Re-Opening Six Feet Apart
We are just over halfway through 2020 and it has been a bizarre year already to put it mildly. Could a majority of Americans imagine working from home, or worse, being furloughed or laid off in the midst of a pandemic? None of this was part of anyone’s plans.
Yet, as we stumble slowly into the second half of 2020, more companies are trying to get back into the office. The question is “How can we do it safely?”
Your office layout and what furniture you have in your office will be one of the biggest contributing factor in how you can make a safer workspace. If you have a couple private offices and maybe a small conference room and break room, wear a mask and wash your hands regularly; you should not have to change your layout or add any barriers. But what if you have desk clumps? Or workspaces in open air? Or cubicles that have low walls? What can you do to ease your employee’s minds and keep them safe?
Desk clumps can be solved with relative ease. You may only need to rearrange your space. Look at your layout, what can you move around to keep your workers the CDC recommended six feet apart. Or you feel the urge to go the extra mile, maybe you can add acrylic screens to the ends.
Open Workstations / Benching
Workstations present a bigger challenge. Generally, workstations are rigid in the way they are built. The solution of rearranging and pushing them up against the wall will not be a quick fix for workstations. Some acrylic and glass companies have been experimenting with making faux walls that extend past the depth a of the work surface a couple feet and go down to the ground - converting the workstations into a mock phone booth. Unfortunately, solutions like these are only in the developmental stage and may not be ready with a quick turnaround. As mentioned above in the ‘Desk Clumps’ section, you may think of adding glass or acrylic screens where applicable to separate employees from each other. One option may be rotating shifts of in the office and work from home. For example, Group A will come in MWF and Group B TR. Then the next week Group A will be TR and Group B will be MWF and so on. This will limit the amount of people in close quarters and prevent spread.
Another type of furniture you may have in your office space are cubicles. Cubicles have evolved a lot in the last twenty years. Rather than six feet high dull gray fabric walls that you would see on the silver screen in films like Office Space, cubicles can now be shorter for more collaboration and communication and filled with color that add depth and excitement to a workspace. This now may be a thing of the past. With lower walls, your employees may be less than comfortable coming back to the office. Depending on the cubicle system you have, adding height and separation can be a fast and afforable fix. Most cubicles can have glass or acrylic screens mounted with brackets to the top that will create separation between employees.
Herman Miller EthoSpace in particular (Pictured to the right), is the Lego block of cubicles, so to speak. Glass and fabric frames can be added to the EthoSpace structure to add height or extend length with ease. All these options can require some form of professional consultation.
Another option is a rearranging the layout of your cubicles to maximize social distance. This too will require planning and consultation with a professional.
Other ways an employer can limit the spread of COVID is by limiting, or removing, communal amenities. Such amenities may include the following:
- Coffee machines
- Water coolers
If these items are a necessity, offer means of employees to sanitize the items after use. Other places that should be sanitized regularly are high touch locations such as door handles, bathroom areas, sinks, and elevator keypads.
Your employees’ health and peace of mind should be your number one priority when you consider moving them back into the office. Do not rush them. Allow them to ease back into their old routine. The process will require fluidity and understanding that the situation is new to all of us.