encourages users to sit within close proximity of one another.
5. Assign single occupancy use to a workstation - If hot desk or collaboration areas need to be used to facilitate social distancing, sanitisation pre and post-work should become the standard practice.
6. Provide sanitisation products that are easily accessible - Consider hands free dispensers and ensure they are easily accessible to all. Install signage to reinforce the message.
7. Move meetings to open spaces - Socially distancing is easier in open spaces, these can be facilitated with mobile whiteboards and media units. Consider stand up meetings or removing meeting room tables to encourage meetings to be brief.
8. Provide personal storage at each desk to facilitate a clean desk policy and easy cleaning - High storage on each desk can also act as a barrier between workstations.

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REDESIGN

Redesigning of the workspace to be fit for your wider business needs and accommodating safe working practices requires a lot of consideration and the approach should be unique to the workplace, but here are a couple of consideration:

1. Choose surfaces that are smooth and easy to clean and can withstand regular cleaning. Choose fabrics that can be washed or wiped down. Consider anti-microbial fabrics.
2. Install flexible furniture that can easily be reconfigured and moved to allow users to distance themselves when required but can also be reused when social distancing is less of a concern.
3. To allow social distancing use single seat sofas instead of multi occupancy sofas, single seater chairs rather than benched seating, open desking rather than enclosed meeting booths. Consider adding screens between different user zones.
4. Provide people with a dedicated workspace, if they feel uncomfortable sharing with others.

For a more detailed document, specific product details or specific help with your workplace please contact Ellen Draper on 01296 664100 or mailto:hello@prs-officefurniture.com

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