Apr 24, 2020 - Economy

A glimpse of the new normal at work

GM workers collaborate as we all will some day: wearing masks.

GM workers collaborate as we all will some day: wearing masks. Photo: Joann Muller/Axios

Whether you work in a factory, a retail store, a restaurant or an office, you're going to have to get used to wearing a mask at work for the foreseeable future.

Why it matters: Until there's a vaccine for the coronavirus, or enough people have been exposed that it's no longer a threat, masks will be advised, and likely required, in public.

Context: I visited a former GM transmission factory Thursday that is now a hub of mask-making activity.

To be allowed inside, I had to practice all of the new health safety protocols that GM is instituting at its factories and which are likely to be similar for any workplace.

  • I sanitized my hands and then put on a mask.
  • I had my temperature taken, and answered a health questionnaire.
  • I did not sign in; instead the security guard signed me in from behind a cordoned-off visitors' desk.
  • Inside the clean room where GM is making the masks, I donned a gown and a hairnet for added precautions.

My thought bubble: It was exciting to be out of my house, and doing my job for a change, but I was anxious about touching anything, or letting people stand too close.

The whole point of wearing a mask at work, however, is to allow safe interactions with colleagues.

  • The break area, on the other hand, was a lonely-looking place: one chair at each table, all facing the same direction, placed six feet apart.
  • The orientation area had footprints painted on the floor, telling workers where to stand during meetings.
  • After a masked interview across a large conference table, a GM employee quickly sterilized the table and chair where I'd been sitting.
  • This must be the new normal, I thought.

Gerald Johnson, GM's executive vice president of global manufacturing, says people just have to get used to it.

  • "It took us decades to learn how to wear seat belts. Today nobody questions it."

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