A Roundtable on Reopening the Office

May 12

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The working world, along with the rest of the world, has changed. What we define as ‘company culture’ will look different in the coming months and years, and we wanted to create a space to talk about it. Thus, Thriver Roundtable was born, and our inaugural discussion centred around one question: what does reopening the office even look like?

We welcomed some workplace leaders who were already in the process of planning to reopen: Chris Turner, Regional Operations Manager at Pinterest (which operates offices around the world); and Jennifer Flaxman, Manager of Learning & Development at Stitch Fix (which operates multiple offices, including hundreds of employees who were already working remotely prior to the pandemic). 

What did we learn?

It was a pretty enlightening hour. Each of our panelists shared some really valuable insights on what reopening the office entails for them. Here’s the advice that stuck with us:

Start a task force. 

Both panelists stressed the importance of creating a dedicated covid-related task-force; a group of key stakeholders who can focus on managing the company’s response to the pandemic and planning for a safe, sustainable return. Goals of this team are to plan and implement new safety protocols based on government/CDC guidelines and employee comfort and preference.

Reopen gradually.

One thing is clear about reopening the office – slow and steady is the way to go.

“We’re looking at a phased approach,” says Turner. “Welcoming back a smaller percentage at first; possibly those who don’t have an ideal home office. Then further along we can open it up to teams.”

Similar to Pinterest, leaders at Stitch Fix are engaging their employees to determine who could help keep the office capacity light by working from home. They’ve created a survey to learn more about their employees’ ideal working conditions, with questions like Do you want to come back full-time? Part-time? None of the time? What have you liked about working from home? Have you been more distracted? What’s your ergonomic setup? 

Everyone returning to the office all at once just isn’t possible right now, so the goal (for the immediate future, at least) is to speak with your team and plan to have smaller numbers of employees in-office at a time, in a way that works for everyone.

Go touchless.

Our panelists agreed that companies need to be taking a close look at their office kitchen, and plan to make modifications that eliminate as many variables for contamination and/or transmission as possible. One question these workplace leaders have been asking themselves is – “what can we make touchless?”

You can start by exploring your options for touchless snack and drink dispensers. Our panelists have been looking at potential solutions like an automated espresso machine, or a water dispenser with a QR code, so you can dispense water with your phone.

You can also plan for pre-portioned snacks or pre-plated meals. Really, the main goal is to eliminate the number of hands involved when serving the team (if you’d like help planning for safer food programs, we can help).

Keep up the townhall meetings.

If we’ve learned one thing from speaking with our panelists, and our clients, and even our coworkers – it’s that townhall meetings are critical right now. We are in the midst of an event that has impacted us all in so many ways, and employers must do what they can to keep their people in the loop and feeling connected to the larger team. 

Every year Pinterest hosts a companywide conference called Knitcon, featuring employee-led sessions on topics ranging from fly fishing to sitcom writing to cheese plating, and right now they’re looking into how the event could work virtually. The Stitch Fix team is also taking proactive steps to make their team feel more connected. Beyond their monthly all-hands meetings, they’ve been maintaining a regular cadence of communication over email, intranet, Slack, and Zoom.

“We want people to know what’s going on without even having to ask,” says Flaxman.

Champion mental health.

It’s clear from the roundtable discussion that employee well-being takes precedence over everything, and given the reality to which we’ve all been forced to adapt, employers should be focussing on their employees’ mental well-being in particular. Stitch Fix recently created a wellness newsletter for their employees, with a range of mental health resources and expert advice on dealing with grief, anxiety, and isolation.

“People are feeling a lot of feelings,” says Flaxman. “We need to encourage our employees to talk about what they need, and create space for them.”

Safety first.

It may come last on this list, but when it comes to reopening the office, Safety is Priority #1. 

“We’re making sure our janitorial, security, and culinary teams are subcontracted, with the highest possible safety standards,” says Turner. 

Both Pinterest and Stitch Fix teams are planning to provide face masks for employees, and are also considering a screening process. But the reality is, we only scratched the surface of what it means to implement an enhanced health & safety protocol in the workplace. It calls for its own conversation, which is exactly the intention of our next roundtable discussion: New World, New Workplace. If you read this before May 21, join us! If not, download our workplace health & safety guide to learn more.

A huge thank you to our panelists who provided way more insight and guidance than we could have expected in a single hour. It was a great discussion to kick off the series and we look forward to many more ahead of us!

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