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How to implement social distancing at work? Six tips to do this fluently.

As the lockdown measures are becoming more flexible, many companies are preparing for a return of at least part of the workforce to the offices. Despite this, it is very probable that the social distancing measure will remain in effect for the coming months and the question is: How to organize and implement this in the right way?

To achieve an effective implementation, it is important that changes go beyond physical and facility measures. We as well need to to have attention for the difficulties and stress people might encounter by social distancing and reinforce the new behavior to turn it into habits.

The adaptation to the new working habits certainly will go faster and will be more effective if we apply neuroscience insights about the working of our brain.

In this article you can read six brain-based tips on how to introduce the new rules and how to achieve that people get used to it smoothly.

Your brain really experiences discomfort with social distancing.

We are creatures of habit and we have decorated our lives with routines. The way we get up, how we travel, how we interact, how we greet each other, having lunch together, how to conduct meetings, etc. When we return to the office and must maintain distance, we can no longer follow most of these daily work routines. We need to master our interactions in another way. The brain will initially regard this different way of working as unnatural and probably as uncomfortable. This can make people laugh, rebellious or some people might even deny the problem by rationalizing it away from themselves. It is important to be aware of these responses, accept that these are part of the change and not give it too much attention. 

We are social creatures

People are social creatures. We love to show our connection by touching, shaking hands, stand together at a close distance. For this reason, social distancing can have a negative effect on our wellbeing. Many people experience this a negative effect and as stressful. If our brain experiences stress, our entire body enters in a stress mode. If a company does not break this loop, the stress can only get worse. It is important to keep focus on ways of social interaction and maintaining close relationship that are still possible.

How to implement social distancing?

Facility measures are not enough

Many companies are working on facility measures that promote the rights working distance. Signage, large circles on the carpet, measures like disinfecting your hands upon entering, one staircase for going up, another staircase for going down and many other measures.

Only the existence of these measures and explaining them well is not enough to make people feel comfortable with it. Probably most people will still experience resistance because their brain has not yet adapted to the new situation. That is why you best base the introduction of these behavioral changes on knowledge of the functioning of the brain to decrease the discomfort and help people accept the new routine. 

How do you turn the new behavior into a routine?

1. Explain carefully what the measures are. There should belittle room for interpretation. Also indicate why certain choices were made.Clarity makes people feel safe.

2. Let people maintain autonomy. Let people think about how they will apply these guidelines. After explaining the measures, it is crucial that people start thinking about the consequences of the measures for their own behavior. For example, you ask the simple question: "What changes in behavior should you develop when applying these measures?"

3. Explain how behavioral change works. Behavioral change takes place based on the principles of neuroplasticity. That is the ability of the brain to restructure itself. In general, when people understand the principles of neuroplasticity, they can change their behavior faster.

4. Give everyone the possibility to follow their own pace.Maintain the opportunity to let people work from home at first. Be aware that one may deal with this virus laconically and the other may become anxious.Therefore, keep the possibility open that some people return to the office more slowly than others.

5. Provide a reward experience when people stick well to the rules. Make sure they feel satisfied about it. Because of this reward feeling, the brain makes clear decisions about the behavior in the future.

6. Provide alternatives for the physical social interaction.Research shows that touches, shaking hands and so on, can be replaced by virtual hugs and remote attention. The brain can experience this as sincere attention and comfort.

Facility measures are not enough

What to do if someone does not follow the guidelines?

You might find people who are still not willing to follow the guidelines. What could you do? Emphasize personal responsibility by indicating that this rule applies to everyone. Then ask what he / she can do to ad here to these guidelines. The "why question" is not interesting in this case. It is far more effective to ask the "how question" with an action-oriented verb. 

Finally

Responsibility and self-leadership are required of everyone.Participation and generating creative ideas are an important aspect of the new rules.  With the right leadership, there will be sufficient focus, social attention, and fun in a workplace, despite the social distancing.

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Marianne Slotboom

Marianne is a strategic partner and practical developer of human behavior that helps leaders, teams and organizations become more focused and effective, elevating their value to customers. In 2015, Marianne founded Yellow Training to answer the call for more inspirational and creative leadership in the modern workplace.

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