Returning to the Office During COVID

By: Janette Estep, VP Finance

As we approach the end of year two of the COVID era, we’ve continued our gradual return back to what we once considered normal, which started with our leadership team back in July 2020. But pulling our full team back into the office and away from their homes wasn’t an easy decision—the safety of our team was, and is, paramount. We asked our team for a voluntary return to office in October 2020 with roughly 90% of the office feeling comfortable with the safety guidelines we put into place.  In order to avoid losing ourselves during this process, we sought out a map—a document, developed to outline our requirements, processes, and protocols. We looked towards the guidance of experts including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), state and local government agencies, and the Employers Association Forum (EAF) in order to gather as much information as possible in regard to keeping our employees safe.


By developing a standard set of guidelines—which featured rules like wearing a mask at all times, setting maximum capacities for conference rooms and other common areas, and performing daily temperature checks for staff and visitors, we were able to prevent the creation of internal outbreaks among and across our teams. We also established several protocols (such as quarantine guidelines and contract tracing) for employees that did end up contracting or coming into contact with somebody with COVID-19. As CDC messaging continued to evolve, we updated our own internal list of protocols—again, ensuring the safety of our employees. As the majority of our staff became vaccinated, we did away with mask mandates in alignment with Orange Country guidelines while continuing to offer remote access to large meetings in order to avoid crowded conference rooms.


I can say with confidence that coming back into the office was the right decision. Since our return in October 2020, we’re more unified than ever before—a number of our staff have made note of a certain “energy” that seems to be radiating through the halls of &Barr. We aren’t completely back to normal, of course, but our cautious approach to a “return to normal” work environment has positioned &Barr ahead of many other companies who are still struggling with return to work plan.  COVID has driven a number of positive changes to our work environment.  We implemented a policy allowing employees to work from home one day per week, we’ve incentivized extra PTO in exchange for proof of vaccination, and Zoom and Teams meetings are now a daily occurrence allowing us to connect face-to-face with more remote clients. But our flexibility has shown us a sense of newfound strength—one that we’re proud to continue developing as we move forward.