As America prepares for reopening offices after a period of shelter-in-place restrictions, many are wondering what to do for workplace safety. Some employees may be able to work from home, but for most companies, the point of having an office building is to bring employees together for collaboration. Many modern workplaces have embraced the “open ballroom” style, where employees work directly adjacent and in front of each other. Unfortunately, employees in these types of office layouts will be the most vulnerable to health concerns like the coronavirus. Many shared office spaces, such as cafeterias and lobbies, are also areas of concern. If your business relies on having employees in the workplace or you’ve simply found it’s where they’re most productive, then you may be looking for solutions that bring them back to work and help to keep them healthy.
Why Is Social Distancing at Work So Essential?
If you want to get employees back in the workplace, it’s vital to prioritize their safety and minimize the risk of spreading coronavirus. COVID-19 spreads just as easily as colds and flu, and it can be asymptomatic. That means people can carry and spread the coronavirus without showing any symptoms at all. Information about the virus and its pattern of infection is still being uncovered. The results from the few studies that have so far been completed suggest that the proportion of asymptomatic cases may be anywhere from 25% to 50%, or even higher. Asymptomatic people don’t get sick and they appear to be perfectly healthy, but they are infectious and can transmit the virus to others who may be more vulnerable to serious illness.
As someone who manages or works in an office setting, you’ve likely seen first-hand how quickly and easily illness can spread. Social distancing is very difficult in a traditional office. People are in constant contact with each other: They sit in close proximity, sometimes even at the same table’ meet in groups in conference rooms; eat lunch together; and take breaks at the same time. When even one person is sick at work with a cold or the flu, it’s often only a matter of days before others become sick as well.
Because it’s so easy to transmit the virus without showing signs of infection, it’s vital employees have the ability to practice social distancing at work. For most employers, this will mean making changes to the workplace. The kinds of changes you’ll need to make will largely depend on:
- The workplace environment
- The kind of work employees are doing
- How many employees you have
Corporate Solutions for Keeping Employees and Clients Safe
Social distancing is likely to remain an important part of keeping the coronavirus pandemic under control, even after people start returning to work. No matter how the situation plays out, it will still be important for everyone to do what they can to mitigate the spread of the virus. That’s especially true at work, where people spend the majority of their time and where they spend it close to others.
Many businesses will have to make changes of one kind or another in order to have people return to work safely. Fortunately, there are many options for permanent or temporary partitions and structures that can help reduce the risk of coronavirus and other illness transmission at work.
Modern partition systems have smooth, solid surfaces that are:
- Highly customizable
- Easy to disinfect
- Easy to assemble rapidly
Partitions can be designed with clear Plexiglass or with architecturally pleasing materials, such as 3form. Graphic prints can be designed to adorn the structures and fit in with existing office design elements. Solutions can range from temporary, inexpensive, standard designs to permanent, showstopping environments.
Workplace Partitions and Cubes
Partitions and modern cubicles can make it easier for people to stay relatively isolated in a crowded office or workroom.
Some options include:
- Hybrid solutions where custom partitions can be designed to fit around existing desk workstations – Panels can be designed to allow natural light or add corporate branding colors.
- Full cubicles or temporary rooms, with four walls and a door – This option takes up the most space but provides the advantage of separation by walls on all sides. It also has the advantage of providing complete privacy.
- Cubicles may be the best option for most workspaces – They are highly customizable and can provide separation without overcrowding the space.
- Fixed or moveable partitions are the simplest solution but may not be suitable for all purposes.
These partition structures are useful for a number of reasons. Most importantly, they provide each employee with their own defined workspace, which helps them maintain dedicated physical separation between themselves and their co-workers. This may be a major adjustment for workplaces that have relied on hot-desking, or the practice of sharing workstations among multiple workers. But it’s an important change to implement and recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Sharing space and items can be considered a significant transmission risk. Another advantage is that adding cubicles or partitions helps ensure that an unguarded sneeze or cough doesn’t put others at risk.
Many employees will understandably feel anxious about returning to work, even after the worst of the pandemic is over. Because of this, adding permanent or temporary structures is important for a third reason: Not only can they help protect your employees, they may also allay their fears. By aiding your employees in social distancing on the job, you’ll reassure them that they can keep themselves and their families safe even after they return to work.
Most workplaces have a break room, kitchen, or cafeteria. In many cases, this room is too small to comfortably allow cubicles or partitions, so consider asking employees to eat at their desks or stagger their break times, so they’re not forced into close proximity all at once.
If your workplace is large enough to have a cafeteria, this room will definitely benefit from the addition of fixed or moveable partitions. These can be made to flow with the design of the room, so people still feel comfortable and relaxed while they eat their meals.
Depending on the nature of your business, you may need to make accommodations for customers and clients, as well as employees. If your workplace has any kind of customer waiting room, you may want to make some changes here. People are likely to be wary even as life returns to a more normal state and will continue to be concerned about the risk of coming into contact with a contagious person. They’ll feel more comfortable doing business with you if they can see that you’ve made their safety a priority.
In waiting areas, partitions and cubicles can be used to separate a larger room into several smaller areas. This means that multiple people can safely wait in the same room, while still keeping their distance from others. Many people will feel uneasy at any sign of illness from someone in the same room and will appreciate the addition of a partition that shields them from the spray that a cough or sneeze creates.
Temporary Rooms or Structures
Adding partitions or cubicles to an existing space won’t be the right solution for every situation. In some cases, you may need to go a step further. For instance, many large companies may decide to perform regular medical screening, including coronavirus testing, to make sure their employees are free from the virus. For companies that want to get people back to work as quickly as possible, providing frequent tests or medical screening may help ensure there’s no risk of inadvertently spreading the virus among the workforce.
There are a couple of options to meet this need:
- A tented outdoor room, which can be configured with partitions and cubicles to provide spaces for COVID-19 testing and medical exams
- A customized container, which can be delivered and outfitted to provide testing or exam facilities. These structures also provide secure storage and are fully weather-proof for outdoor environments. They can even include solar collectors or generators.
Choosing one of these options means you’re able to screen employees before they actually get inside the workplace. They can also work as screening and isolation spaces for an employee who starts to feel ill while at work. These temporary facilities can provide enough room to screen employees for the virus and even perform basic medical exams. This way, you can make sure that anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19, or who tests positive for the virus, is sent home before they have the chance to potentially infect anyone else at work.
Simple Additions Help You Care for Your Employees—and Your Business
As with most events in history, the long-term effects of the novel coronavirus will only be truly known when it’s behind us. But many business owners have already realized that changes must be made in order to stay open. If you need to make temporary or permanent adjustments to your workplace to allow employees to work safely, ProExhibits has the experience to help you make it happen. Contact one of our experts at 877-606-6150 to talk about how we can make your workplace safe and secure.