Re-entry isn’t Easy – A Trial Run at the Chamber
05 June 2020
What a year 2020 is turning out to be! It had such promise, and then this little global pandemic thing took-off—you may have heard about it—throwing a virus shaped wrench into our existence. Our professional and personal lives merged and we all had to figure out how to keep things moving as best we could from the safety of our homes. We started using new tools to collaborate, learn, and keep our sanity. Trial and error became the new norm and we all figured out what worked best for our unique situations. The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce team was no exception.
As restrictions begin to be lifted, we are all looking at what our places of work look like moving forward. We created the Business Relaunch Toolkit to help provide some guidance for safely re-opening, but everyone is different and will require unique solutions. Our Senior Leadership team has been having discussions about what it looks like for everyone to return to the office and trying to make plans accordingly, but we know that plans on paper don’t always work in real life. This was a perfect opportunity for seven of us to test out the basics and see what works and what doesn’t, and for us to share our experiences with you.
I think we all felt the difference of waking up earlier to commute from one part of the city to the other—rather than room-to-room, which we had quickly become accustomed to. Tasks that were routine before suddenly seemed foreign. Nothing’s open … what do I bring for lunch? What did I bring home with me that I need to bring back to the office? Don’t forget to pack the laptop power cord. Should I use the microwave at work? What about the refrigerator? Can I get a coffee on my way to work or should I make one before I leave? Don’t forget that power cord! Did it always take this long to get dressed for work? How can high heels hurt this much? Where’s my purse and keys? Aarghhh! I forgot that power cord!
Making my way into the office, I was suddenly so much more aware of how many surfaces you need to touch. Doors and handles (which are everywhere!), handrails, swipes/keys for entrances, elevator buttons, light switches. Luckily, I have some sanitizer at the ready. Tip: keys make a great tool for pressing buttons or switches!
We have set-up our hallways to be one-way with arrows printed on paper so we can reduce unnecessary interaction. We all had some issues forgetting about it the first day, but at least it increased our daily step count!
A visit to the lunchroom is now a task in itself. We have created an entry and exit, rearranged some furniture and removed chairs. We have sanitizer, we have wipes, but I found myself constantly questioning the order to do things. Should I wipe things down as I touch them or just after I’m done everything? Did someone wipe this down after they touched it? The garbage/recycling seems too far away and inconvenient now. We will need to develop a process for the team before they return.
Our biggest hurdle at the moment are our washrooms. We had discussed only having one person in a washroom at a time—normally a three-person occupancy where distancing would be a problem—short of trying to yell loud enough from the hallway, how do you know if someone is in there or not? We need to come up with some solution to let others know the washroom is occupied, something that doesn’t involve a common touchpoint. Something to explore.
We have also created a questionnaire for everyone to fill at the end of the day so we can get individual insights on worked for them and what didn’t.
Getting into the office was a little less awkward today. Everyone knew what to expect so it didn’t seem as foreign.
Virtual meetings seem strange when a few of the people you’re talking to are only down the hall. There’s no getting away from that, since it’s the safe thing to do if you can’t adequately space yourselves out, however it’s worth noting that if the audio is loud enough, you may get feedback noise from others online just down the hall.
We’re slowly adapting to the floor arrows, but we all find ourselves starting to go one way and then stopping to turn around and go the right way. We had a couple of moments when someone was talking in the hall and you suddenly had to stop and try to figure out what to do next. With the few of us, it was easily recognized and solved, but what happens when you have a larger number of people with more conversations happening. Perhaps we will have to discourage hallway conversations.
Today was the first time I needed to use the shared copier. Lots of buttons here to touch! We've put hand sanitizer and wipes nearby to wipe everything down. The process is, sanitize your hands, use the copier, and then wipe it down. It works well, just a little more time-consuming. Our goal is to have less paper, so there's less sharing.
We’re tracking those in the office with just a standard headcount, but this will be difficult when the team returns in full and will be an issue if we have any guests. Something else to consider.
Now that we’re getting used to traffic patterns and our own spaces, we have started looking at shared spaces and how those will need to be adapted for physical distancing. Also, some desks are close to doors and hallways, so we would need to look at repositioning them in the room to provide more clearance.
The sanitizing wipes are quickly disappearing. It’s good to see we’re using them, but they go fast! The same goes for hand sanitizer. We’ll have to order more than we thought!
We had another team member come into the office today to facilitate a webinar. It was harder for them to socially distance since they were setting up some banners in a tight space, so they wore masks, however they were touching the same things, so everyone had to be very aware. We also realized a dedicated container of sanitizing wipes was needed nearby to wipe everything down after each use.
We also had an in-person meeting. How exciting! There were four of us around a huge table with lots of room to spare. Going forward, we would need remove the extra chairs so people clearly know where to sit and the new maximum occupancy.
It took a week, but it seems like we are used to the one-way halls.
We came up with a creative solution to the washrooms! We are going to put a hook outside of the washroom and provide everyone with a laminated hangtag. If there’s no tag outside the washroom, it’s safe to go in.
We also decided to eliminate shared coffee cups, plates and cutlery and will encourage the team to bring their own. Better to be safe than sorry.
Everyone would agree that it was good to get back to the office. Being able to separate work and home again was refreshing and it was great to be able to interact with others once again, even if it's a bit different. We haven’t set a date for everyone to return since we have some things to still figure out, but here’s what we learned.
- Develop a plan and test it out in advance with only a select number of staff so you can see what works in a controlled environment.
- Your new plans and processes will need to be communicated to your team in advance. This will make them feel more comfortable returning to the office.
- It’s going to take time for people to get used to being back in the office. They will be concerned about their well-being and they will have to get used to a different routine. Be flexible.
- Make sure that you have adequate signage to keep things front-of-mind.
- One-way halls are a good idea. They take some getting used to, but they work. Map it out with sheets of paper, test it, and then use duct tape (or similar) to make a more durable solution once you have a working model.
- Virtual meetings are here to stay even when you’re back in the office. Make sure you have adequate space and make sure you can close your doors or use headphones so there isn’t feedback noise from others.
- If you are going to have in-person meetings, make sure you have adequate space for staff, and remove extra chairs to ensure distance is kept. It's amazing how a seemingly large room will quickly feel small in the new conditions.
- Think about commonly used things and your new traffic flow. The location of garbage cans may no longer make sense. A copier tucked away in an alcove could now have access issues. Doors that can be left open should be.
- It is essential to track your office staff in case of an outbreak in the office. Come up with a good option to track your staff and who is in and out of the office. This could be managers keeping a daily list on a spreadsheet, or people sending in an email each day to a point person, or even an app that keeps track. You could try using the Alberta Connects app so people are aware of who they may have been in contact with.
- As you move forward, explore options that enable people to work from home occasionally. A combination of office and home work could prove very productive, but make sure you set expectations.
- You never know where the next idea might come from or what will inspire it. Make sure you listen to your team and allow them to come up with solutions.
- You are going to need more sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer than you think. There’s a lot of companies now supplying them locally so think of supporting them.
- Be adaptable in your approach. Review and adapt as needed.
We hope this has provided some useful things to consider as you make plans to bring your teams back to the office. Check-out some of our other resources available to assist you including our Business Relaunch Toolkit.