Managing a Socially Distanced Workplace

25 Mar 2021

With over 40% of the digitally exhausted global workforce intending to leave their jobs this year, workplace management today is getting less environment-centered, and more people-oriented. Businesses that are getting ready to restart operations by implementing social distancing in a workplace should carefully consider its impact on employee expectations. 

But what do employees want?

First, to feel safe - both when it comes to the stability of their position as well as physical safety. Then, they need to belong - to perceive themselves as a part of a big, integrated team again, after a full year of telecommuting. Lastly, they want clear communication, because poor and sporadic messaging from the side of the employer reinforces insecurities.

Using these safety, inclusion, and communication expectations as a starting point, HR and Facility managers can formulate an efficient management plan for socially distanced workplaces (that succeed to retain talent).

Safety: consider assigned seating

The first and foremost step in most of the social distancing strategies is rethinking the office space. But contrary to popular opinion that it should be completely re-designed, physical distance rules in shared offices can be accommodated with the help of assigned seating and capacity enforcement. If these policies are applied, remodeling is rarely needed (or is very minimal).

With assigned seating, each desk or other type of workstation has a designated employee and can be reserved only in advance. Combined with capacity limitations (for example, a 2 meters distance between workstations in use), it minimizes the risky interactions between co-workers and helps comply with the distancing requirements. In addition to that, requesting employees to notify about their presence in the office (by reserving the assigned desk), is a subtle invitation to share responsibility for workplace safety. After all, everyone, not only the management has a duty to maintain it.


Inclusion: pool tasks (transparently)

Today we talk about the hybrid work setup as an attractive arrangement that is preferred by employees because it gives a token of choice. However, the reason it actually raised to the spotlight so quickly is the ability to support social distancing rules. That’s why successful physical distance management in the office should be based on the best hybrid work practices.

One of them is pooling the tasks performed on-site. If a task can be done by more than one employee, rotate them so different colleagues can work on it on different days. This policy allows a gradual return to teamwork, one person at a time. 

To strengthen inclusion, managers should consider organizing activities like task pooling with an increased degree of visibility. The workplace technology is here to help: solutions for work planning allow employees to stay up-to-date with their colleague’s calendars and schedule their own time in the workplace. A set of options to choose from, their transparent presentation, and autonomy to decide is the formula that will help make employees feel they belong again.

Communication: build a contingency plan

Different from strategies on how to manage and mitigate things that already happened, a contingency plan is a proactive course of action that defines how the organization will respond to a disruptive future event. Instead of focusing on the already known, contingency plans push organizations to come up with multiple possible scenarios and different response solutions. 

Social distancing is no economic crisis or security breach but looking into the new two-meters-apart reality through the contingency approach can help organizations:

  • Identify weak points: what skills and tools are missing to tackle the possible scenarios?
  • Understand how best practices from other organizations could (or could not) be applied to their businesses.
  • In case of disruption, keep their communication sharp and up-to-date. 

Looking from the employee experience angle, the latter is the most important. A contingency plan empowers dialogue between employers and their workforce. Because everything is thought through, it helps create informative messaging and allows answering many “what-if” questions that arise in situations of uncertainty. Moreover, it is a validation that the company is ready to take every precaution to create a safe and properly distanced office environment. 


In the past year, YAROOMS has helped many companies to resume office operations and supported their social distancing strategies. If you are looking for ways to create safe, inclusive, and transparent workplace experiences, let’s talk.

Topics: Social distancing, Desk booking, Facility management, Human resources

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