June 1, 2020 — More than half of American workers have office jobs. If you’re among them, during quarantine you probably miss the camaraderie — grabbing a cup of coffee in the break room, catching up in the elevator. But thanks to coronavirus safety precautions, when you finally go back to your office, you may not recognize the place.Last week, the CDC offered new guidance to help offices reopen safely. Among the highlights:

  • Moving or removing furniture to maintain 6 feet of social distancing — that includes reception areas, workspaces, break rooms, and anywhere else people congregate
  • Requiring masks indoors
  • Limiting occupancy in elevators
  • Replacing the water cooler, coffee pot, and bulk snacks with touchless dispensers or single-serve, individually wrapped items
  • Disinfecting common areas like kitchens and bathrooms more frequently
  • Improving ventilation and air filtration

The number of moving parts is daunting — making changes to the building itself, staff behavior, and even the way work gets done. For many companies, this means reopening offices slowly, in phases. Already tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google have told employees that many will be able to work from home into the fall or even permanently. Other fields, too, are looking at extended work-from-home options.

The Major Challenges

To begin with, closing an office building for months at a time raises health risks of its own. Among the hazards the CDC warns about: mold growth, rodents or other pests, and stagnant water in the plumbing system, which can lead to Legionnaire’s disease.

Once building management clears the site to reopen, coronavirus-specific adjustments begin. One big issue: clean air. The virus spreads through respiratory droplets, which new research shows we generate just by talking. “The droplets are small enough that they can remain floating in the air for many minutes,” says Christina Bax, MD, a research fellow at Penn Medicine who worked on the study. If the speaker has COVID-19 but no symptoms, everyday conversation indoors could spread the disease.   READ MORE AT WEBMD