Office doors reopening in Maine, but simply a crack – Press Herald

5July 2020

When he arrives at work each morning in downtown Portland, Ben Bond gets in a workplace that looks the very same but is significantly different from the place he left in March.

Bond strolls through a lobby with a “sanitation station” table covered with masks, neck gaiters, bottles of gel, and hand wipes in a bucket that reads, “If you touch it, clean it.”

A technical support expert at employees’ compensation insurance coverage company The MEMIC Group, Bond ascends a staircase identified for up or down traffic, depending upon the time of day. He’ll avoid the elevator, which now can carry just two people at a time.

When Bond starts up his computer, an everyday wellness check-in app will ask him to verify that he’s symptom-free. It then will raise a “contact record” screen for him to keep in mind whenever he’s within 6 feet of an associate for more than 10 seconds. And if somebody needs assist with their laptop computer, for example, Bond will slip on a set of gloves and get the devices through a Plexiglas transfer window in the IT department.

At lunch, Bond will put on a face covering to stroll to the snack bar and obtain a bag he brought from home. Anything left in the refrigerator is gotten rid of every night.

Bond’s not a coffee drinker however would be dissatisfied if he were. The lunchroom coffee station is shut down. Fortunately, a Starbucks is nearby.

“It’s still very peaceful in here,” Bond stated. “You can tell it’s phase one. However I believe they did a great job of making us feel safe returning.”

Bond came back to the workplace June 8, in the lead of Maine workplace workers slowly returning to work environments that were left three months ago to blunt the rising pandemic.

The number of Maine office workers will follow his lead– and when– is uncertain. What does seem certain, at least up until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19, is that the workplace environment as it existed prior to March is not returning.

Tony Payne, senior vice president of external affairs at MEMIC, rides an elevator with an optimum capacity of 2 individuals throughout the pandemic. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer MANY WON’T RETURNED At a time of year when workplace culture normally downshifts into summer vacation mode, many Maine companies are still deciding how to conform their work spaces to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Avoidance guidelines and coax distressed workers back to the workplace. Others are calculating the benefits and drawbacks of keeping part of their labor force at home for the foreseeable future. The past 3 months have actually shown that lots of business

can function well from another location. And lots of workers don’t want to go back to what they left. A current survey of 7,150 Maine state staff members includes a striking sentiment: Only 5 percent of respondents wish to return full-time to their workplaces, 36 percent want to keep working from home and 38 percent would like a mix of office and work-from-home. Those and other variables have produced a matrix in which company actions are rapidly evolving, as seen with companies observed by Deb Neuman, who heads the Bangor Area Chamber of Commerce.

Neuman said she knows an accounting company that will keep its workplace closed and have staff work from another location for the remainder of the year. A bank administration workplace plans to resume this summer season with staggered shifts– each staff member will turn two weeks in the workplace, then two weeks in your home. A law firm has closed its reception area, is encouraging work-from-home and has restricted the number of employees in the workplace through 2020.

“Generally speaking, unless an organisation depends on the doors being open to serve customers, most are staying closed with restricted or no personnel returning to the office, however rather working from another location,” Neuman stated.

Then there’s the specter of a so-called second wave of coronavirus sending Maine and the country back into shutdown mode. Recent rises of COVID-19 cases in other states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona have actually underscored that worry.

“I think we all need to be concerned about that,” said Tony Payne, MEMIC’s senior vice president for external affairs. “All our planning has actually included being able to pivot and draw back, if required.”

At MEMIC, an employees’ compensation insurance provider with a focus on work environment security, just 20 percent of the 350-person staff at its 2 Portland workplaces has up until now returned, and, like Bond, they are volunteers. The business wishes to reach 40 percent in-office staffing after Monday. Beyond that, it’s difficult to state whether the business can preserve the required physical distancing with its cubicle layout to bring more people back, at least all at the same time.

“We’re speaking about taking it to 40 percent up until Labor Day prior to we make another relocation,” Payne said.


MEMIC has a resuming strategy that’s more extensive than many– it even produced two videos to assist workers through workplace re-entry. However its procedure does highlight a watchword for companies trying to reopen workplaces in the middle of COVID-19: “care.”

A nationwide study launched in early June by Littler, an international employment and labor law practice with a workplace in Portland, discovered only 18 percent of business planned to bring workers back instantly after stay-at-home orders ended. Forty-two percent said they ‘d take a “wait-and-see” approach to determine the outcome at other organisations. And an unexpected 50 percent of respondents stated they not only were considering an extension of remote work, however would be requiring it, to minimize workplace costs.

For those resuming, 90 percent were increasing their cleansing efforts, 86 percent were requiring or encouraging face coverings and 60 percent were preparing health screenings, including temperature and symptom checks.

Labor Day seems to be the target period that the majority of companies are aiming for, using a phased method, according to Timothy Powell, an associate in Littler’s Portland workplace.

In basic, Powell kept in mind, companies legally can require their workers to go back to the workplace. However they must communicate with their personnel and document all the things they’re doing to create a safer office. And if an employee raises impairment or medical concerns, “alarm bells should go off,” Powell included. Under federal law, business require to make “reasonable accommodations” for such individuals, which could consist of working from home.

The most effective reopening plans will include a dialogue between management and workers, according to David Ciullo, president of the Person Resources Association of Southern Maine.

Ben Bond, an IT tech support employee at MEMIC, works at his desk on Tuesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Professional Photographer Aside from following CDC best practices, companies need to listen to worker issues and attempt to stabilize completing desires. Some workers aspire to go back to the office, possibly since they are more social or are distracted in your home. Others may have child care issues this summertime due to the fact that a camp didn’t operate, and need to keep working from another location

.”How you treat your employees now will figure out how they remember you later on,” Ciullo said.


That dialogue is underway in state federal government. Roughly 9,000 state staff members, or 85 percent of personnel excluding public safety workers, have been doing their tasks remotely since March. Each firm has differing duties, however Kyle Hadyniak, a spokesman for the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, stated Gov. Janet Mills has provided commissioners the task of figuring out which workers ought to be asked to return to work, and when that must happen.

“However, if functional needs do not need returning to the office and staff members are successfully working from home, the administration has inquired to continue doing so for the time being, to optimize physical distancing,” Hadyniak said.

The department has set up a transition team to resolve the resuming process. Reacting to responses from the worker survey, Hadyniak stated the administration is delicate to the issues some employees have about returning and is seeking input from the just recently reconvened Statewide Structure Safety Labor-Management Committee.

A sanitation station in the lobby of MEMIC provides hand sanitizer, sterilizing wipes and face coverings. Ben McCanna/Staff Professional Photographer The committee has actually fulfilled twice and is going over specifics that include the timing and prioritization of going back to the office, potentials for staggered shifts and remote work, procedures for interacting with the public, suppliers and co-workers, and protective equipment.

“Not everything has actually been analyzed yet,” stated Dean Staffieri, president of Maine Service Worker Association Regional 1989, a labor union representing state employees. “It’s absolutely a procedure, how to get structures open and what’s the safest route.”

Staffieri stated he’s motivated by the flexibility being revealed by the Mills administration. He said that will be necessary if there’s another shutdown.

“I’m certainly fretted about how we’re going to work in the winter season,” Staffieri stated. “But we’ve revealed over the past 100 days that (union) employees can operate. And how quickly people could move back home, if there’s another break out.”


While numerous companies appear to be accepting hybrid solutions to reopening the workplace, others have actually identified that their services operate best with the majority of workers at their desks.

Signs throughout MEMIC’s Old Port workplace remind staff members to practice social distancing, wear masks and sanitize surface areas. Ben McCanna/Staff Professional Photographer Clark Insurance Coverage, a Portland-based insurance coverage provider, has 85 employees at its head office and began restoring volunteers on

May 4.”We have individuals who find working from house just does not work,” said Diana Miville, Clark’s personnels director.

Clark returned approximately 25 percent of its staff in Might and is aiming for a complete return by the end of July. Clark’s management group identified that, in general, the company didn’t have the ideal technology for telecommuting, in part due to the fact that many workers don’t have company laptops and some had phone problems at home.

“We found out a lot through telecommuting,” she said. “However it’s our objective to get practically everyone back in the workplace.”

Clark also runs in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, so it has actually needed to manage safety measures that might surpass CDC standards. For example, New Hampshire requires temperature screenings. Maine does not, however Clark asks all employees to finish a symptom survey each day via mobile phone prior to coming within.

CES Inc., a growing engineering and ecological consulting company, moved 60 workers in June from Brewer to an office building in downtown Bangor. There suffices desk area for social distancing, and the business is utilizing Plexiglas dividers and airport-style stanchion-and-belt systems to designate space.

As does Clark, CES makes exceptions for employees with high-risk conditions or other agreed-upon factors for not wishing to come back.

CES will make alternate provisions for staff members as required, said Denis St. Peter, the president and president, but even with the best technology, it’s simpler to collaborate when most workers are together. And by utilizing face masks, sterilizing stations and all the other procedures, St. Peter stated the business can achieve its objective of getting most employees safely back inside.

“We feel that from everything we’ve seen that you don’t have to go overboard on the CDC requirements,” St. Peter said. “If you overdo it, it impairs your ability to work.”

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