MOI reopened the company’s Baltimore headquarters with signage and reduced room capacity to protect employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As pandemic-shuttered businesses reopen in Maryland, workers and employers are preparing for workplaces designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. In Maryland, most office-based employers switched to a mandatory work-from-home policy during the pandemic if they could – some before the state’s stay-at-home order took effect March 30th. Employees quickly adapted, attending virtual business meetings, coffee chats, and financial consultations.
It, for sure, won’t be business as usual. Migrating some or all employees back to work will likely mean staggering shifts on-site, increasing telework, closing or restricting common areas, and spreading employees out at individual, rather than shared, desks.
That’s largely the approach being taken by Baltimore-based MOI. The commercial interiors and furnishings supplier reopened its 60-person Locust Point office Monday for the first time since mid-March. The firm had been planning the transition for weeks, deciding to hold off on costly permanent changes, such as partitions, in favor of encouraging behavioral changes and limiting the number of employees.
Returning workers must wear face masks. Green floor arrows send people on a one-way loop around the office. Signs remind workers to wipe down areas after use. Maximum capacity numbers are posted outside conference rooms and on common space tables. Workers have been given stylus pens to use on touch screens and can open restroom doors with a foot pedal. The reduced seating that remains in the communal kitchen and conference room is spread out.
The workforce shifted seamlessly to telework, thanks to company laptops already in use. But during the reopening’s first week, just a handful of employees have chosen to return, MOI President David Noel said.
“That’s what I expected,” Noel said. “There were a few of us antsy to get in, then a few that have no child care or they’re nervous. Physically, I’m convinced we will be spread out and fine. But psychologically, how do you get people to really feel safe going out?”
Noel said he doubts office use will resemble pre-pandemic times even after a vaccine is available. He sees the office as the centerpiece of a more flexible way of working. He expects people will gradually return in some form, both to his own office and those the company supplies.
People want to interact with other people. And that’s hard to do from home.
– David Noel