Social distancing is changing our built environments and how we interact with them. Places we used to frequent like grocery stores, malls, and offices must consider how to implement social distancing requirements. It is true that our collective visits to these storefronts are decreasing as our use of online services increases, but brick and mortar stores and workplaces are far from defunct. It has been inspiring to see new forms of patronizing and gathering as concert halls, theaters, and stores find innovative ways to keep their patrons safe. These commercial spaces have a responsibility to their customers to maintain social distancing requirements and do their best to enforce them. How is it possible to keep revenues up, keep customers happy, and navigate tough economic conditions while implementing social distancing? There are many answers that vary by industry. I have included some universal answers in this post that have been implemented and will continue to be considered as businesses open new buildings or renovate current ones.
Reduce Decision Making
For many of our daily errands, we tend to enjoy a quick, easy experience. We do not wish to navigate big crowds or wait in line for too long. There are only certain areas or stores where we might want to dilly dally and browse around for a good deal. This was true even before 2020. Whether we know it or not, we have always been guided and drawn into offices, restaurants, and stores by wayfinding signage, furniture layouts, colors, lighting, and other directional signals. These are tools of the trade used by architects and interior designers to guide employees and customers to the places where they want them to go. For example, the flooring may have a directional pattern that subtly shows you how to navigate the space. The lighting may feature a big sale or promotional item that you may not have noticed without special lighting. These are all components of the built environment that reduce the consumer’s need to make a decision about which way to turn, how fast to walk, how secure they feel, etc.
The same approach should be taken for social distancing measures. A customer or employee should be able to focus on the task at hand (grocery shopping, getting a check cashed, buying a sandwich, etc.) without being unsure or concerned about how the business is handling social distancing. Many businesses have placed arrows in aisles as well as places to stand in line that give customers quick and sometimes colorful visual aids that do not require a lot of brain power to understand. This eases the demand on consumer’s brains that may already be maxed out after watching the news this morning or taking care of a sick family member or wondering about their employment status.
Appreciate & Support the Social Distancers
Some signs can be blunt and not very exciting which is fine, but you may find ways to appreciate customers for abiding by social distancing requirements. It could be a simple “thank you for helping us keep each other safe” as you pass by them or maybe a sign at the exit that thanks them for their patronage and joining your business in the effort to flatten the curve. A sense of belonging and being a part of something bigger than themselves is a very effective way to give customers a great experience.
For employees and customers, provide easy access to hand sanitizer and/or a hand washing area. The more convenient these are to find and use, the more they will actually get used. Some people still do not have masks on hand, so you may consider having masks available or for purchase. If all employees and customers are wearing masks, it may be easier for someone who hates masks to decide to wear theirs. There may also be ways to support small businesses in these efforts. Many distilleries have pivoted to making hand sanitizer and many creative companies have started making masks. Can you give your customers the opportunity to support a local, small business while also helping them stay healthy? Sounds like a win, win.
Maintain Personal Connection
In-person, social connection has reduced in all of our lives. This can take a toll on our mental health and general sense of connection with the rest of the world. Many companies have found innovative ways to maintain personal connection, just at a distance. Web conferencing services have exploded in use lately and are great ways to see the faces, expressions, and hand gestures of family, friends, and coworkers. They offer a version of personal connection that is 100% socially distanced. Employers should find new ways to connect with their employees and keep up morale and productivity. There are many resources for these strategies online and in business forums.
For the workplaces that require physical presence, encourage your employees to practice social distancing and other safe practices constantly to protect their health but to also be a visual reminder to customers. Employees spend so much time together, they often get comfortable and trust each other enough to not social distance or not wear masks. I understand this feeling, but it is very important that they maintain safe practices as they represent your company. If your employees take to heart that they are representatives of your company, it should be easier for them to practice social distancing.
I encourage everyone to promote positivity in their workplaces as employees, customers, or employers. While acknowledging the hardship and heartache that is all around us, it is good for all of our mental health statuses to find good in our daily lives. If we have a nugget of positivity in the back of our minds, it is easier to abide by the social distancing and mask requirements which otherwise may seem like an inconvenience or a reminder of the awful situation we are in.
Provide resources that promote mental health and connection. That could be teaching a loved one how to use Zoom or Skype. It could be recommending a good counselor to a friend in need. You could donate a Thanksgiving meal to a family in your neighborhood. Get your household together for a board game night. The options are endless and are often free or low cost.
To wrap this up, all commercial building owners and operators should find new and innovative ways to implement social distancing while keeping customers and employees happy and productive. The current worldwide pandemic is one of the greatest challenges business owners of our day will face. When we are in the role of consumers, we can do our part to support these businesses and their owners by abiding by the directions from posted signs, wearing our masks properly, and practicing grace and patience in frustrating situations or encounters.