On Reopening CDC Offices

Factors to consider in Reopening CDC Offices

On May 18th, Governor Baker released his much-anticipated Reopening Massachusetts plan. Governor Baker’s plan divided businesses into four phases indicating when they could expect to re-open, often in limited capacities. Phase II began on June 8.

Reopening Massachusetts allowed offices outside of Boston to reopen at 25% capacity beginning on May 25th and offices within Boston to reopen at 25% capacity as of June 1st. Offices’ ability to reopen is predicated on their adopting necessary precautions, such as screening, social distancing, and requiring personal protective equipment, such as masks. Further, Reopening Massachusetts encourages offices to allow employees to continue to work from home when feasible. Just because a business has the legal green light to reopen doesn’t necessarily mean that the inherent risks and necessary precautions are worth the advantages of “going back to business as usual.”

As the state has begun to move toward reopening, MACDC has convened CDCs to engage in a discussion about how they are going to approach this process.  While all CDCs face some of the same challenges, there are also significant differences – CDCs range in size from two or three employees to two or three hundred employees; some CDCs have plentiful free parking and others have employees who rely on public transportation; some CDCs offer programs that are difficult to sustain remotely such as child care and youth programming; and, of course CDCs, have different physical offices and different abilities to physically distance staff.  As with so much in community development, one-size won’t fit all. 

That said, there are many reasons that CDCs, and other offices, are exercising caution before reopening physical spaces:

  • Even if an organization has done everything it can to ensure social distancing while in the office, employees still need to get to the office. While some workers have access to private cars or can commute by foot or bicycle, many rely on crowded buses and trains;
  • Until daycare and other activities for children resume, parents and guardians may not be able to leave their homes during the day without adequate childcare;
  • Benefits to a limited reopening may be minimal: with staggered schedules and necessary social distancing, colleagues may not have significantly more opportunities to collaborate than they would working from home. Potential for in-person collaboration will be further limited because of necessary restrictions on outside visitors.

Beyond concern for employees, it is important to consider the role that reopening offices will have on community spread of COVID-19. In addition to essential businesses, which could remain open even before Governor Baker’s reopening plan was in effect, many retail businesses cannot thrive and succeed without reopening. It is incumbent upon organizations that have found productive and sufficient ways to operate with employees working remotely to continue to do so, in order to prevent and slow community spread.  These are among the reasons that MACDC employees are going to continue working largely at home until the beginning of September and all MACDC meetings and events will be done remotely at least through Labor Day.

Despite all of the reasons to be cautious in reopening, we know that some CDC activities cannot be done remotely. Construction, construction oversight, repairs, childcare, resident services and other functions cannot be done from home – or at least cannot be done fully from home.

 We also know that for some CDCs and other organizations, bringing employees back to the office is important from a racial equity perspective. The jobs that can most easily be done at home are often the positions that have a larger percentage of white employees and vice versa. Therefore, for some CDCs, equity means bringing all employees back to the office, regardless of their job description.

It is important that every CDC carefully weigh all of the factors in determining when and how to reopen its offices.

Operating in the “new normal”

In mid-March 2020, the way we worked changed significantly. Home laptops suddenly started logging remotely into servers for most of a workday. Office voicemail was updated with away messages and notices that it’s being checked regularly. Video conferencing didn’t become an extension of an in-person meeting, but it became the primary way we collaborated.

It’s likely that even as our offices reopen partially, we won’t go back to operating our organizations as we did in February.  Until there are effective treatments and maybe a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic will require many of us to continue to work remotely, at least partially, for some time.  To ensure we are successfully achieving our organization’s mission and vision, we must evolve our business practices and embrace the current IT model of cloud-based computing.

To be sure, many organizations have already made significant strides toward, if not fully adopted, new operation processes that allow for less interruption.  Laptops, cloud PBX phone systems, online file storage and databases allow for incredible flexibility in our ability to work collaboratively while we are physically distant from each other.  Many organizations are using Salesforce or another CRM to help them support and streamline their day-to-day work functions.  Other organizations moved away from office-based servers and embraced cloud file storage years ago.

The initial capital investment in new computers can be daunting, but funds can be raised for these costs.  Grants and solicitations should be made expressly for this purpose.  Migrating to online accounting systems and learning more about cloud PBX phone systems, secure email protocols to replace faxing of private information should all be addressed.  It is also critical to adopt new transmission and storage protocols to ensure control of client, resident, and employee confidential information. These investments will pay dividends long after the pandemic is over.

All of this may seem overwhelming, but many organizations are already well on their way to accomplishing their IT and operations goals. And it’s not something to do on your own. Many CDCs already contract for outside IT consulting.  Call them first to put together a plan that can be adopted in phases.  Providing options for distance work that can address an organization’s needs is vital for long-term productivity.  Efficient utilization of this technology can ensure that the organization’s focus is maintained as neighborhoods and towns reopen, while facilitating remote work to limit community spread of Covid-19.

Those interested in learning more about how CDCS are navigating the reopening process should contact Elana Brochin, MACDC’s Program Director of Health Equity, (elanab@macdc.org) or John Fitterer, MACDC’s Director of Operations (johnf@macdc.org).