It’s Tuesday and I’m doing something I haven’t done for more than six months. I’m sitting in my office at V2, working at my desk, and happily listening to the sounds of my colleagues doing the same thing.
I never thought when I left the office last March that it would be this long before any of us returned. We’ve all shared a singular experience since the pandemic began and now it feels very lucky to be able to be back at work in the traditional sense. It took us months to prepare for this and to make sure that our re-entry was as organized and safe as possible.
For us, the business challenges presented by the pandemic were compounded in early April when a water main break in the South End forced the closing of our building. Luckily, we are on the fourth floor but the water damaged the elevators, the HVAC system and the building had no power or water until early September. Within a matter of days, with IT support, we relocated to the cloud without missing a beat when it came to client service and delivering results.
Even though the V2 staff was as productive working from home as they are working from the office, we all missed the camaraderie and impromptu collaboration that office life offers. We are creative people and we thrive on the energy and ideas that flow when we are physically together. While we were all committed to successfully working from home, it was clear from the start that, while currently necessary, this would be a temporary state of affairs.
In order to ensure that the decisions we were making reflected the concerns and needs of our staff, we formed a small committee to help with the planning and communication to the rest of the agency. A series of brief surveys were initiated so that we could understand how people were feeling and what concerns they had about returning to the office. The information we collected guided our thinking and planning. We met throughout the summer and communicated our progress and our thoughts with the goal of being completely transparent to ensure that everyone was on board with the decisions that were being made. As professional communicators, we know how important it is to develop and execute against a plan and to keep the dialog and lines of communication open to all affected stakeholders.
With the health, safety and comfort of our staff top of mind, we did extensive research to understand the recommendations of local government and health organizations like the CDC. We informally polled other agencies and same-size businesses so we could learn what worked – and what didn’t – as they prepared to return. Armed with this information, our operations staff collaborated with an office design firm to adapt our physical environment so that it conformed to a safe workplace in the age of COVID. We added protective plexiglass panels to workspaces, installed touchless faucets in our kitchens and even adapted our Bevi machine so we could operate it from our phones. Oh, and we designed custom V2 masks so that we could be fashionable and safe! During this time we created numerous opportunities for staff to stay connected virtually and reached out frequently to be sure we stayed connected.
Throughout, we made it clear to staff that the choice of returning to the office versus continuing to work from home was theirs to make. Everyone’s situation was different and we felt strongly that people should decide for themselves what was right for them and their families. While many people wanted to return, they weren’t ready to get on public transportation. Others had co-morbidities themselves or vulnerable family members and they needed to be especially cautious, staying inside their homes and avoiding contact with other people. The environment during the pandemic is constantly changing and we are committed to constant monitoring so that we can act and react effectively.
Now that many of us are back in the office, our challenge is to collaborate successfully while some of us are here and some continue to be at home. Our virtual get-togethers and staff meetings will continue into the foreseeable future, but it feels great to walk into the kitchen and interact with a colleague, even behind our V2 branded masks!