by Larissa Almeida, Office Manager at Operto
How one VRMA member has re-opened their physical office. What measures did they take and why being together is best for the team at Operto.
Before the Storm
2019 was a great year for Operto ─ our company was growing fast and so was our team. We increased our personnel by 58% and had exciting expansion plans for 2020. The New Year started as a busy, promising one: planning logistics for four conferences ─ including the VRMA European Conference in the first quarter ─ drafting job descriptions for new hires, getting ready for tax season…there was certainly a lot going in the life of this office manager. Little did we know of the huge changes we would face in the upcoming months.
The Lockdown and the Transition into Remote Work
March started with a lot of uncertainty. It was the shortest and yet the longest month I have experienced. Around March 15, the Government of British Columbia (Operto is based in Vancouver) proactively asked businesses and schools to close in order to avoid a spike in the contamination curve. Our province entered into lockdown much earlier than most countries and that early start as well as the guidance of our stellar Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, is definitely how we managed to flatten our curve so early.
All this quite sudden change forced us to adapt as quickly as possible. We had a work-from-home policy, but as a tech start-up, we’re not a company designed to be fully remote. Our human interactions, break-room conversations and stand-up meetings are key for engaging and bonding between our cross-functional team. However, we were able to adjust to the “new normal” quickly: we sent our employees home and did our best to support them with the equipment they needed to perform well remotely.
We worked from home for ten weeks. Like everyone else, our days were filled with video calls, virtual stand-up meetings and more Slack messages than ever. We even had a couple of virtual happy hours over Show & Tell presentations to spend some casual time together. Despite our efforts to make this transition as smooth as possible, we knew something was missing. The physical interactions, even six feet apart, were extremely important to our team and business. I could tell that many employees were struggling being confined in their small apartments, not being able to socialize with their peers. The hard time making calls or concentrating when your child (or pet!) is begging for your attention was very difficult for some of our staff. Around week four I was more than sure that we needed to go back to the office to collaborate as a team as soon as it was safe to do so.
Getting Back to Work and Transitioning into Shared Spaces Again
During the first week of May, the Government of B.C. announced that we had flattened the curve with the partial lockdown, physical distancing and staying home. It was now time to slowly re-open our economy as we entered into Phase 2.
Before going back to the office, we needed to make sure we were ready to safely welcome our team back. We started planning and proactively taking measures to protect our team and make them feel safe.
Adding Physical Barriers Between Workstations
Step one was to provide physical barriers between each workstation. Similar to most modern companies, we have an open office that is great for cross-functional collaboration, however, not ideal during social distancing times. With the shortage of Plexiglas (everyone wanted it!), we had to make it work with the options we had available: plywood dividers. It was a quick and effective solution to work as a sneeze guard ─ while making room to get fun and creative.
Providing Disinfecting Kits
Step two was to provide a disinfecting kit for each employee. Since it was impossible to find disinfecting wipes, we needed to get creative again: we provided paper towels and multi-surface cleaners in spray bottles for daily desk sanitization as well as personal hand sanitizer and labels for mugs and glasses.
Setting a Maximum Capacity for Boardrooms and Breakrooms
In order to avoid a large number of people in smaller areas such as the boardroom and kitchen, we set an occupancy limit of four people in these rooms. We marked the seats available with a big blue X to make sure a distance of six feet was kept at all times. We also kept all windows open during the day to increase air circulation and get that great summer fresh air to come inside.
We created a sanitizing station at the office’s entrance with hand sanitizer and lotion for all employees to use. As a reminder, we added signs throughout the office asking everyone to wash their hands frequently and use the hand sanitizer often.
Daily Disinfection of High Traffic Areas
Last but not least, we had our high traffic areas and appliances cleaned and disinfected twice a day as a precaution. We cleaned doorknobs, outlet switches, the boardroom’s table and kitchen countertop and appliances frequently to make sure we had a safe, clean office for everyone.
In addition to all these measures, we spent a great deal of time working closely with our partners Edge Consultants and Airsset to create a comprehensive guide for employers to welcome staff back to work. The result of our research can be found here.
We are now in Phase 3 of the British Columbia Restart Plan with much more flexibility, but our safety measures are still in place. We look forward to the day when no barriers between us will be needed and when we will be able to get closer to each other with no concerns. In the meantime, we are thankful that we are able to be back in the office and collaborate in-person towards our goal.
I hope our journey amid this pandemic can help others to stay resilient as they go back to the office. Stay safe everyone!
About Larissa Almeida
Larrisa is the office manager for Operto Guest Technologies and is based in Vancouver, Canada. Operto is a property automation system that provides intelligent control of smart devices at scale, which enables property managers to optimize operations and provide an outstanding guest experience. Operto offers automated keyless entry, energy management, monitoring of noise and occupancy, as well as powerful software for guests and staff. www.operto.com.