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When the Office Is Like a Biohazard Lab

David Gelles. Writes the Corner Office column and other features for The New York Times’s Sunday Business section, and works with the Well team to expand The Times's coverage of meditation

When the Office Is Like a Biohazard Lab

Here’s what it will be like when Cisco employees return to the office:

Before heading in each day, workers will be required to log on to a new app the giant networking company designed, and answer several questions about their health. Have they had close contact in the last 14 days with anyone who received a Covid-19 diagnosis or was suspected of having a coronavirus infection? Within the last 24 hours have they experienced chills, shortness of breath, or a loss of taste or smell?

If they report themselves to be healthy, the app gives them a green screen that reads “Pass.” If not, the app flashes red and reads, “Do not come to the worksite.”

Those who are cleared to go into the office will be stopped in the lobby. There, they will have to show the all-clear screen from their app. After that, they will walk through a thermal screener temperature check. Anyone with a fever will be sent home. Those without one can get to work.

Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended sweeping changes to American offices, companies around the country are preparing elaborate new routines intended to keep their employees healthy. In many cases, the changes will transform workaday offices into fortified sites resembling biohazard labs.

“It’s going to be a very different experience in the office,” said Fran Katsoudas, Cisco’s chief people officer. “It is going to take a lot of work, but it can be done.”

Simply complying with the C.D.C. suggestions will present major hurdles for many companies, especially those in skyscrapers and dense urban centers.

Amalgamated Bank, which has offices in New York and Washington, D.C., has decided that the earliest it will bring office workers back is September and is still “digesting” the C.D.C. recommendations.

We wanted to make sure we give ourselves enough time for proper planning,” said Edgar Romney, an Amalgamated executive running the bank’s return-to-work task force. “There’s a lot of information about what you should be doing, but there are a lot of questions about how you should be doing it.”

For example, the C.D.C. recommends limiting elevator use to maintain social distancing of six feet. Amalgamated, which leases space in crowded office buildings, shares elevators with many other tenants.

“We have to understand what building management’s plan is going to be,” Mr. Romney said. “What are they doing about elevators?”

“It can’t be two people per elevator in a high rise. That’s not just feasible,” said Rob Falzon, a vice chairman at Prudential, which occupies several large buildings in Newark. “It would take us two to three hours just to get everyone in.”

One possible solution? Prudential is considering putting ultraviolet lighting in elevators so surfaces are continuously disinfected.

Another C.D.C. suggestion — that companies limit employees’ use of public transportation — is also impractical in cities like New York, where millions of people commuted to work that way before the pandemic.

“We have to understand what building management’s plan is going to be,” Mr. Romney said. “What are they doing about elevators?”

“It can’t be two people per elevator in a high rise. That’s not just feasible,” said Rob Falzon, a vice chairman at Prudential, which occupies several large buildings in Newark. “It would take us two to three hours just to get everyone in.”

One possible solution? Prudential is considering putting ultraviolet lighting in elevators so surfaces are continuously disinfected.

Another C.D.C. suggestion — that companies limit employees’ use of public transportation — is also impractical in cities like New York, where millions of people commuted to work that way before the pandemic.

“There are some real practical limitations to the guidance they’ve provided,” said Jim Underhill, chief executive of Cresa, a commercial real estate firm. “In dense urban environments, you can’t have everyone drive their car in alone. And in a 70-story high rise, you can’t limit two people to the elevator.”

There are also very real concerns about whether strictly following the C.D.C. guidelines may strip offices of much of their vibrancy.

“One of the biggest reasons for going back into the offices is so people can collaborate,” Mr. Underhill said. “But when the whole premise is to stay away from people and wear masks, it challenges the very reasons why people would be coming back.”

The C.D.C. suggestions are likely to be met with varying levels of enthusiasm in different parts of the country. In interviews, executives said they expected efforts to promote sanitation and social distancing to differ by region, and by the size of the office.

Willy Walker, chief executive of Walker & Dunlop, a commercial real estate financing firm, said managers of his 40 offices plan a wide variety of approaches to office life in the midst of a pandemic. In states like Texas or Florida, he said, everyone wants to go back to the office. In New York and California, employees are much more concerned about returning.

“In the blue states, just two to three people want to go back in,” Mr. Walker said. “And in the red states, just two to three people don’t want to go back in.”

Lea aquí el artículo completo

Fecha de publicaciónjunio 07, 2020

BELT.ES no se hace responsable de las opiniones de los artículos reproducidos en nuestra Revista de Prensa, ni hace necesariamente suyas las opiniones y criterios expresados. La difusión de la información reproducida se realiza sin fines comerciales. 

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