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Walnut Creek Magazine

The Workplace in the Age of A Pandemic

Jun 24, 2020 02:15PM ● By Harper Klein

More businesses are starting to reopen, restaurant patios are packed (some too full), and you can finally get a haircut. But as companies consider transitioning their workforces back to Bay Area offices, the investment in creating safe spaces may not make economic sense. And for employees who have transitioned successfully to working remotely full time, there may be reason to resist returning to the office while the virus continues to spread.

“We don’t do in-person meetings anymore,” says Ray Nassief, Sr. Vice President of Operations at John Muir Health. “We’re doing them on Zoom. We’re concerned by the spike in COVID-19 cases we are seeing as we return to some sense of normalcy.”

Adequately COVID19-proofing offices may be costly for companies, particularly those with open-plan layouts, rather than personal offices. Modifications mean spacing workstations a minimum of six feet apart, installing “sneeze guard” dividers, adding physical distance floor markings in corridors, and staggering employee hours to avoid crowding in lobbies and elevators.

Leading corporations like Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce, Zillow, and PayPal have announced long term work-from-home plans and more companies of all sizes are expected to follow the trend. “Our best estimate is that 25-30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021,” says Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics. Her firm conducted a Global Work-from-Home Experience Survey which reveals 82% of U.S. office workers say they want to continue to work from home after the pandemic is over, but only 19% want to say goodbye to the office forever, with most preferring a bit of both. 

The City of Walnut Creek has been working on a reopening strategy since the shutdown began. “City Hall will open soon for appointment-only access to building permits and other development services,” says Communications Manager Betsy Burkhart. “We’re adding technology in the lobby for check in to prevent crowding at the planning counter as well as plexiglass dividers and hand sanitizing stations.” Burkhart says the city is moving in phases from “red” with only essential employees accessing the building, to “orange” in July with limited staffing, to “yellow” when City Hall is fully open with some modified operations, to eventually new normal “green.” 

For companies that want to go ahead with in-office work before reliable coronavirus therapeutics or vaccines are developed, health experts recommend proceeding with caution. “The mechanism of contagion for the virus is primarily person to person,” says John Muir Health's Dr. Nick Mickas. “If you keep your eyes, nose, and mouth protected, stay away from people as far as you can, avoid contact unless you have to, and wash your hands frequently, it will stack the deck in your favor.”

Since no one really knows how this play out or when it will end, experts agree wearing masks and social distancing stops the spread.

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