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9 popular back to work questions answered

Many factors go into a company’s decision to reopen the office after, or during, a global pandemic. Some companies, like Slack, have transitioned to a remote-first company, with no set plans to return to the office. Others, like Zoom and PennyMac, are eager to get back to the office but want to wait until it’s safe to do so. Then there’s Samsara, who had no choice but to bring critical employees back to the office due to safety concerns of doing their jobs at home. 

During a recent virtual panel, workplace leaders from Slack, Zoom, PennyMac, and Samsara shared their return to work strategies. The audience asked a lot of great questions during the discussion, and unfortunately, we didn’t have time to answer them all live. 

We felt the questions needed answers.

We re-connected with Nicole Persaud, Head of Safety and Security at Samsara, to learn how she is bringing employees back to the office. After closing their offices due to COVID-19, Samsara realized that employees who worked on IoT hardware were not safe doing their jobs at home. They decided to bring critical employees back to the office in June. Nicole offered to answer the popular questions and share details on how reopening the office is going. Here are the answers to the top audience questions:

1. Are you conducting temperature checks or using temperature monitoring cameras? 

Nicole: We initially conducted temperature checks using handheld contactless IR thermometers, which use thermophile sensors. We did not achieve much consistency with these. We have since moved to thermographic sensors which have had greater reliability. 

2. How are you thinking about contact tracing?  

Nicole: We are evaluating wearable technology and looking at ultra-wideband vs. Bluetooth technology. There’s a lot we’re considering in terms of privacy and reliability. Not just the reliability of the signal and data collected, but on the user to use the device. We’re exploring not only wearables and mobile phones, but also using clinician services to support contact tracing. They can provide additional privacy and comfort in someone disclosing close contact circumstances. 

3. How many people are on your core planning team for the reopening of your offices? Is there a new role in the organization to support COVID related safety needs? 

Nicole: Our core planning team is multi-departmental. It consists of Safety and Security (EHS and physical security), Workplace (facilities and space planning), People Operations (human resources), Executive representation, Legal, and Communications.  Dealing with COVID requires expertise and cooperation from each of these departments. We brought on additional support from the Safety and Security group given the need to do more risk assessments and screenings. They also review and implement health orders and new processes related to WFH, travel, etc.

4. What are you doing to support parents who are now working at home with young children?

Nicole: We’ve had Zoom meetings company-wide that involve storytime for kids. Also, just being accepting of kids joining video calls, or parents needing to step away for a moment. I encourage parents to block out time on their calendars such as “Family Time” or “Family Lunch” so that the time doesn’t get booked over. I’ve found that people less often book over those compared to when the description says busy or do not disturb.

5. How are your companies handling employees who want to come in, but resist policies on wearing PPE? 

Nicole: Quite simply, we have measures in place to protect employees as individuals and to protect our work and greater community. If someone resists policies on wearing PPE, we ask that they continue to make arrangements to work from home. If it is essential that they come into the office, they are expected to follow the Code of Conduct and adhere to health and safety practices. 

6. Are you planning to provide in-office food or coffee? 

Nicole: We are only bringing in pre-packaged snacks, drinks, and lunches. No open food.  We have staff trained in Food Handling Safety to operate the espresso machine and to take coffee orders.

7. How are you training employees regarding new processes and protocols? If mandatory training is required, what type of content is being included?  

Nicole: We provided a Return to Work Handbook and COVID-19 Awareness Training. Employees must complete these before their office access is reinstated. The Return to Work Handbook outlines new entry processes, office layout, operational changes, and expectations of employees. Cal/OSHA has specific criteria related to COVID-19 that employees must be trained on while working in the office.  We’ve worked with Myca Learning to develop our Global COVID-19 Awareness training. Although knowledge of COVID-19 is widespread, we still provide the basics about the virus. It also reiterates the importance of face coverings, distancing, and hygiene practices. We want to make sure all employees have the same basic understanding.

8. How are you handling sanitation daily?

Nicole: We increased janitorial staff and implemented a timetable with staff in dedicated areas. We also have a ticketing system to report areas needing attention. Common areas, rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, handles, doors, and tablets, are all cleaned hourly. Individual workstations are cleaned at night. We instituted a clean desk policy to facilitate cleaning by janitorial staff. A great idea that we will likely put in place soon are installing sanitation seals across doors, which shows that if the seal is intact it has not been used.

9. Are you using daily health assessments? 

Nicole: We are using Envoy to complete daily health assessments and employee check-in. We also use a thermographic camera to do contactless temperature screening.

To hear more about how Samsara is reopening the office, and to hear perspectives from Zoom, Slack, and PennyMac, listen to the full panel recording. Reopening a workplace in the midst of a global pandemic isn’t easy, but luckily there are a lot of resources to help. Envoy made our plan, our underlying documents, and our portal available to the public so that you can borrow or extend it. You can see view all of our back to work materials here.