This blog is the first in a series which will look at the steps Voluntary Action Leeds are taking to re-opening and bringing back services in the light of the COVID-19 crisis. We hope sharing our learning through this series will be useful to other organisations across Leeds and we encourage others to share their experiences too through submitting a blog on the Doing Good Leeds website.
Like many organisations, back in mid-March we moved quickly from having a staff team of thirty in the office and busy meeting rooms to being virtually empty overnight. As the seriousness of the situation unfolded we moved almost all staff to work from home, leaving just a few people in key roles (including our Chief Officer and reception staff) being based physically at our building Stringer House (with appropriate arrangements in place for physical distancing and increased hygiene).
This has been tough for everyone involved, but we’ve all pulled together to make it work – getting to grips with new forms of technology like Zoom, setting up Whatsapp groups and making sure that working remotely hasn’t meant working in isolation. Individual teams have arranged regular catch ups and there is also a weekly wellbeing check in for all staff, run by staff – an opportunity for people to see one another and have a catch up over a cup of tea in the virtual world.
After a hectic month or so, we held our first all staff meeting on Zoom back in early May. As someone who was still office based, it wasn’t until this meeting that I realise just how much I’d missed all of my colleagues – seeing people on screen and catching up gave me a real lift. And I wasn’t alone in feeling this. A number of staff who were home based raised the question of when we might be able to begin spending some time back in the office, to help retain that sense of connection, catch up and work from a different environment (rather than a kitchen table / spare room desk / kids bedroom). At that meeting the VAL management team committed to begin looking at how we might be able to do this safely, a move supported by our Trustee Board.
Since that meeting, we’ve produced a risk assessment document and began to work through it – thinking about all the practical details of how staff could begin to come back to Stringer House. This has included consideration about desk space, using meeting rooms as additional office space to allow staff to be spread out around the building and the additional cleaning regimes needed to make increasing staff numbers feasible and safe. We’ve shared this with all staff and discussed it at our most recent virtual all staff meeting last week.
Given the current Government guidance, our position is that we will work with staff who wish to spend some of their time in the office to do this safely, but it is optional as to whether staff wish to return at this stage. There is no expectation that staff who are shielding or those with children at home return to the office. All staff will be required to complete a pre-return to work declaration before coming back into the office.
Given the need to spread people out around the building (and we’re lucky in that we do have space in our building) we have estimated that we can accommodate fifteen people maximum. To manage this, our recommendation is that staff who wish to spend some time in the office spend two-fifths of their week here. (Because of this I have now altered my working pattern, currently I am now working from home three days a week – so writing this from my kitchen table!)
In normal times we’re used as a meeting space for organisations and groups across Leeds, hosting team away days, training sessions and interviews, to name but a few. For the time being these activities are on hold, but we’ve started work on a plan for getting these services back up and running when the time is right. For the time being, we’ve developed a visitor and contractor questionnaire for any outside people coming into Stringer House to complete and sign to ensure they’re aware of our expectations when they are in the building and we’ve done all we can to ensure their safety and that of our staff.
So in short, we’re taking small, cautious steps to begin to return to some kind of new normal, underpinned by lots of planning and engagement with our staff. We’ll update in our next blog how this is all going and where next.
Blog written by Hannah Bailey
Social Action Manager
Voluntary Action Leeds