Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Safety costs, digitization and flexibility — a top consultant outlines what American workplaces may look like in the age of coronavirus.

Why it matters: As states gradually reopen, businesses will need to decide how much work can continue remotely, how much needs to be done in a workplace — and how those workplaces will need to be adapted.

What's happening: This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released sweeping new guidelines for office buildings reopening in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The recommendations include ubiquitous face coverings, keeping desks six feet apart (or separated by plastic shields) and limiting the use of elevators.

  • PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan had already been thinking about how work will change during and after the pandemic, both for his own company of more than 250,000 employees and for his clients. I spoke with him about how companies can prepare for the coming changes.

1. Focus on workers, not real estate bills: With companies like Twitter talking about going permanently remote, there will be a temptation for CEOs to cut costs by cutting real estate. But Ryan says that "while you can get good returns on cost savings, it's better to have happier employees. The biggest mistake anyone can make is assuming a one-size-fits-all response will work."

2. Safety will be a cost of doing business: Just as factories have had to build in the cost of keeping workers safe in dangerous occupations, now ordinary offices will need to budget for infection prevention. "The cost is absolutely going to go up," he says.

  • At the same time, companies that show they're willing to go the extra mile to protect their workers will benefit in the competition for talent.

3. The future of work won't resemble the past — or the present: Everyone is in a race to either return to normal or declare a new one. But Ryan cautions that major shifts in workplace policies shouldn't be made in the heat of a pandemic or during the temporary honeymoon of remote work.

  • "I know work won't look like it did 12 weeks ago, and it won't look like it does today," he says.

Go deeper: When going back to work isn't safe

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GOP Rep. Rodney Davis tests positive for coronavirus

Rep. Rodney Davis. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) announced on Wednesday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, said he has taken precautions against the virus, such as twice-daily temperature checks. He spoke to Republicans about staying safe after Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) recently tested positive for the virus and spoke out against wearing face masks, Politico notes.

GOP senator says stimulus needs to be as "narrowly focused" on COVID-19 as possible

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said at an Axios virtual event Wednesday that the next coronavirus relief package needs to be as "narrowly focused" on COVID-specific issues as possible in order to resolve the differences between Republicans and Democrats.

Why it matters: Democrats and negotiators from the Trump administration remain far apart on a deal for the next tranche of relief. The fraught negotiations come as millions of Americans continue to suffer from the health and economic effects of the pandemic without the unemployment benefits from the first stimulus bill.

20 hours ago - Health

Nurses rally nationwide to demand protection amid pandemic

Healthcare workers on their way to work walk past demonstrators taking part in a national day of action in Miami on Wednesday. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Nurses took more than 200 active demonstrations inside and outside U.S. hospital facilities in at least 16 states and the District of Columbia on Wednesday to demand full personal protective equipment and federal government action.

Driving the news: National Nurses United (NNU) members are demanding that the Senate pass the HEROES Act, House Democrats' $3 trillion pandemic recovery package, which they said would protect health care workers by ensuring domestic production of PPE through the Defense Production Act.