Comrise continues to be actively involved in maintaining business productivity and on-going communications with our teams, customers, and clients during COVID-19. In this week’s article, Comrise’ Marketing Analyst, Jo Wang, interviewed U.S President of Cross Border Operations, Chris Ciulla. Key discussion topics include Comrise work from home strategy, and advice on establishing your own back to work plan.
When did we close our office due to COVID-19?
Chris Ciulla: On March 17th, 2020, we decided to close our office and practice working remote for all staff. The CDC best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include social distancing and proper hygiene. Since we can work from home, we believed this to be the best solution in keeping our staff safe. A week later, the state of NJ closed all non-essential businesses and encouraged employees to work from home.
How do we set up a work from home policy to ensure company productivity?
Chris Ciulla: To ensure productivity, we moved all our in-person meetings to the video platform, Zoom, and asked all employees to participate, utilizing video chat on all meetings. We scheduled weekly one-on-one meetings with every employee and tracked their performance while keeping ongoing communicating about their physical and mental well-being. Although productivity is critical to the success of our business, the top priority is the health and safety of all internal and external colleagues. Our culture is built on the cornerstone foundation of helping our colleagues win. The success of our teams working from home was essential, all employees were given an opportunity to request purchase of any necessary equipment for this transition (i.e., hardware and office supplies). We also continued outreach to our external consultants and clients through phone calls, weekly email updates and video campaigns to update on our business and keeping them on track.
What laws have come up because of COVID-19 and how did we adjust to meet the requirements?
Chris Ciulla: The Cares Act program is funded through the employer using FMLA coverage with the government reimbursing the employer through a payroll tax credit. It is designed to protect workers meeting the following criteria:
- Ineligible for any other state or federal unemployment benefits
- Unemployed, partially unemployed, or cannot work due to the COVID-19 public health emergency
- Cannot telework or receive paid leave
Payroll Protection Act: “PPP Loan Program” is a government loan for small businesses designed to fund payroll, rent, and utilities to companies that qualify. Any amount spent in these three categories during the coverage period meeting basic criteria will be forgiven with no tax liability. While there are rules to govern how the loan is forgiven, this program is set up to encourage business to keep their colleagues employed regardless of COVID-19 impact. We can review specific if there are questions.
How do we collect feedback internally and externally?
Chris Ciulla: We sent anonymous surveys to our employees, external consultants representing Comrise (external colleagues) and clients to get their feedbacks on our services. We also scheduled one-on-one calls to receive first-hand information directly from them. These surveys were conducted at different points in the crisis to cover timely topics including but not limited to: adjusting to working remotely, concerns for essential worker population, how employees would evaluate Comrise and Comrise Clients response to the crisis, and expectations for returning to a safe/productive workplace.
What steps is Comrise taking to build their return to the office plan?
Chris Ciulla: Our decision will be made based on new guidelines from the local government; meaning we will look to reopen when the governor allows. While we wait for this date, we will review the recommended guidelines from the CDC along with information from Harvard and John Hopkins medical schools. Second, we remain in close contact with China offices reviewing their policies and procedures to learn best practices. Our offices located in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Qingdao all reopened for full operations in March 2020 with successful results. Not one Comrise employee was diagnosed positive for COVID-19 as of May 21, 2020. Lastly, we evaluated the feedback from the surveys we sent to our employees, external colleagues, and clients. We will evaluate the workplace and reconfigure it for social distancing before re-opening. We will also communicate to our team and work to address any concerns.
Once the business reopens, the first two weeks will be 50% of employees back to office. We will evaluate safety protocols, applying any necessary adjustments. Provided this step is successful, we will fully open and go back to normal business. During the process, we will also make sure to remain productive for our business.
What new policies or procedures will Comrise put in place as employees return to the office?
- Disinfecting Common Areas: This will be done at the beginning of each day before employees arrive. For meetings the host must disinfect all hard surfaces and common use equipment (tables, chair arms, phones, computers, and doorknobs) after the meeting ends. Employees must disinfect common workspace/equipment (including the kitchen) they occupy after use.
- Hand-washing: Before entering or leaving the office for any reason. Any time before using the kitchen equipment or meetings.
- Social Distancing: We are configuring desks so that all employees can sit six feet apart. For meetings, no groups larger than five people (also six feet apart). No group lunches, we are taking colleagues to eat at their desk or alone. No sharing of documents among colleagues.
- Use of Masks: All employees are required to wear masks while in the office.
- Temperature Checks: A no-touch temperature check will be done for anyone entering our office suite. This includes guests and employees.
- Symptom Checklist: A list of common COVID-19 symptoms will be posted throughout the office as a reminder if anyone has these symptoms they should work from home. If symptoms persist then we may ask the colleague to be tested for COVID-19.
- Training on new procedures: We will make fun videos to share with our team showing them how to perform new procedures.
- Return to work permission or clearance: If someone is sick or absent due to illness, they must be cleared by HR to return to work.
How to handle employees who are reluctant to go back to work?
Chris Ciulla: According to the guidelines under enhanced unemployment laws, including the Payroll Protection Program and the Cares Act require employees to return to work when businesses reopen provided, they are not eligible for relief under the Cares Act. If employees refuse to return, businesses can make exceptions based on their own work from home policies. If working remotely is not a viable option based on the employer’s evaluation any employee not returning is classified as resignation or refusing work; therefore no longer eligible for Payroll Protection or enhanced unemployment benefits. We recommend all employers discuss each individual situation with their Human Resources representatives prior to making any decisions.