Social Distancing for Pandemic Flu
by Rick Brenner
It's time we all began to take seriously the warning about a possible influenza pandemic. Whether or not your organization has a plan, you can do much to reduce your own chances of infection, and the chances of mass infection, by adopting a set of practices known as social distancing.
When or if pandemic influenza develops, it will happen because some of the viruses that hopped from bird to human will have evolved to be efficient at hopping from human to human. In a pandemic, most people who are infected will be carrying virus they acquired not from birds, but from other people.
During a pandemic, as part of social distancing, sporting events might be for broadcast only. In-person attendance will be suspended.
And when pandemic influenza passes, it will pass because that virus can no longer find new people to infect. Either we'll have a vaccine, or people will have developed a post-exposure immunity, or we'll have ways of avoiding exposure.
As of this writing, the prospects for a vaccine in quantity and in time to address the threat do appear to be dim. And because the survival rate among those already exposed is so low, it appears that the human immune system is no match for this virus.
Thus, our first two options aren't much to rely on. We have to think about that third option — avoiding exposure. Social distancing is part of that approach.
Social distancing minimizes
the kind of contact that
enables flu virus transmissionSocial distancing minimizes the kind of social contact that enables virus transmission. One example of a social distancing practice is limiting functions that require assembling many people into a single indoor space, such as all hands meetings and benefits fairs. Here are some examples of social distancing practices that you can adopt at work as an individual.
- Avoid handshakes
- Handshaking as a customary greeting enables virus transmission through skin-to-skin contact. Substitute something else — smile, wave, or bump elbows.
- Avoid the lunchroom rush
- Whether you eat lunch in the employee dining room or at a restaurant, avoid the rush, and the hour immediately following. Eat earlier or later, or eat with just a few people in a conference room or large office.
- Substitute telemeetings for face-to-face meetings
- Reducing the number or duration of face-to-face meetings reduces the opportunity for virus transmission. Shift as much of the agenda as possible to email or teleconference.
- Use larger conference rooms
- If you must meet face-to-face, use the largest available conference room. Larger rooms have better ventilation, and there's more room to spread out.
- Avoid using public pens
- Public pens are found at the retail counter, at the building or hotel guest registration, at the bank, in the benefits office, and many other places. Use your own pen. In conference rooms, don't use the public whiteboard markers. Carry your own.
- Avoid the commuter rush periods
- If you commute via public transportation, take advantage of your employer's flex time policy to shift your working hours. Avoid times when you'll be exposed to crowds.
Over the next months, you'll pick up lots more tips for social distancing. Send them to me and I'll spread them around. Top Next Issue
Is your organization fully prepared for pandemic flu? Do you have new products scheduled for release in the next eighteen months? Have you considered what a pandemic event might do to your plans? For some novel ideas for making your organization pandemic-resistant, check out my tips book 101 Tips for Preparing for Pandemic Flu.
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as or as . You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send me your comments by email
, or by Web form
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful,
and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive
of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout,
as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in,
anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness
- Become a Tugboat Captain
- If your job responsibilities sometimes require that you tell powerful people that they must do something differently, you could find yourself in danger from time to time. You can learn a lot from tugboat captains.
- What Makes a Good Question?
- In group discussion or group problem solving, many of us focus on being the first one to provide the answer. The right answer can be good; but often, the right question can be better.
- Pet Peeves About Work
- Everybody has pet peeves about work. Here's a collection drawn from my own life, the lives of others, and my vivid imagination.
- Finding Work in Tough Times: Infrastructure
- Finding work in tough times goes a lot more easily if you have at least a minimum of equipment and space to do the job. Here are some thoughts about getting that infrastructure and managing it.
- No Tangles
- When we must say "no" to people who have superior organizational power, the message sometimes fails to get across. The trouble can be in the form of the message, the style of delivery, or elsewhere. How does this happen?
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Meetings for more related articles.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout
are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline?
Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
- For most of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he'll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- MITRE, in Bedford, MA: October 21, Monthly Meeting, Boston SPIN.
- The Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics
- There's a lot more to running an effective meeting than having the right room, the right equipment, and the right people. With meetings, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. How the parts interact with each other and with external elements is as important as the parts themselves. And those interactions are the essence of politics for meetings. This program explores techniques for leading meetings that are based on understanding political interactions, and using that knowledge effectively to meet organizational goals. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:
- Managing Virtual Meetings for Real Results
- Leading or participating in virtual meetings — teleconferences, Web conferences, video conferences, and more — is challenging. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, distractions, politics, and interpersonal conflict all thrive in the typical environment of the virtual team. We'll inventory the challenges virtual meeting leaders and participants face, and provide tools for anticipating and addressing them. The focus of this program is practical — attendees will learn concrete techniques for preventing and dealing with the problems that arise in virtual meetings. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: