After working more than a year apart, is there a right way to reopen your office? We know you have a lot of questions, so we sat down with M13’s People and Culture Manager Marie Sokolovsky and Office Manager Arbo Shah to hear how they’ve been preparing our New York City and Los Angeles offices for in-person work.
Learn more about what they considered, plus get their essential tips for welcoming everyone back to the office.
6 tips for returning to your office
No matter where your office is located, there are a few measures you’ll want to take if your employees are returning to the workplace. Here’s where to start:
Research guidelines for reopening. Start with federal, then state, and finally city or county laws. Implement federal regulations, and consider implementing any optional guidelines advised by your state or local government.
Look at businesses around you. Read up, talk to other startup founders and business owners, and reach out to your network to learn what companies similar to you are doing (like we did!). Here are some questions to consider asking:
Have they invested in UV lights or a brand-new HVAC system? (We did!)
What are they proposing for a cleaning system and what products are they buying? (We upgraded our cleaning products.)
How are they serving food, if at all? (We ask employees to order individual lunches from their daily Grubhub allowance. In our kitchen, only snacks that are individually packaged are provided to help reduce cross-contamination.)
How are they securely collecting any COVID-19 vaccination records, if at all? (We’ve prepared our offices to welcome both staff and guests whether or not they’re vaccinated. In order to go mask-free indoors at an M13 office, we ask everyone to wait two weeks after the last shot. Those who are not vaccinated must submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test from the last 72 hours prior to arrival. If guests or employees cannot meet either of these two requirements, we simply ask that they continue to wear masks indoors. Separately, we’ve also asked our staff to upload their vaccination cards in our employee database.)
Stick to a budget. As a startup, it’s helpful to know your ballpark budget and what are truly essentials versus “nice to haves.” At M13, Marie and Arbo invested in:
new air filtration systems
plexiglass separations between desks
several months’ worth of PPE items like masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves
outdoor furniture and decor
Consider creating useful swag. If you have the resources for it, custom merch can help ease the return to in-person work. For example, M13 designed masks for all staff. You could also consider putting together re-entry swag kits with travel-size hand sanitizer, masks, and mini sized versions of their favorite snacks!
Find ways to weave in your company’s values. M13 placed funny reminders around the office about social distancing and mask-wearing.
Revamp any outdoor spaces. Arbo spent a few months with the help of the Mission Control team upgrading M13’s nine-car parking lot so it felt like an outdoor meeting area. He added plants, artificial turf, and spacious tables and chairs while still leaving room to park five cars!
What has resulted is a clean, modern outdoor environment where co-workers can collaborate in a socially distanced way.
Stay informed and flexible about changing guidelines
At some point during the pandemic, we’ve all been confused by continuously changing guidelines. If you’ve had to keep track of more than one state’s recommendations, things can get quite overwhelming.
In late 2020, Marie and Arbo had prepared a number of solutions in anticipation of reopening, including:
- sign-up sheets (using Hayday, a wellness screening software solution created by M13 portfolio company PINATA)
- daily wellness check-ins
Now with widely available COVID-19 vaccines, we aren’t using many of those systems. Even so, we learned how to prepare while staying flexible.
Here are two principles that Arbo and Marie have relied on throughout the reopening process:
1. Don’t rush. When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently changed their guidelines about indoor/outdoor gatherings, M13’s Mission Control team immediately had a meeting. They talked about how we were going to incorporate the new rules but didn’t rush into it. They waited a week and only increased office capacity by 50% even though the guidance said fully vaccinated people could resume activities without masks.
2. Keep your team updated. Throughout the year, as federal and/or state guidelines evolved, the M13 team sent out regular internal communications via email and Slack to all staff. This included:
a sign-up sheet for each office with a max capacity and waitlist
an office rules and regulations page that clearly defined behavioral expectations
lots of enthusiasm for eventually bringing people back to the office
The bottom line: Closely monitor your area’s specific guidelines, and continue to talk to your team.
Which leads us to Marie and Arbo’s top tip for reopening an office:
Keep people as your highest priority
Be clear about whether your company will continue to support remote work, plus consistently communicate any new expectations or updated timelines about returning to the office.
At M13, we asked ourselves:
How can we give our people what they want in the most safe and socially responsible setting?
To better understand whether M13 employees wanted to return to the workplace and under what conditions, M13’s Mission Control team sent out periodic surveys. Sample questions included:
How comfortable are you with X number of people inside the office?
Would you prefer that only vaccinated people enter the workplace, or are you okay with unvaccinated but masked people being indoors?
How comfortable would you be joining for a day of outdoor team-building activities?
How important is it that M13 requires the team and visitors to be fully vaccinated in order to work from either offices?
By layering in the broader perspective of how people feel, Marie and Arbo got a sense of who already feels comfortable coming in—and who doesn’t yet. After all, the decision to return to in-person work is not just about emotional comfort. Chronic health conditions that may put your team and their families at risk are still a factor to consider while respecting their privacy.
In every meeting we had, our mission was to make both offices physically and psychologically safe for our employees to return.
Remember your remote workers
At the beginning of the pandemic, we encouraged every employee to take home anything they wanted from the office, including monitors, chairs, and keyboards. We also gave everyone a stipend to spend on improving their work-from-home (WFH) setup.
To help support a hybrid work environment, we recently followed up with full-time employees to buy whatever they need to upgrade their home office. From standing desks to ergonomic chairs, we worked hard to fulfill all requests.
By reopening the offices but not having any mandates around when people should be back in person, we hope to take the pressure off an office environment—instead, we’re focused on producing good work in a comfortable environment, Marie says.
The last year has proved that everyone continues to work very hard from home or wherever they are, so I think we are doing a great job of providing options for the team, while not being overly prescriptive.