Your workplace after coronavirus reopenings: How going back to the office could look

Your office may never be the same. Here's how things could change, from riding the elevator to the return of the cubicle.

Katie Teague Writer II
Katie is a writer covering all things how-to at CNET, with a focus on Social Security and notable events. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing in golf scrambles, practicing yoga and spending time on the lake.
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Katie Teague
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Don't expect to see many people at your workplace.


While the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage on, businesses are either in the process of reopening or are planning how they'll let employees back inside the building. The guidelines are clear if you work in an essential business like a restaurant or some other service or hospitality sector. But what about skyscrapers and other typical offices for 9-5 employees?

If you work for a company that's preparing to reopen, you might be concerned about how they plan to help keep you safe from the virus while enclosed in a shared space with others -- especially since COVID-19 cases hit a record daily high in June.

New sanitary regulations will need to be established throughout the building, which could become the new normal as we wait for a coronavirus vaccine. The World Health Organization also advises companies to continue promoting teleworking that keeps nonessential employees at home.

From staggered shifts to dividers between your coworkers, here's what your office could look like if and when you do finally go back to work. This story draws from guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO.

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Who will go back first?

Depending on the company you work for, it may only be office personnel that goes back to work first. Or only people with critical face-to-face meetings and only for short durations. Facilities and IT teams are often already considered essential to building maintenance.

Limiting the number of people who return can help limit the risk of community spread and also form a test run of best (and safest) practices for reopening the building. Some companies may decide not to bring everyone back. For example, Twitter has made the decision to keep some of its employees at home permanently.

What if my workplace has an open floor plan?

If you generally work in a cubicle-free environment, the CDC suggests certain precautions will need to be set up for your safety. For example, desks may be spread out over six feet to allow for social distancing between you and your coworkers. Some companies may also set up Plexiglass dividers between employees, as some factories are already doing.


Don't expect to attend large meetings.


Cramped meetings and no more parties

When you go back to work, don't expect to attend large meetings in small conference rooms. Meetings will likely be held in Zoom video calls, just like now while working from home. You might have to abandon morning chats with your coworkers by the coffee machine -- since it's likely the coffee machine will be off-limits as a high traffic surface.

Also, any events your company had planned, like a potluck or holiday party, will likely be canceled. Businesses will need to work hard to ensure employees are maintaining a social distance at all times and aren't put into situations where saliva can easily transfer (e.g. sharing a birthday cake or drinks from the punch bowl).

You may have a staggered schedule

Some companies may start allowing employees back to work on a staggered schedule. For example, you may go into the office on Mondays and Wednesdays, while another group works Tuesdays and Thursdays. This way, you're always working with the same group of people and if one person becomes infected with the virus, the group they work with can quarantine, rather than the entire building.

It's also possible that you'll only work half days in the office. For example, a group will work 8 a.m. to noon, while another group will work 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The hour in between can give the cleaning staff time to disinfect the office space before the next group arrives.

Hallways may become one way only

The building you work in may be set up differently once you return. For example, you may see signs on the floor indicating that it's a one way only walk zone on one side, and the opposite direction on the other side. So when you enter the building, it's likely you'll keep to the right side when walking to your desk to avoid crossing paths with another person.

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What if I take an elevator to get to my office?

If you work in a building with many floors, you may have always used an elevator to get to your office. However, hundreds of people touching buttons and riding in elevators all day long is concerning. Your workplace might decide to address this by having employees take the stairs or by having an attendant on each floor to limit the number of people who can ride in the elevator and ensure social distancing is maintained once inside.

If you have a health condition that prevents you from taking the stairs, speak with your employer about coming into work when elevator traffic is light. Remember to avoid touching the buttons with your fingertips -- use your elbow or knuckles instead.

You'll likely be required to wear a face mask

The CDC has been advising for months that people wear face masks in places where social distancing isn't possible to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Many states even have mandates for face masks when going out in public or browsing through a store.

Essential businesses that remained open the duration of the pandemic have been wearing face masks for months now. It's likely that while you're moving through the building, a mask may be required, even in the bathroom. It's possible you'll be able to take it off once you're at your desk.


Your employer might check your temperature each day before you come inside.

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Expect daily temperature checks

If you've been to a restaurant or walked into a store and an employee checks your temperature, that's what your daily routine could look like when you return to work. In my experience, a restaurant employee was waiting at the front desk with a touchless thermometer and scanned our temperatures before we were seated.

Your workplace may have a temperature check station set up outside the building. If someone shows up to the office and their temperature reads 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, they can be sent home and advised to visit their doctor. The measure is designed to help keep sick employees from entering the building and infecting others.

Adjusting to a new normal is challenging, but we've got tips to help you. Here's how to protect yourself from the coronavirus at work, how to make your face mask more comfortable and how long it will take to get your COVID-19 test results back.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.