How 10 Leading Companies are Adapting Their Workplaces Post COVID-19
Within six short months, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to reevaluate their workplaces. Many major employers expanded their leave policies to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and encourage workers to seek necessary medical care, while others implemented long-term changes, including the option to work from home indefinitely.
For years, working in a physical corporate office has been the default, with employers offering amenities such as catered lunches, gyms, and even social events. Though, with a recent shift to the home office, many are trading in these perks for home office stipends to encourage employee productivity.
Here is a look at how 10 companies are transforming their workplace policies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In early March, Twitter became one of the first major employers to begin adjusting its workplace policies in light of the pandemic, suspending “noncritical” employee business travel and encouraging employees to work from their home offices.
Quickly thereafter, the company made working from home mandatory for all its global offices. They also provided reimbursements to employees setting up their home offices, as well as to parents and caregivers with additional daycare expenses.
Then in May, CEO Jack Dorsey announced that employees can work from home permanently, if they so choose. In a blog post, the company stated, “Opening offices will be our decision, when and if our employees come back, will be theirs.” Dorsey’s other company, Square, also followed suit, along with several major employers.
For employees that do choose to re-enter the office, Twitter said that won’t happen before September, nor will business travel resume before then. The company also made the decision to cancel all live, in-person events for the remainder of 2020.
Twitter and Square aren’t the only big names to announce a permanent work-from-home (WFH) policy. Shopify, the Canada-based e-commerce company that boasts more than 5,000 employees, announced the same in May, with CEO Tobi Lutke saying the company is now “digital by default.”
The company also announced that it would give employees a $1,000 stipend to help build out their home office and buy office supplies.
Even as lockdowns lift in each of Shopify’s operating cities, offices will remain closed until 2021. And when they do return, they’ll do so at 20 to 50 percent capacity, meaning floor plans and conference rooms will look quite different in an effort to enforce physical distancing.
Slack is taking a similar stance to Twitter, Square, and Shopify, offering a permanent WFH option for employees. The company, a stalwart for startups with remote teams, has long been a proponent of in-office work. In June, Slack SVP of People Robby Kwok said in a blog post that the company is also upping its hiring of permanently remote employees.
Slack employees who do wish to return to their workspace won’t be able to do so until at least September 1, though the company states this could be further extended. When they open their offices, Slack says they’ll be cutting down on some of its amenities, including catered lunches, as well as in-person meetings, to help ensure employee safety.
With physical classrooms located across the world, General Assembly (GA), an education provider offering training in coding, data science, digital marketing, and more, has had to adjust its teaching format. In March, the company moved its in-person classes online, said Catie Brand, the vice president of HR at GA. “Luckily, the organization already runs hundreds of online classes informed by countless hours of virtual instruction, so the transition has been relatively seamless.”
Zoom and Slack have been key to facilitating communication among the company’s staff and students. To encourage student engagement, GA instructors use Zoom’s breakout rooms for discussions on course material and to answer questions via virtual office hours. Even networking and career development workshops have gone online.
Brand says this switch to fully remote learning is an asset that students will carry for years to come: “Working and collaborating with teams in a remote setting effectively will be a must-have skill for our students going out into the workforce, so we’ve adapted to ensure they get that critical experience at GA.”
With hallway catch-ups no longer possible, GA is hosting a number of internal activities to bring employees together while physically distant. These include a daily video chat over coffee, office trivia over Slack, virtual happy hours, and mental health town halls in which employees can gain advice on how to navigate these current times.
The pandemic has boosted the demand for meal-kit delivery services, with many consumers wary of the grocery store and once-common food items and products missing from its shelves.
In an effort to support hourly employees, HelloFresh expanded sick leave and attendance policies to those directly affected by COVID-19, those in quarantine, and those exhibiting symptoms. The company states that it’s also provided additional flexibility to those working with children at home.
In HelloFresh facilities, the company has implemented additional safety measures to protect employees, which includes daily hospital-grade cleanings, temperature checks upon entry, and a mandate that anyone inside their facilities wear a face mask. The company’s delivery partners have also been advised to clean high-touch surfaces and wear face masks.
In March, Freshly became one of the first companies in New York to enforce remote work. The company says it will continue to do so until it’s safe to re-enter the office. They’ll make that determination by learning from the experiences of other companies returning to work, a Freshly spokesperson said.
And to foster connection among employees and bring in-office culture to life online, Freshly created an engagement calendar. This includes stretch and coffee breaks, bingo, happy hours, and daily meet-ups via Google Meet so that employees can stay socially and visually connected while out of office. “We see our communication tools as bridging the gaps that exist now without the day-to-day hallway or kitchen conversation that we all miss,” the spokesperson said.
Earlier this spring, Freshly unveiled a new service, Freshly for Business, which companies can provide nutritious, chef-made meals to their employees working from home.
“Launching an entirely new business or service while working remotely is a challenge in itself,” the spokesperson said. “Troubleshooting that would typically take place through in-person conversations is not possible, so clear and constant communication becomes more vital than ever.”
Freshly has also ramped up their kitchen policies to ensure staff and consumer safety. The company is retraining chefs and kitchen staff on the FDA’s good manufacturing processes, providing expanded sick leave, and conducting screenings at all of their kitchens.
For essential workers needing safe, reliable transportation, rideshare companies provide a solid option. However, with restaurants, shops, and other services closed in many cities, rides are down by as much as 80 percent.
Uber recently launched two new services, Uber Direct, which people can use to get items delivered to their doorsteps from select retailers, and Uber Connect, which can be used to send packages to friends and families in the same city.
With these new services, the company is committed to keeping drivers safe, partnering with Clorox to provide cars with disinfectant cleaning wipes in and requiring that all drivers and riders wear face masks.
In fact, drivers must take a face mask selfie with the app before they’re able to pick up riders. Drivers are also advised to roll down windows to increase ventilation, and all pool rides have been suspended until further notice.
Similar to Uber, Lyft has also paused all shared rides to reduce the number of people in the car and ensure the front seat is always open. Face coverings are required in all vehicles, and drivers are strongly encouraged to roll down windows to increase ventilation.
In an effort to support drivers who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or are required to quarantine, Lyft is also providing financial assistance — with the amount determined by the driver’s previous work history.
The company has also unveiled an education portal to help drivers and riders stay up-to-date on best safety practices. They’re also requiring that before using Lyft, both drivers and riders pass a personal health certification.
It’s no secret the pandemic has changed the idea of going into the office — and as a result, changing the way shared-space companies operate.
As more companies eye reopening, WeWork’s goal is to make the transition back to the office an easy one. The company’s plan prioritizes personal space, sanitation, and behavioral signage to encourage physical distancing and ensure cleanliness.
The plan includes an improved HVAC system and adding sanitization stations; increased cleaning measures, particularly in high-touch areas; contactless mail and package delivery; as well as one-way walkways and strategically placed signage that reinforces space limitations in conference rooms and lounge areas.
WeWork says its members still want the flexible terms that it offers, as many are reassessing their traditional real estate needs and looking for other solutions. This is especially true for members with a global presence, who are looking to redistribute their workforce across many locales in an effort to reduce business travel — a common shift as a result of the pandemic.
Once fully reopened, face masks will be required when physical distancing isn’t possible, with temperature screenings required upon entry.
In March, The Wing, a women’s co-working space and social club with 12,000 members, closed its 12 locations as a result of the pandemic. Though The Wing closed its physical doors, the company launched a virtual community, hosting a number of free, live events and offering them to non-members.
With closures as a result of COVID-19, though, “Ninety-five percent of our revenue disappeared overnight,” The Wing co-founders Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan said in a statement. As a result, the majority of employees were furloughed and provided severance, access to healthcare and mental health services, as well as free professional career coaching. The company also created an Employee Relief Fund to support furloughed staff.
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