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Time to get back to the office?

Written By Jon Budington

May 22, 2020

It seems like months ago that our school system decided to close for 10 days in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Ah yes, that actually was months ago.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve enjoyed telling stories about working from home, getting some fresh air in Rock Creek Park and most recently, cooking. As it is becoming obvious that a breakthrough medical treatment is not going to be here anytime soon—and our summer plans and fall normalcy are now in doubt—I feel it’s a good time to start thinking about returning to the office.

Conference room for 10? Not likely anytime soon.

I’m not talking about armed visits to the Statehouse demanding change, and I’m in no way denying the seriousness of the pandemic. I’m simply focused on envisioning a new office normal and recognizing that our workplace will likely change forever.

Let the planning begin

We’ve begun by developing a survey of two cohorts of employees: those who were deemed essential and have been working on-site throughout the crisis and those who were asked to work from home. This division of groups sounds logical enough, but we’ve now realized that there are many subgroups with vastly different experiences.

In addition, we’ve formed a committee made up of staff members from each department. This effort is being led by Josh Hirschorn, our VP of Finance and Administration. Josh is well-suited for this role, as he’s worked with us for nearly 20 years and knows the inner workings of our operations.

Josh Hirschorn trying out different mask options.

We are currently in the process of assessing the physical aspects of our offices. Like so many businesses, we’ve spent the past few years removing walls and offices and replacing them with open floor plans. These have become COVID nonstarters for office reopening. We’re in the process of designing ways to keep employees safe while maintaining the feeling of openness and collaboration.

Will we ever sit like this again?

Next, we’ll need to create rules and processes for workplace interaction. Do we wear our masks at all times or only when leaving our desks? Can we eat lunch together or have a communal coffee pot? How many people can sit together in the conference room? These all sound like easy decisions, but requiring new behavior from 150 people is going to require constant effort and supervision.

The super uncool cube farm is looking pretty good right now.

Technology will play an important role as well. Limited access to childcare and summer programs may prevent those with young families from returning to the office full time. Like so many businesses, we have multiple technology platforms for managing work—we need to consolidate, knowing that some of us will require tools to work collaboratively and remotely.

Most importantly, we need to figure out how to preserve our culture in a socially distanced workplace. We are a close group at More Vang. Some of our best ideas are developed during social events and casual gatherings. Keeping that spirit alive is essential to our long term success and also our friendships.

More Vang Cookbook, click to share!

More Vang is its people and their collective ideas and outputs.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll share both the progress we make and the pitfalls we encounter.  I’m hoping you will share some of your ideas and concerns as well. We are all in this together.