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Blog - Social Distancing in our workplaces; finding the right route

Social Distancing in our workplaces; finding the right route

Posted by Cheryl Burgoyne 22/05/20


Social Distancing at Work


 


 


 


 


As we wait to see how lockdown restrictions may be relaxed, it’s got me thinking about how this could shape workplace behaviour.

Yesterday, I did my weekly shop and it was noticeable that the way the 2m rule is viewed has changed since lockdown started. Outside the store customers are strictly adhering to the marked-out lines and waiting patiently for consent to enter the stores. Inside, however, there are some stark differences in applying the rules regarding spacing and how others are reacting to infringement into their new area of comfort. I was aware of my own behaviour in that I had to place my hands in front of me to tell someone they were “coming too close”. The lady involved apologised, but another lady who was nearby stated “this is ridiculous, she’s still a few feet away from you.”  This begs the question, who is right?

As we endeavour to find a pathway back to working in offices, consideration needs to be given to how we work with differing personal preferences in the workplace. The virus pandemic is unprecedented and the new workplace code of conduct will be too, and organisations will need to future-proof themselves. If not, then they open themselves up to employee engagement scores dropping and potential legal challenges.

I’m hearing that the next steps are focused on ‘Recovery’ and moving to a new normal, but that “normal” is likely to be a constant, evolving notion and people are going to need help navigating the changes.

As businesses adopt ‘Recovery Operating Procedures’, more consideration needs to be given to what happens when there are breakdowns in these processes and to support staff and managers to deal with them.

How does everyone make choices that:
• uphold appropriate workplace behaviours
• show respect in the way they object
• demonstrate the organisation’s values

I read on social media, some ‘common sense should be applied’ in how we engage with each other in the future.  The challenge with this is that we all have our own criteria of what constitutes common sense!  I have a colleague who said, “I’m actually scared of leaving the house to go back to work…”

How will businesses address these real issues and provide support?

Providing employees with processes on how to deal with these challenges often tend to be more like instructions. What they often don’t deal with are the emotions that go alongside. Addressing and providing support and guidance for both the symptoms and causes will enable workplaces to become places with open dialogue to help adapt to this new reality.

Providing employees with the necessary skills, knowledge and behaviour will help meet not only the needs of continued homeworking, but also consideration on how to deal with physical infringement and nervousness and cases of refusal to return to work in the face of a potential second wave of infection.

Whilst we await further information on whether we have immunity once we’ve recovered from the virus, how do we deal with inappropriate comments or ‘banter’ towards those employees that wish to continue to wear face masks and/or gloves?

I know, in my house, the ‘hotspot’ is the kitchen – having five adults in one house means this is the most visited room. Considering workplace hotspots and having clear guidelines on how they are used will be critical. Consider a work area with 50 employees who use the kettle/water dispenser and handle cutlery. We can process the regularity of cleaning/disinfecting the area, but what if someone takes two forks and puts one back – what might be appropriate ways of verbalising my objection? And, how do we deal with repeated breaches of behaviour? I also am often in an office which is very tactile. At times, I find this unnerving and struggle to ‘fit in’ whilst also wanting ‘to be a part of the team’. Currently, colleagues are communicating how much they want to hug each other when they meet face to face – how do I manage this sudden repeated encroachment into my personal space?

Over the last six weeks my traditional levels of personal space have felt threatened in light of ‘social distancing’ and I know I will need time along with clear guidance and support to enable me to feel comfortable in the workplace.

Not surprisingly, the road to recovery will be based around getting the basics right and finding our feet in these uncertain times whilst applying processes to adapt to the future workplace culture.

We will be running a series of webinars on managing the challenges of social distancing in the workplace – register here to attend for some practical guidance on the transition back to the workplace 

And for more Information on how we can help you open up discussions with your teams around behaviour in the workplaceemail or contact us on 01903 732 782.

Cheryl Burgoyne
Cheryl Burgoyne

Cheryl is very experienced in designing and delivering Trainer/Facilitator development and ensuring that the right people, with the right mindset and skills, can deliver learning locally. She understands that this adds a level of credibility to the learning and can support efforts to achieve this.

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