Employers: How to bring your crew back to work safely amid COVID-19

Panelists in Envoy's webinar titled "How to reopen: industry leaders talk return to work"

Envoy is a workplace transformation company with a goal of making office life and work more meaningful. Their vision is to keep employees safe and healthy, manage deliveries and book conference rooms in over 13,000 locations around the globe. Envoy empowers workplaces to safeguard their people, property and ideas.

The company recently hosted a webinar titled “How to Reopen: Industry Leaders talk Return to Work.” It featured speakers such as: Lynee Luque, vice president of people at Envoy; George Llano, chief information security officer at Deluxe Entertainment; Casey Denton, assistant facilities manager at Zillow Group; and Brian Herbert, Vice President of security at the Golden State Warriors basketball team.

Lynee Luque, vice president of people at Envoy

Luque opened the discussion: “About a month ago, many were still in the planning phase of reopening. It was a lot of theory, a lot of thought on what you would do. Fast forward to today and we have offices that are open. I know the Warriors have a training facility that opened recently. I know Casey has some offices that are open at Zillow around the U.S. Here at Envoy, just last week, we reopened our Kansas City office. Employees are still having real mixed feelings about going back to the office. Whether it’s going back to the office by choice or whether they’re an essential worker and they need to go back to the office. I have some people on my team that do have to go back to the office on a limited basis. One of the biggest things we all take into consideration is… how do we build trust? How do we give people the confidence, the information that they’ll be safe and make the right choice about returning to office?”

What type of workplace do you oversee? What types of challenges do you face in navigating return to work? Where are you in the process?

George Llano answered: “We wanted to do, as part of COVID, is to establish a crisis team and make sure that there was representation from all of our geographical areas. Another thing that was important to us was consistent communications to our employees. Employees want to know what is the current status of their facility is and when their reopen date is. Employees never anticipated that they would be working from home for 10, 12 or 16 weeks. So there’s some personal items that employees are attached to and want to go back to the office and pick up. There’s all kinds of temporary staff and skeleton crews that govern access to our buildings. We have 55 offices in North America, Asia and Europe. Right now, there’s probably about 15 of our facilities are open in different parts of the world.”

Casey Denton replied: “I work at the Seattle headquarters for Zillow. We are in a downtown office building. This was definitely a challenge in that being in a downtown core, the building gets a little difficult to get to when a lot of people rely on public transportation. We have offices all across the United States–some of them are currently in a open state, some of them are not open yet and are preparing to reopen. We are doing a phased approach. Even with offices that are open, we are not at full capacity. Our first phase of opening is for essential employees only. We want to keep people’s safety first and foremost in mind. We have three words that govern everything that we’re doing in terms of reopening. That’s safe, flexible and local. We want to make sure that people stay safe and are comfortable coming back to an environment. We are communicating what our cleaning protocols are. We’re making sure that people are social distancing, wearing masks and doing all of the recommended activities. The other thing is reducing the amount of time you are in the office. If you can do with four hours in the office and four hours at home. Splitting that up so you are not in the office for as long as you need to be. We know that we’re not going to get it right day one when we open an office back up. We’re making sure that we are keeping that communication line open, letting us know what’s working and what’s not working. We’re also keeping an eye on COVID and how it’s striking across the country.”

Brian Herbert, Vice President of security at the Golden State Warriors basketball team

Brian Herbert added: “This return to the office in our preparation to get back to the new normal really aligns well with our values here at the Golden State Warriors. We acronym T.E.A.M., which is trust with the accountability and modesty. The trust piece of this is kind of the important pillar for inviting and creating a safe work environment for our folks to come back. We are not back as a team behind the team. We have essential workers, our security team has done an amazing job during our SIP and maintaining the safety and welfare of the essential workers that do work here. From time to time, we do have some of our team members come to our property to pick up some personal items. There is some activity here, it’s light activity. For the most part, we still have a million square feet of building. We’re in the business of hosting professional basketball and also large audiences with concerts. That isn’t happening in San Francisco, that isn’t happening in parts of the country. For us right now, we have maintained a variety of different task forces that meet regularly virtually. Some of us are here in the office. I’m fortunate that I’m within walking distance of where I work and where I live. We’ve been able to maintain somewhat of a normal schedule here. These task forces are involved in a variety of return to office. There’s a lot of things being done. We named a hygiene officer as one of our team members. That person’s sole responsibility is to maintain the cleanliness, the protocol, the proper PPE, the distancing. She does an amazing job for us. The NBA put out an initiative about a month ago saying that facilities could open up their practice courts for players to come in and have individual workouts. That was a bold initiative for a league to do. But there were certain areas of the country where your public order did not permit that type of activity. We want to show the city of San Francisco, the county of San Francisco and the governor’s office that we could create a safety plan that would open our practice facility, allow our players to come in and do workouts. It was signed off by city, county and state. We started to do practice for individual players here at the Chase Center about two weeks ago. That has moved along seamlessly, very safe. It’s worked very well to date.”

George, I know that clear and concise communication has played a role in your return-to-work plans. Can you explain why this is so important and share some of the ways that you are keeping your team informed?

George Llano, chief information security officer at Deluxe Entertainment

Llano answered: “Employees are anxious. They are not sure when facilities are going to open. They are eager to get back. In the entertainment business, there are certain things that you just can’t do remotely. Working from home from their office is still something that’s not normal. Keeping your employees informed using a senior executive, a person who’s consistent in delivering messages, and using a format that’s consistent. Hey, every Monday, we’re going to send out this e-mail. It’s going to have the status of where we are as an organization, what has occurred and what are things that are happening in our geographical area. For us, it was important that employees are well versed on when their facility is going to open and what the current conditions are at their facility.”

Brian, I know you mentioned trust, very core to the Warriors. You also mentioned instilling confidence. Can you describe some of the ways that you are instilling confidence and checking in that the confidence is still there for your employees?

Herbert replied: “Similar to the email correspondence and we’re holding town halls. We’re also had medical individuals as part of these discussions talking about how does this virus spread, what’s the likelihood of you getting it. We’re providing some education. You can overwhelm yourself with the amount of data that’s out there in the public. We found ways to condense it to provide some really good informational buckets. Any of our team members with questions we provide links to get greater insight and education on it. We have also been very visual about how we’re going to prepare the office for a return to work. We have put up plexiglass partitions that are in our main entryway which allows an individual to come in. We still have screening that goes on when you enter our building. There’s X-ray machines that you would have to divest your personal property on. Nobody’s touching it. The area is cleaned and disinfected after each use. But we do maintain that security component when you do enter the building. We’re also letting our team members know that when we do return to the office, we’re going to give you a minimum three-week notice. That three-week notice will be given so you can prepare yourself, childcare, transportation. There’s a lot of things that go on once you hunker down and shelter in place. That becomes your normal, right? You have to adjust out of that to return to work. We’re sensible to that and we’re flexible and we’re also willing to work with team members that may have a pre-existing condition or something.”

Now, I’d love to shift to creating great workplace experiences. I know many of us have had great workplace experiences pre-Covid. There’s a new normal that all of us have mentioned. I’d love to dig in and see how you’re trying to stay true to create these great workplace experiences given the new normal.

George, I know in the pre-call you mentioned a seven-step plan at Deluxe Entertainment. I’d like to hear what some of the critical items in the plan are.

Llano answered: “Regardless of where you as an organization, you should have some kind of return to plan that is visible and available to all employees. We also wanted to make sure all of our employees understand what phase we are in and what is required to get in the next phase. Our plans also informed our employees of what their expectations are when they return to work. We’re going to have different working environments that allow for social spacing, there’s going to be temperature checking in the facility. There’s going to be all kinds of decals that go on your ID cards that represent that you’ve been temperature checked. Everyone has a guest or delivery or some kind of person entering the facility. Also, making sure that employees are informed of emails.”

Casey, I know you mentioned that being in Seattle, there is a big coffee culture. I’d love to hear..How are you going to keep the culture alive like having coffee together while keeping people safe?

Casey Denton, assistant facilities manager at Zillow Group

Denton responded: “One of the things that we actually learned from all of this is that there’s a big different between people in the room in a meeting and people that are virtually attending a meeting. When you have a team meeting, you’ll have a bunch of people within a room. The people that are attending virtually get that feeling of not being in the room at the table. What it means to have everyone at the table? This is something we’re addressing in our first couple of phases. We’re not allowing conference rooms to have more than two people at a time. When people are actually in the office, we want them to use conference rooms for one-on-one meetings. But if it’s a meeting that’s going to include virtual people at the table, we want everyone to be virtual. We want to keep encouraging people to be inclusive in how they meet and socialize. When it comes to socialize, we’re not going to have coffee in phase one for our essential employees. Once we get to phase two, which I hope comes sooner rather than later, we are going to change how we do coffee. Things are going to be disposable, one-time use. Milk, instead of being in jugs will go to milk shots and what not. We use a variety of beans from local makers. You’re still going to be able to get something a little bit unique and a little bit Pacific Northwest.”

Brian, I want to call our the uniqueness of keeping hundreds of people at a safe distance, all of the surfaces sanitized, must be a really difficult process. I’d like to hear more about your designing of this reality like a hygiene officer.

Herbert replied: “Everybody’s property is unique to them, right? For us, we have a million square foot arena. And then surrounding the part that you see as guests, we have office space. What we’re looking at is somewhat of a frictionless entry process. Once you pass the security piece of it, we’re looking at propping doors, we’re looking at one-way travel, we’re looking at the occupancy in an elevator limited to one. We still want to provide some normalcy with snacks and coffee. It’s going to be if you touch the Fig bar, it’s yours. The snack room isn’t large enough. That’s a one per occupancy. The restrooms we’re looking at the same type of protocol to keeping it non congested. Just trying to create a flow in the building. You can only have two people in a conference room. We’re also looking at doing a welcome back care bag for our team members. It’s a device that can push and pull things with. It allows you to not touch things. The basics are going to be masks, disinfectant. All of those things will be available to all of the employees.”

What’s the question you’re asked the most when it comes to your return-to-work plans?

Llano answered: “I think the most common question we have is regarding food pantries, food deliveries and things that are food in nature. How we’re going to handle that moving forward. Employees in the media entertainment business, there’s a lot of these perks about getting food in your office. Is any of that going to change? How are we going to address that?”

Denton added: “I think my people are kind of hunkered down. I haven’t gotten a lot of food questions oddly enough which I was expecting. We do routinely offer a lot of food here. Most of the questions I’m getting are when can I get my stuff? We have been in full lockdown at our Seattle office for quite a while now. Even tough people knew we were going into lockdown, they didn’t know necessarily how long. So we’ve had several instances where people are saying I need a very important document from my desk. Since we’ve had some essential people on site, we’ll go grab something from your desk, package it up and mail it out to you so you don’t have to come get it. We do have a program we’re putting in place once we get to phase one where people can sign up to get their stuff. We have a certain number of slots per day.”

Herbert replied: “It wasn’t that surprising that it ended up being transportation related. The significance of transportation in the city of San Francisco is huge. We would promote public transportation by bicycle, scooter anything but a motor vehicle really. In reality, that’s not the way most team members get to work, right? Now, there is a lesser confidence when it comes to taking public transportation. A lot of the questions are availability of parking, how am I going to be distanced from my neighbor if we both pull into the garage together and we both get out at the same time. We have a plan for that. Our plan would be to designate a valet, not to park your car but to guide you in designated spaces that are like every other designated space. Once those spaces are filled, then we do a backfill of the spaces that are empty. Available childcare was another huge consideration. There’s always been summer camps. The Warriors conduct virtual camps where you can watch and work out kind of like a Peloton- type program. You are not really with the instructor, but you are getting the same kind of benefit and workout advice. I’d say those two and I’d throw probably throw food in there as the third one.”

What’s one thing that you’ve chosen not to do? This is something that you can say a little bit controversial and why?

Denton answered: “We’re in the same boat where we’re not doing on-site temperature checks. We’re also not doing on-site check ins for employees. What we’ve decided is to move all of that off-site and trust our employees to be honest and forthcoming with how they are reporting it. What we didn’t want to do is create a queue to get into the building. We thought that would not be beneficial to have people lined up outside of reception and suddenly you get a long line and people aren’t social distancing anymore. We’re asking employees to do their temperature check at home. We’re asking employees to self-report if they are experiencing symptoms before they come in and everyday.”

Llano said: “We’ve chosen not to make it mandatory to come back to the office. It helps us maintain social distancing for employees that work in the office. One of the things we’re encouraging is to rethink their strategy about working from home, think about things they’re going to need that might be in the facility that they can come pick up. Encourage the employee to continue working from home. We’ve realized that with our success that our employees to work from home. Why not allow the employees to continue?”

Herbert added: “In terms of temperature checks, keep in mind our return to office has not happened yet. Temperature checks for our players who are utilizing our practice facility, we do have that in place. That’s a league requirement. The one thing I could say is our company does it’s homework. They are thorough on how they are going about exactly when we are going to return to the office. What we have done is we’re not going to put a stake in the ground and say this is the date. I’ve seen some of my NBA venues across the country. We’re all coming back on June 1st. Wait, maybe it’s June 15, wait TBD. We’re not going to be in that situation. For us, we’re still going to continue to do our homework and work with the city to determine what that date is.”

The webinar convinced me that each company is moving ahead with their own unique, tailored return-to-work plans. Not many of the plans will be the same. It also depends on restrictions from local, state and county officials.

For more information, watch the Envoy webinar at https://envoy.com/content/webinars/ds02/ty/part2-how-to-reopen-the-office/


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