people with face masks in store

Work might become an in-person affair again — for many — but it’s not going to be the same in the age of the coronavirus

According to a survey by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, masks will abound when employees do report back to work and just over half of companies will be taking a proactive approach when someone does get sick and conduct their own contact tracing. 

The survey of 150 human resource executives was conducted last month and, when compared with results from a different survey in April, gave some sense of just how companies have adjusted course over the pandemic.  

Nearly 93 percent of companies will require masks, up from 53.7 percent logged in April, while the same portion of firms will also be limiting or prohibiting gatherings in shared spaces, including conference rooms, break rooms and lunch rooms.

“Workplaces will look very different going forward,” said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of the firm. “As we have learned more about how the virus infects people and what safety measures have proven more effective, such as wearing masks and social distancing, companies are paying attention and putting those precautions into practice.”

Over 71 percent of companies will also require visitors to wear masks. Walmart, Target, Kohl’s and others have required customers to wear masks in all of their stores and retail groups have been pushing the administration of President Donald Trump for national mask guidelines to help standardize their approach.

The survey also showed that 51.7 percent of the companies will conduct some contact tracing if an employee comes down with COVID-19, up from 39.1 percent in April.

Companies that do plan to trace cases through their organizations will use apps, internal experts or some combination of the two. 

No companies surveyed planned to alert health officials and rely on them to trace COVID-19 through their businesses. 

“Contact tracing has been effective in slowing or stopping outbreaks in the past,” Challenger said. “So in the unfortunate scenario in which an employee falls ill with the coronavirus, the tracing may help companies contain the impact for other employees and the community at large.”

Even with the virus still spreading rapidly — and Florida, Texas and California facing particularly acute spikes in the U.S. — more companies are calling back their workforces as the nation muddles through the crisis and tries to square the need to keep people safe with the need to keep the economy moving.

Forty percent of companies said most or part of their staffs were working from home last month, down from 69.1 percent in April. 

But even as more people head to work, more are going to be staying home. 

In the June survey, 43.3 percent of companies said they would have most of their employees work from home even after the pandemic while 30 percent plan to transition some of their employees to a work-from-home approach after successfully using a distributed workforce during the crisis. 

If those survey results bear out in real-world actions, the country is in the beginnings of a massive work migration that could remake office life and supercharge change for any number of industries, from commercial real estate to fast-food restaurants to fashion.

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