How do we slowly bring 180 people back into the LOOP office, without making even one person feel unsafe? It was a question that bugged us for quite a few days — until we found the one single rule that solved our struggle. We’ve outlined our thinking step-by-step in this article, and if it helps anyone with their planning, it was worth sharing it. Spoiler — We got a plan, and everyone in our team is allowed to ignore it.
Some people can’t wait to be back in the office and go back to normal. Others want to stay in home office longer. Some team members are not worried at all about COVID-19, while others are legitimately scared and don’t want to be too close to other people yet. And then there’s the chance that once we’re all back, one of us might still contract COVID-19. How do we get that all into a plan that makes everyone in the team feel comfortable — and puts health first?
We distance the tables. We get masks for everyone in the office. We make sure sanitizers are everywhere. We sterilize the coffee machine buttons a few times a day. We get rid of the tasty cake that we usually openly serve in our meeting rooms. We set up travelling guidelines. We make sure that the hotspot areas like our kitchen aren’t used at first. We’ve got all that covered.
We have the luck that our office is big, and we can split it. So, we’re thinking about making two 1.600m2 offices out of one 3.200m2 office. And inside these two offices, we’ll split each team into two parts. There is group A and group B in each team. Group A works in the first week, group B in the second week, with each group rotating in and out of home office every other week. That’s how we turn one big agency into four agencies-in-one — and if someone gets tested positive for COVID-19, only 25% of our staff have to get quarantined.
That’s a lot of rules. You’ll find them in most of the bigger companies around the world soon, and you’ll get accustomed to them, even if you’re just a guest there. They’re important, but they also show that office life will not feel the same anytime soon. The birthday cakes with 50 people in the kitchen, teammates cooking lunch together, meeting room sessions with 10 people in a room — it’ll be a long while before all that’s back.
What if someone has to travel to the office by bus, but they don’t feel ready to be on public transport yet? What if some employees have a parent with a chronic disease and are afraid of the risk of passing COVID-19 on to them? All these rules won’t cover every individual needing to feel comfortable while distancing measures are dismantled, and we start to move back into offices.
We can see people around the world in offices after COVID-19 wearing masks, using sanitizers multiple times a day, constantly trying to manage a proper distance to other colleagues and pressing buttons on coffee machines or in elevators with keys so they don’t touch anything. And at any point or on certain days, they will just wish to be at home – where they can press buttons without any risks.
It’s important to have a good transition plan that has all the health measures needed to ensure no one is put at risk. We have this plan, but still, we felt that any movement back to the office stands the chance of making one of our team members feel unsafe. So, we shuffled around guidelines and ideas until we came to the one rule that made the final plan perfect.
That solved it all. Our return-to-office plan is good, but it becomes a human plan with one important add-on: anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable enough to re-enter the LOOP office can just ignore it and stay in home office for at least the summer of 2020.
We have the framework in place to get the whole LOOP team safely back into the office, but the plan is opt-in only. Anyone can decide to return to the office as planned, or if someone doesn’t feel comfortable yet, they can feel free to stay in home office until at least July. That one rule allows everyone to re-enter the office at their own pace and with complete peace of mind.