Social Distancing - the new normal

We are social animals and we generally enjoy the company of other people. So the concept of social distancing is a huge adjustment. And social isolation and shielding has been a shock to our normal way of life. But the virulence of COVID- 19 will continue to alter the way we live and work – until we find an effective vaccine.

As the lockdown restrictions begin to be eased and when we finally come of out isolation, we will still need to maintain a physical distance between ourselves and other people.  We will still have to avoid handshakes and hugs, as well as getting too close to other people in the workplace, shops, public places and on public transport.

The return to the office

Working life may never be the same again. Sanitising stations throughout the office will be used extensively, particularly at entry points, reception areas, stairs, escalators and lifts. We’re going to think twice about things we never used to notice. Things such as using a touchscreen or keypad for office access; lift buttons; stair rails;  internal doors (except fire doors) that can’t be pushed open without touching will need to be left open to avoid potential germs on door handles.  

Office layout

Office layouts will need to be reconfigured, with workstations spread out to maintain a two metre distance.  We will similarly have to consider how we access shared resources such as printers and their location in the office. 

It’s not just a question of moving desks to maintain distance. Computers and networks will also need to be moved.  If you spread the team members out across your office, you will need to consider changes to your structured cabling to serve new desk locations. These elements should be planned properly from the start to minimise costs and downtime.

Meeting room layouts will also have to be changed and you may need to alter the cabling for these rooms. You may want to repurpose some meeting rooms into single offices to shield some members of staff. 

Marking tape may can be used to indicate social distances. For example at coffee stations, canteens or kitchens. We may even have to consider going back to the pod-style office layouts that we had in the 1980s and 90s to provide effective barriers for staff. 

And for those situations where workstations can’t be set apart, we will need to think about protective equipment being provided. Are we going to see people wearing masks in the office? And how will people wearing masks use the phone? Will offices have to have separate disposal bins for PPE? There’s a lot to think about.

Office hours will need to be adapted to avoid a surge of people arriving and leaving at the same times, as well as enabling them to avoid rush hours on public transport. More people may want to drive to work  – in which case you may have to think about parking. Split shifts will become more usual and break times will need to be organised to minimise traffic flow. Anticipating the pinch points will be a logistical challenge.

The future of meetings

During lockdown, we’ve got used to video meetings and these are likely to continue for some time. Going forward, we will always consider whether a face-to-face meeting can be justified. We’ll save a lot of travel time and it will be better for the environment if we continue to use video conferencing tools.

But the aspect of face-to-face communications that will suffer in the new era of social distancing is the office informal or ‘water-cooler’ chat (and better make sure that the water cooler doesn’t provide a traffic bottleneck and that there’s sanitiser next to it!). Colleagues often interact best and exchange ideas in ad hoc chats and these will be more difficult with a dispersed team. Group huddles will be a thing of the past, except online.

Our working and personal lives have changed so much in the last few months in ways that no-one could have anticipated at the start of 2020. It’s important that we make sure that as the lockdown rules are relaxed, we can adapt to the new norm of working  – and make it function as well as possible for our businesses.

For advice on IT considerations for your business after the lockdown, contact us.

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