The new regulations will fundamentally change the way people work.

By Cailey Rizzo
May 29, 2020
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Office life as we know it will drastically change, according to new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That is — if businesses decide to ever return to their office spaces.

The CDC’s new guidelines for office buildings fly in the face of what had become standard corporate office practice over the past few years: no more open office plans, no communal kitchens, and no carpooling or taking public transit to and from the office.

As states implement their reopening procedures and businesses follow, the CDC’s guidelines for office workers lay out advisories for halting the spread of COVID-19 in an office environment.

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There will likely be no more gathering around the water cooler, or even the coffee machine. Businesses are encouraged to “replace high-touch communal items, such as coffee pots, water coolers, and bulk snacks, with alternatives such as prepackaged, single-serving items,” the guidelines state.

Many of the new rules focus on maintaining social distancing: people should stand six feet apart in the elevator and all furniture around the office should be staggered at least six feet. Employees should remain physically separated in places like meeting rooms and should wear face masks whenever they are in the office. Buildings should have proper ventilation and, with summer approaching, the CDC recommends keeping windows open to increase air circulation. Employers are asked to consider procedures like daily temperature or health checks before employees begin their days. Businesses should consider staggering start times so employees who take public transit to work won’t have to combat crowded buses or subway cars — or encourage individual transportation methods.

Employers are supposed to identify potential places around the office where employees could come in close contact with each other: cafeterias, locker rooms, check-in and waiting areas, and points of entry or exit. They should rethink movement around the office to avoid clustering.

“We put arrows on the floor so people will go to the restroom one direction and come out the other,” Igor Faletski, chief executive of Mobify, a Vancouver digital company, explained of his new office practices to the New York Times. “No more shared food. Sanitation stations with wipes.”

Per standard CDC advisories, high-touch surfaces should be regularly cleaned and disinfected, hand sanitizer should be placed around the offices and employees should be reminded to regularly wash their hands.

With this dizzying list of new regulations, some companies might not ever return to their office space. Earlier this month, Twitter announced that most employees could continue working from home permanently if they wished, even after stay-at-home orders lift and the pandemic passes, Buzzfeed reported.