Wearable social-distancing buzzers. Masked blackjack dealers. Drive-thru electronics purchases. From cubicles to factory floors, cafes to clothing boutiques, businesses around the world are dreaming up creative ways to reopen, attempting to start revenue flowing again while minimizing the risk to customers and employees.
The global economy is riding on their ability to pull off that delicate balance. A new flareup of Covid-19 cases could shutter offices, stores, restaurants and manufacturing plants once again, further choking off the flow of goods and services and threatening more jobs. Some governments, such as China, are providing rigorous oversight of the process. Others, including President Donald Trump’s administration, have offered looser guidance and are entrusting businesses to monitor their facilities. Scientists are still studying how the virus is spread, and whether keeping people six feet apart is enough, adding to the risks.
The companies’ plans rely on a steady supply of masks, gloves, thermometers and tests that is likely to strain budgets and manufacturers’ ability to keep up. Social distancing will be built in, with people divided by barriers and kept apart from colleagues and customers, a U-turn after years of movement toward open floor plans. Some companies will monitor employees more closely than ever before, while others will let workers choose how much protection they need. The way we work, shop, travel and eat in 2020 – and probably beyond – is being plotted out in boardrooms around the world.