How To: Partition an Office Following COVID-19
The best way to stop COVID-19 spreading from person-to-person is to reduce the opportunities the virus has to infect us. Steps you can take include maintaining a safe social distance, wearing a mask over your mouth and nose when out in public, sanitising our hands regularly (or washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, wherever possible) and using protective measures such as PPE and Perspex screens in our offices, workplaces and public spaces.
Social distancing advice for the UK has been drawn up by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) based on the evidence of how the COVID-19 virus spreads: contact or ‘droplet’ transmission, airborne or ‘aerosol’ transmission and ‘fomite’ transmission.
Fomites are surfaces that have been contaminated by virus droplets from an infected person. This is why it’s very important to keep all surfaces in your office or workplace clean and sanitised regularly to help prevent the fomites transferring the virus from person to person by contact with a contaminated surface. Choosing office partitions made of materials like acrylic, Perspex or toughened safety glass is smart as these materials are easy to clean with an antibacterial wipe or bleach solution to keep your colleagues safe and your workplace surfaces hygienic and virus-free.
Respiratory droplets are expelled when an infectious person sneezes, coughs, shouts or sings. Unlike aerosols (which are much smaller) these cannot travel far or ‘hang’ in the air for long, which is why the UK HSE advises offices and other workplaces to ensure employees are kept at least 2m apart. Where this is not possible, they recommend using office screens and partitions to keep employees safely socially distanced and help prevent the transmission of virus droplets from person to person.
The first step in reworking your office into a safe and socially distanced work space is to answer three questions:
- What kind of office do you have? (eg. Open plan, cubicles)
- How do you usually work? (eg. Solo, in meetings, group working)
- Can you rotate your workforce? (eg. Have people working from home full time, or on different days to stagger who’s in the office on any given day).
- Work Spaces
If your office is already set up in work cubicles, congratulations! You’re already more than halfway towards creating a socially distanced workplace. However, most office cubicles are made from large fabric panels which might be useful for soundproofing busy spaces but are not ideal for creating a hygienic environment that’s easy to keep clean and sanitised. Consider investing in lightweight Perspex® screens which you can hang or pin on the fabric to create a wipe-clean area. Investing in mobile office dividers on wheels also means you can block off the open entrances to these cubicles to add an extra layer of protection for a busy work environment.
If your office is open plan, it’s time to organise some social distancing screens, and fast! Banks of desks might make for a friendly and sociable work environment but at the moment these areas are high-transmission environments for spreading Coronavirus between employees if one of them falls sick. Prevent this by installing a set of desk dividers made from either transparent acrylic or glass for wipe-clean, hygienic surfaces which prevent the transmission of respiratory droplets between staff but still allow them to communicate easily for smooth collaboration. These are available in a range of heights and widths to suit all desk spaces and sit or are fixed to the desk for a stable and secure partition.
- Work Methods
For industries where solo work is the norm, setting up a socially distanced office is relatively simple. Investing in glazed partitions (freestanding or on wheels) means you can easily set up mini ‘cubicles’ where people can work safely. These can easily be moved around your office as required to allow frequent adaptation as the rules around social distancing change.
Group working is more complicated, but it is still possible to set up safe, socially distanced spaces for group working. Investing in a series of linked screens means you can set up cross-shape formations allowing four people to work together and collaborate while remaining behind their individual partitions. Or why not link these together inline to divide up your office space into meeting ‘rooms’ where smaller groups can work 2m apart? Hanging screens can also be useful in these situations for creating an informal ‘meeting space’ or protecting staff in kitchen or canteen areas.
Managing a socially distanced workplace with a full quota of employees can be very complicated. One of the best ways to manage this situation is to divide your staff into ‘teams’ based on who they most frequently need to work alongside.
Once your teams are in place, staggering working days is a great way to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 within your office. Each ‘team’ gets their allotted days in the office, after which a thorough cleaning of the work space takes place before the next team arrives. Ensuring that you have wipe-clean measures (such as acrylic, Perspex® or glass office partitions or desk dividers) in place in the office protects individual members within each team and also means sanitising is easy at the end of every day.
If it’s not possible for any of your staff to work from home, then using linked office partitions, mobile divider screens, desk dividers and hanging panels in conjunction with one another to set up individual workspaces for each ‘team’ (and separate workers within the team, too) is a good idea. This way, your open-plan office can be divided into separate working areas, meaning if a member of one team develops COVID symptoms, the rest of the office is at a reduced risk of catching the virus.
Investing in meeting ‘pods’ to create individual working ‘offices’ is an excellent way to safeguard your office against a widespread outbreak of the virus. These floor-to-ceiling meeting pods can be quickly installed by a team of experts and can be set up with their own ventilation systems to help keep the air moving and discourage the build-up of coronavirus aerosols.
For personalised advice on setting up your office with proper social distancing protection, speak to our expert team on 01733 511030 or visit our Contact Us page for more ways to get in touch.