One Group’s Path to Bringing Staff Back to the Office: Associations Now

The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors—National Association has brought its employees back to the office. To do this, the group sought feedback from staff, updated human resources policies, and improved building systems.

Preparing for a safe return to the office has been on the minds of many associations lately. The National Association of Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors approached reopening by taking into account staff concerns, updating the building and personnel policies and communicating often about the process and details.

PHCC, located in Falls Church, Virginia, owns the building. While some organizations have chosen to go completely remote, that was not a consideration for PHCC, said Michael Copp, executive vice president of PHCC.

“Our members built this building so that their staff would collaborate and develop products and services for them,” said Copp. “We have made it clear to the staff that because we have our own building, we prefer to have the staff here as much as possible. But we also understand that we want to make sure we offer some flexibility.”

While the building has been open on a voluntary basis to employees who wanted to enter since last fall, the office reopened completely to all employees on July 6. The 26-strong workforce is now expected to be in the office at least two days a week, with the option to telecommute for up to three days. To create a plan that worked for staff and leadership, the organization asked for feedback. While the use of the building was important, staff communication helped determine how many staff there would be.

“Last year, around Labor Day, we did a staff survey to take their temperatures, see how they were doing, and find out what was working and what wasn’t working,” Copp said. “We wanted to get a bit of a sense of what their concerns were. The data we got from that investigation led us to move on.”

That research, combined with what the organization learned about how they work remotely, led to changes in many policies in the PHCC employee handbook.

“Some policies were inconsistent with what we were trying to do,” Copp said. “For example, our teleworking policy was quite outdated. You used to be able to telecommute just one day a week.”

The organization also added a $50 monthly stipend to help cover internet costs for staff telecommuting during the pandemic. And while PHCC decided not to mandate COVID-19 vaccination, it did want to encourage it.

“We’ve changed our policy to include a $100 bonus for employees who get vaccinated because we haven’t made vaccinations an employment consideration,” Copp said. “In addition, you didn’t have to take personal time to get the vaccine and then recover from the aftereffects.”

Building System Upgrades

To optimize physical safety when staff returned to work, the organization followed federal and state recommendations regarding masking unvaccinated and vaccinated people. PHCC also spent a lot of time and money upgrading systems to reduce the chances of viral transmission.

“For HVAC we did the needle point bipolar ionization purification process,” said Copp. “We retrofitted all HVAC units. We have upgraded filters on Merv-13. We have completed all coil cleaning. We set up all controls to use the correct level of relative humidity.”

In addition, PHCC strengthened its cleaning regime and tried to make areas contactless where possible.

“We invested another $500 a month, on top of what we were already paying, for wiping and disinfecting the common areas,” said Copp. “That’s sanitizing all door handles, water fountains, elevator buttons, countertops, all that stuff, and providing the cleaning and sanitizing products for our staff. We also installed touchless faucets in the bathrooms on all three floors. We installed door checkpoints. , so people didn’t have to use the buttons to open and close the doors. We’ve done a lot to the building.”

In addition to changes to policies and building systems, Copp said the organization communicated with staff regularly to keep them informed of what they were doing and to try to respond to any concerns they had.

“You can’t communicate too much,” Copp said. “And the reason for that is that there is still a lot of fear. A fear of entering the building, a fear of being fired. So my goal has always been to reduce that fear as much as possible and make it easy for them to decide to stay as an employee.”

How is your association preparing for the reopening? Share in the comments.

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