Commentary

Publishers Need To Weigh Their Plans To Reopen Offices

Publishers that are planning to reopen their offices as cities and states begin to ease pandemic lockdowns face numerous decisions about how to safeguard workers. As long as the coronavirus is a significant health threat, publishers must determine how to adapt almost every part of their operations.
No publisher wants to be known as a notorious COVID-19 cluster, and fortunately, other industries have provided some guidance on how to bring people together under one roof without becoming a hot zone. Essential businesses like grocery stores have revamped their operations to reduce crowding, sanitize surfaces and limit physical contact between people.
Walmart and Costco likely have trained more people on how to practice social distancing than other organizations. Consumers who learn how to keep six feet away from others in their stores can apply those lessons to other settings, including the workplace.
Applying those same principles to an office setting may mean removing desks, restricting access to shared spaces like break rooms and requiring employees to wear protective equipment like face masks and sanitary gloves as much as possible. Perhaps cubicles will make a comeback.

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The pandemic has forced everyone to become an amateur epidemiologist, relying on incomplete and sometimes conflicting information about how to protect workers. Some businesses that have remained open, like Amazon, check the body temperatures of employees working in its distribution centers. Those temperature checks won't detect infections in people who show no outward signs of carrying the virus, making other protective measures necessary.

There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to implementing these practices, considering the wide variety of publishers and their operations. For example, newspapers with printing facilities have had to keep their presses running throughout the pandemic, while salespeople, editorial staffers and IT support can work from almost anywhere.
In developing a plan to reopen an office, publishers need to include their employees in the decision-making. The Post and Courier, a newspaper in Charleston, S.C., angered employees with its plan to bring them back in a staggered schedule, Poynter reported last week.
The conflict highlighted how many people have serious concerns about their health and safety, issues that need to be addressed in any plan to reopen. It's also a good idea for publishers to consult their lawyers and insurance companies about their plans, especially as the pandemic triggers a surge in lawsuits.
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