4 Ways to Ensure Social Distancing for On-Site Service Employees

November 18, 2020

Contributor: Gloria Omale

Service organizations that cannot shift all employees to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic need social distancing measures for on-site employees.

Not all employees can work remotely. For those who remain on-site, like many service employees, changes in workplace processes and design will help provide the social distancing they need to stay safe.

Download report: How to Adapt Customer Service in Response to COVID-19

At a March 19 Gartner cohort of over 50 service and support leaders, a snap poll showed that only 50% have a majority of staff working from home. That still leaves a lot of employees on-site.

“ Discrete measures are needed to reduce interactions between people and keep physical distance between them on-site”

“Many service organizations can’t implement remote work for all of their employees due to the lack of available infrastructure, the physical nature of some service and support roles, or because of union contracts,” says Deborah Alvord, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner.

“In such scenarios, service and support leaders must provide government recommended provisions, such as masks, sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as implement social distancing for the wellness and safety of on-site employees.”

Read more: 4 Actions to Be a Strong Leader During COVID-19 Disruption

Public health officials promote “social distancing” as a critical non-pharmaceutical action to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but discrete measures are needed to reduce interactions between people and keep physical distance between them on-site.

Gartner recommends that service and support leaders implement the following measures.

Social customs

  • Implement a no-visitor policy. Allow only authorized employees into the office during this time.
  • Greet without physical contact. Encourage employees to avoid handshakes and hugs while greeting and interacting with colleagues.
  • Increase awareness around the six-foot rule. Encourage employees to maintain six feet or two meters (two- to three-arm’s length) from other employees when possible.

Scheduling shifts

  • Flexible work hours or rotational shifts. Allow flexible work hours or reduce work hours so that fewer employees are on location at any given time.
  • Staggered shifts. Implement staggered shifts if the work demands a certain number of customer service reps (CSRs) be on-site for handling complex customer issues or for other critical tasks. Allot alternate desks to CSRs in the staggered shifts to create time between shifts to thoroughly sanitize workstations.

Workplace design

  • Insert partitions to raise cubicle wall heights. If there are low or no cubicle walls, add or supplement dividers to create a higher physical barrier between agents to reduce the spread of infectious droplets due to a sneeze or cough.
  • Revisit and revise seating arrangements. Ensure that CSRs aren't sitting too close to each other. If you have close or congested open workplaces, allow CSRs to use alternate desks and implement rotational remote work where possible.


  • Pooling tasks. If multiple roles perform similar tasks that must be performed on-site, consider pooling and rotating those tasks so some employees can work remotely while one person takes on-site responsibility. Combine pooling with flexible hours to further increase social distancing and reduce the risk of an employee becoming ill.
  • Virtual meetings. Ensure that employees can shift in-person meetings to virtual meetings or emails whenever possible. You may need to provide them with laptops or other devices, but also provide support on their virtual set-up and online collaboration tools so they get comfortable using the systems and software.

Read More: 9 Tips for Managing Remote Employee

“Social distancing might impact an organization’s culture and its employees’ productivity and engagement. But taking preemptive steps to address these implications by developing an effective employee communication plan and enabling managers to handle employee needs and responses will help minimize the impact,” says Gamika Takkar, Principal, Research, Gartner.


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