COVID-19 has turned our world upside down. From what we’ve learned about the transmission of COVID, spending time in an enclosed space with others is ill advised, and social distancing means working from home and homeschooling. I’ve been doing the former since March, even though Cx Associates’ offices reopened in June. Reopening the office was not an easy choice to make, as was my decision to remain at home, and I thought I’d write a bit about it.
I recognize that I am fortunate to work in an industry that allows for working from home as opposed to, say, the service industry or retail sales. Aside from site work, our employees can generally conduct business over the phone or through email, though a certain level of connection and collaboration is lost. For those organizations that can accommodate at-home workers, reopening becomes a matter of weighing the benefits of in-person interaction – of which there are many - with safety. When discussions first started regarding how to open our office safely, I was looking forward to rejoining my coworkers. I know myself to be an extrovert and love working with others. Study after study have found that socializing is good for productivity, well-being, and workplace longevity. Research is somewhat mixed regarding productivity in repetitive manufacturing jobs, such as line workers. One study suggested that productivity may not fare as well when a manufacturing employee is working next to a friend, though psychological welfare wasn’t taken into consideration. But in the “white collar” arena, the research suggests that your employees are more productive when they are feeling connected and can collaborate with others.
Not only does Cx Associates recognize the benefits of in-person interaction, we’ve spent Zoom time watching our colleagues work from the kitchen table with children peeking their heads in the camera and spouses making a snack in the background. Without a home office, working from home can feel like a circus, and it was clear to us that some employees needed a place to go. A survey of employees indicated that, overall, employees were conflicted with returning to an office space; they were somewhat dissatisfied with their all-home setup, but somewhat concerned about their health should they return. Therefore, we made the choice optional and did what we could to allow those who decided to come back to the office to do so as safely as possible.
What did we do to open safely? With an open office and no control over our HVAC system, we relied on contact barriers and sanitation. This included restricting the office to employees only, erecting three feet of clear plastic sheeting on each four-foot-high wall between each desk (using two-by-fours), buying a HEPA unit per employee and copious quantities of hand/surface sanitizer and face masks, and developing a set of guidelines for how to move through the office. Since we only have twelve employees based in our Burlington office, our protocol is relatively easy to maintain. It is as follows:
Each day, a person is assigned to deal with common areas. In our case, that’s the first and last person to leave for the day. The first person to enter the office turns on the common area HEPA units and sanitizes the common surfaces, including door handles, kitchen counter-top, water faucet and handles, the refrigerator door handle, conference room table, and light switches. The last person does the same and turns the common HEPA units off.
Before coming into work, each person must complete a COVID Pre-Screening Survey that requires the individual to take their temperature and answer a series of questions about how they’re feeling. If someone answers yes to any question, they are required to stay home. Employees must sanitize their hands before entering the office, even if they’ve left for just a minute. This is especially important when using a restroom shared by others in the building. Employees are not required to wear a mask at their desks, but must don a mask when they move about the office.
Other requirements include:
- Use of an entrance that is designated for Cx Associates employees only.
- Use of a HEPA unit at each desk.
- Sanitize deliveries.
- Sanitize any common area surfaces directly after use, including the printer.
With these safety measures in place, colleagues can feel confident that their risk of infection is minimized. For me, there are a few factors that affected my decision to stay home. For one, a member of my family is “at-risk”. For another, the time commitment of working while caring for a child makes any time spent in the car that much more inconvenient. Finally, my little corner home office is functional, and one less person in the office means less exposure for those that really need the space. While it’s nice to know I have access to a dedicated, distraction-free space should I need it, I’m relying on the satisfaction I get from my work and the brief friendly conversations I have with my colleagues over the phone to sustain me until a vaccine is found.