Doing business in New Jersey means having to adapt our office to hurricanes and “superstorms,” snow squalls, the occasional tornado warning, and endless other “fire drills” -- sometimes quite literally. Little did we realize how those experiences prepared us to continue to do business during a pandemic. Our boutique law firm closed its physical office and began operating remotely when the State of New Jersey locked down in March 2020, and we continued practicing law without pause for the next ten weeks. As the State gradually lifted restrictions, the partners Jack and Dave provided us employees with the option to voluntarily return to work in person in the office. I serve the firm as a paralegal, and I opted to return to office on June 1. Initially, I felt mixed emotions regarding reopening and the potential risk of exposure to Covid-19. However, the firm has taken many precautions to make our safety and that of clients are the top priorities. Further, Jack and Dave have been completely transparent about the measures to mitigate the risks, which has eased my nerves considerably.
Our “new normal” begins with an array of signs posted on the entrance doors and prominently throughout the office, insisting that everyone wear masks in the shared spaces. The potted plants have been relocated and replaced with free-standing touch-free hand sanitizing dispensers. Each dispenser is adorned with a sign politely advising everyone to sanitize their hands upon entering the building. The desks in our open work area are now protected by customized sneeze guards on three sides of each desk. My new acrylic enclosure allows me to safely remove my mask once I am at my workstation. I feel I can concentrate better enclosed in my transparent “bubble.” In fact, I may ask Jack and Dave to keep it in place even after the safety concerns subside, if that time ever comes!
Our once cozy reception area no longer offers a sofa and adjacent chairs. The sofa is gone, replaced by a traditional table and two armchairs thoughtfully spaced 6 feet apart. Floor signs are strategically placed in this area to encourage staff and visitors to keep a safe distance from one another. In fact, the new office policy is to avoid letting anyone congregate in the lobby. All visitors are asked to text their host before entering the building, and the host employee must meet their guests at the door and escort them to their conference room.
Conference rooms are sanitized throughout the day. After each use, we are practicing UV light sanitation. Additionally, neon-colored place markers on the table ensure that each party is 6 feet apart during their meeting. The bathrooms are now single occupancy and equipped with disinfectant sprays by every sink. Signs instruct users to spray all surfaces they touch in the bathroom, including faucet handles and doorknobs after use.
The kitchen area is also single-occupancy. One of the office supply closets is now the PPE room and is fully stocked with single-use surgical masks for those who do not have a mask. An assortment of gloves is available for handling mail and packages. Hand sanitizer refills for our free-standing dispensers and desktop bottles of hand sanitizer. Lysol wipes are placed throughout the office to sanitize printers, copy machines, phones, doorknobs, postal machines, and even the typewriter. (Yes, we still need a typewriter sometimes!)
Working in an office as we know it has transitioned suddenly and tremendously. Part of my weekly tasks consists of searching for office PPE material as well as sharing my ideas regarding safeguarding the office. The willingness to accept new ideas and ensure that everyone’s concerns have been addressed is in part of why I am so comfortable with returning to the office. Our staff is very family-oriented, so it has been easy for me to communicate my concerns and gratifying to see them addressed. These measures speak volumes about the firm's commitment to its people. I feel fortunate to be a part of a company that values the safety and concerns of its employees. The appearance of the office has changed, but the integrity and ethos of A&F has shone through unchanged.