What is social distancing in the workplace?

Social distancing in the workplace is a government-mandated protocol designed to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in office settings. Social distancing in the workplace requires keeping at least six feet/two meters apart. In the U.K. if maintaining a two-meter distance is impossible, employees can remain one meter apart with additional precautions.  

Why should HR leaders care about social distancing in the workplace?Governments throughout the world have instituted social distancing in the workplace to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 from person to person. HR leaders can lead by example to enforce social distancing regulations, thereby helping prevent employees from contracting the virus. 

What can HR leaders do to successfully implement social distancing in the workplace?

Social distancing in the workplace presents a new set of challenges to overcome. HR leaders should integrate social distancing practices while showing empathy and understanding towards employees as they adapt to these unprecedented workplace rules. To effectively incorporate social distancing, HR leaders can:

  • Prepare employees in advance. In the U.S. and England (see here for area-specific U.K. regulations), workplace rules mandate that employees should remain home if sick, work from home if they can, and stay six feet/two meters apart from other employees when working in the office. Before employees come back to work, brief them on the rules so they’ll be ready for the new workstyle. 
  • Prepare the work setting. Redesign the office layout to ensure employees’ workstations are a sufficient distance apart. Display infographic posters to remind employees to maintain physical distance, follow appropriate food-prep kitchen etiquette, and adhere to the office eating rules. Add plexiglass dividers in large common areas so people can maintain separation. 
  • Stagger schedules. To reduce interactions between personnel, schedule many breaks throughout the day for small groups of people. Encourage those who can work from home to continue to do so. When remote employees need to come into the office, stagger their in-house schedules.    
  • Hold meetings online. Even when employees working in the same building need to schedule a meeting, request that they hold it through an online video conferencing platform.
  • Maintain empathy. While enforcing social distancing, it’s crucial to maintain mental and emotional health in the workplace. HR leaders can nurture employee wellbeing by showing transparency in their social distancing rules and listening to employee feedback regarding the new framework. Showing empathy to employees as they adapt to the changes will help preserve community and interpersonal relationships– human connections that everyone needs.

How does social distancing in the workplace affect company culture?

The way companies respond to the COVID-19 workplace changes reflects their values and culture. A company that successfully adapts to the new demands reveals flexibility and internal strength. Through integrating the social distancing guidelines with proper preparation and poise, HR leaders can support employees as they rebuild a nurturing and resilient company culture.