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On Bringing People Back to Work

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republished from mid-2020

It will happen, sooner than later. And we all hope that there are no further interruptions to our workplaces and businesses. That will largely depend on the behavior of others: rules followed or broken; being proactive vs. re-active; and leaders hopefully leading – by example.

I am speaking from own experience in various industries, most in 365/24/7 operations, and a few from the more routine office hours.  Some of these open to and serving the public; others with little incoming traffic from outsiders.

How one business opens all the way will be different from another. Whether essential or not – there will be quite a few challenges – unique to each organization.

Putting my strong-scheduling experience hat on for a bit, I came up with just a couple of ideas. Maybe they will appeal to management in one type of workplace for another. Here are four(4) scenarios to consider: office settings, restaurants, salons, and schools.


SCENARIO #1 Offices                                                                                                                           

Picture a traditional, professional office environment housing a few hundred employees or more; one company, over a dozen floors or so. The majority of people work on the same floor — one that requires an elevator ride. While most commute to work by car, there is a significant group that takes scheduled public transportation. Most of these staffers come into work and punch in around 9am, a bit leisurely being the norm. Since the quarantine rules were honored, a high number of people are currently working from home with proper equipment and support, etc. But the time will come to start bringing people back to work. How can they maintain social distancing when they all arrive and leave around the same time, and while they work physically close together in comfortable but segmented departments? And of course, pack into elevators on their way in and out, and yet again – back ‘n forth for lunch breaks. We will keep smoking breaks out of this.

  • Consider first, how many people could fit in that one elevator while keeping distanced. Let’s presume there is ample space to stay apart while waiting for the elevator.
  • Approximate how long that elevator takes to get from the 1st floor entrance to the main floor.
  • So, how many people could punch in and get to their workstations if they all start at the same time?
  • A fix for going forward: Stagger start times. Maybe a 7am, 8am and 9am start time. Of course, the times to punch out will be staggered as well. There will be gradual traffic in/out over a two-hour period. The more employees, the more start times you might consider; possibly on the ½ hour over that two-hour time frame. (7a, 730a, 8a, 830a, 9a, and 930a)
  • Your challenges as managers: Choosing which people or operation/departments could have staggered start times. Will this be a random selection over the entire staff, or left up to departmental and operational management?
  • Another challenge will be to gain willing participation and not have to enforce it. This could be a temporary scheduling adjustment before we all return to whatever a new normal may be.
  • And yet another challenge for managers – managing the socialization that often occurs when people start their workday, especially when returning to the workplace after a significant time away. But this is one of the many things we manage – people. Leadership should help communicate these guidelines in support.
  • If department areas still feel crowded, management may consider encouraging alternate days of work – especially if there are reasons to streamline operations or to reduce staff.
  • A potential benefit – more coverage in certain departments for customers coast-to-coast with varying time zones. Customers may appreciate the fact that they can reach your business earlier or later than normal, rather than within a very restricted time frame within your own time zone.

SCENARIO #2 Dining Out

Think about New Year’s Eve when making reservations for a celebratory dinner for two, or more – and being home before midnight. Most fine-dining restaurants schedule seating times. They provide 90-minute or longer intervals to turn tables to seat their guest capacity. This is also dependent on staffing.

  • Restaurants in general, family style or fast casual, etc., just have an ongoing flow of traffic with open door policies. Sometimes they offer “call-ahead seating.” Every scenario offers pros and cons – from generating revenue or lost revenue due to no-shows.
  • When there are no procedures in place, people are waiting in congested cashier areas, especially when the servers are not the ones to collect payment. Congestion coming in, and congestion trying to leave and pay your check. And of course, do not forget to generously tip your server. Difficult to distance ourselves from others.
  • Reservations for everyone. All dining venues that have servers can require reservations. This helps management with staffing and so many operational concerns.
  • All tables are organized or sectioned off to be at least 8ft. apart. Those seated together won’t likely be following social distancing at this point. This provides the servers a bit of space as well.
  • If there are stationary booths, block every other one.
  • While servers should wear masks and gloves – diners can arrive with masks, but of course – are there to dine. Essentially, enforcing safe practices on their way to and from their assigned tables.
  • Hostesses that escort diners to their table will need to be firm with diners to not wearing masks, etc. This may require some supportive training or additional staff.
  • For restaurants that collect money at a check-out area, be sure that there is some area marked off for people to remain 6ft apart, if not more.
  • Keep your customers informed, and don’t make it so difficult to dine in. Have phone numbers posted clearly outside – in case a call-ahead seating is available.
  • For fast casual places, where one stands in line and waits to order, collects the order and then finds a seat…similar practices can be maintained. Blocking off every other booth or table. Clearly mark off areas for distancing. Have signage on a door that reads “restaurant capacity is limited at this time” or something along those lines. People want to be heard and communicated to – and avoid confusion.
  • There are several fast food restaurants that currently do not offer drive-thru service. Maybe it’s time to relocate or reconstruct your current place to provide that service.

SCENARIO #3 Salons

Salons are so varied these days – from at home yet very professional salons, to studio suites that stylists rent, to larger salons and those that I label as fast-casual (the chains and those catering to men only). Let’s pretend we’re in Japan and first, remove shoes at the door. Or offer shoe coverings.    Then take a temperature.

  • All services to require appointments, no more drop-ins welcome.
  • For smaller or at-home salons, stagger appointments so that clients don’t cross paths. Allow for a 15- minute window for cleaning/sanitizing in-between clients. While most salons are a great place to socialize, meet other people, etc., socialization will need to be kept between stylist and client – for now.
  • The stylists will assure their own protection and PPE as should their clients. Temperatures can be taken at the door.

And finally, last but not least.

SCENARIO #3 Schools

I graduated high school decades ago with a class of 997 students. In that era, it was unheard of and I don’t recall hearing of such a large class since, but I know they are in force somewhere.

  • The school district was divided into two locations for Freshman/Sophomore year and then one location for Junior/Senior year. During those 4 years – we were seriously overcrowded. The solution – splitting shifts. It worked. Not always convenient and a bit non-traditional, but we’re in non-traditional times. If it worked then, it could work now. Whether at the elementary level or just high school.
  • The hours spent at school could be adjusted while still meeting educational requirements.
  • An early schedule may start at 730am and the next start at 1230pm. Lunch breaks will be shortened but class times will as well, even by 10-minutes. Lunch at the desks of the most current class.
  • There are highly educated administrators and educators out there who could come up with a great plan – if they are open to it.
  • Splitting school schedules will provide for smaller class sizes and thereby social distancing.
  • Announcements that require a larger audience can be held with proper spacing in an auditorium, between the morning and afternoon shifts.

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