Like many workers who made the abrupt shift to work from home (WFH), I have felt the new normal has been anything but, well, normal. When as a team we decided to start working from home, we grabbed our laptops, left many of our personal belongings, said our goodbyes, and continued from that day forth working virtually. Our initial thinking was that this would be over in a couple of weeks, a month tops, and we would be able to reconvene in no time. This has clearly not been the case.
Our team was an incredibly fortunate one, given this situation. Our core editorial team has three people, and we were all accustomed to WFH. Most of our work also didn't require many external resources. We just need an Internet connection, a word processor, and maybe a cup of coffee or three. For larger teams, I imagined that there would be other considerations and issues around WFH. To get insight on this, I turned to Stacy Foster, director of facilities and technology at Chemonics International.
As part of Chemonics’s COVID-19 response team, her role of working together with facilities, HR, and IT professionals has taken on a new level of importance.
“When working through the challenges that COVID-19 brings, it is critical for the facilities, HR, ops, security, and crisis management teams to work together with leadership on the best approach to support the office buildings now and in the future. Our extended partners must include our landlords to ensure improved health and safety for our employees,” Foster said.
As an immediate response to COVID-19, Chemonics shut down its multiple office locations for “standard business support,” but kept them open for “business-critical” activities like mailroom support and other needs such as finance and accounting, Foster explained. In addition to limiting the number of people who are allowed in the building, Chemonics “selected one day of the week to offer that as a time for whoever absolutely needs time to go on-site briefly," Foster said. Items could be retrieved at designated times and places, and those activities deemed business critical by the COVID-19 response ream and leadership were allowed but with social distancing and by limiting the number of staff onsite at a time.
To ensure employees had the equipment that they needed to work from home, Chemonics did two things. First, Chemonics created a sign-up system where employees picked a time when only they would come into the office and were able to pick up equipment or personal belongings, Foster explained. As part of the signup, employees would log what they took with the expectation that once they returned to the office that they’d bring those items back, Foster said.
It also wasn’t always just a monitor or keyboard that employees were worried about retrieving. “Some people had plants. They were very worried about their plants — the plants are like their babies," Foster said.
In addition to allowing employees to take devices and equipment (and plants) home, Chemonics went a step further. To help set up a home office, Chemonics "created a benefit" where employees could expense a certain amount of home office-related expenses, Foster said. Sharing her own experience with a painful office chair, Foster was able to buy a new chair, which upon returning to the office she won’t have to bring back. The HR and benefits teams helped create the benefit in partnership with leadership and the response team.
Chemonics also added a dependent care benefit, allowing employees time during the day, if needed, to take care of dependents at home. Parents who needed to take care of children at home due to closed childcare facilities especially appreciated this benefit, according to Foster.
And just like any other business time, Chemonics has had to facilitate on/off-boarding employees during COVID-19. For off-boarding employees, they didn't want to "hold items hostages" and devised ways for employees to pick up their items without them needing to enter the building, Foster explained. One way this was accomplished was by having a former employee explain how to package up their belongings to a Chemonics representative, then the two would agree on a drop-off location. The former employee would then be able to swing by at the spot and pick up their belongings a la Door Dash style.
And while WFH will still be a major component of Chemonics’s workforce strategy, Foster and the COVID-19 response team has already started work on a re-occupancy strategy, which we will examine in-depth in part two of this article.