By Justin Biel, trends editor
⏰ 5-minute read
Mile High United Way, a nonprofit serving the Denver Metro Area, is planning to soon reopen its office in addition to managing COVID-19 relief efforts in the community.
The organization is relying on a phased reopening plan that includes new policies around building use, employee interactions, symptom monitoring and working from home.
Looking to the future, the company will continue its COVID-19 relief efforts while aiming to stay flexible.
As a leader in Denver’s nonprofit community, Mile High United Way works closely with the city government, the mayor's office and the state of Colorado on programs that promote education, health and financial stability across the Denver area.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, Mile High United Way broadened its focus to include several response programs. At the same time, it’s been planning a phased reopening that’s worthy of study by other businesses who plan to reopen, too.
A broadened focus
Over the past couple of months, Mile High United Way has offered coronavirus-specific relief to the Denver community through programs new and old.
Along with programs focused on small businesses and youth housing, main relief initiatives for Mile High United Way include:
2-1-1 Colorado, its program that connects Coloradans to resources like rent assistance and food, as well as childcare for families of essential workers.
Its new Rapid Response Funding program. The program has provided $1 million in grants to childcare providers and community-based programs like A Precious Child, which provides emergency essentials like cleaning supplies, hygiene items, diapers and wipes.
Its new United for Schools program, which gets kids connected with laptops and internet access to support remote learning.
Mile High United Way has been offering services above and beyond its usual offerings amid COVID-19.
To work-from-home and back
While running these coronavirus relief programs and its usual initiatives, Mile High United Way dealt with the logistics of closing its building in Downtown Denver on March 13, more than a week before the city issued a stay-at-home order.
The building usually serves as an office for employees, a venue for community events and a place for folks to come for resources. The organization has been running programs with a remote workforce ever since.
On May 9, several types of Denver businesses — nonessential retailers, personal services, real estate firms and others —were allowed to reopen, albeit with restrictions on occupancy. Mile High United Way hasn’t joined them in reopening yet, but it’s got a plan to do so — and only for employees, not for walk-in services for the general public or for events.
The organization closed its office in mid-March. It plans to reopen for employees only on May 18.
Tips for making a reopening plan
The city of Denver provides general reopening guidance for businesses, and Mile High United Way committed extra planning to its reopening process. The effort will ensure the organization’s return to "normal" operations doesn't threaten current programs, many of which are essential to city residents, said COO Wade Treichler.
The Mile High chapter designed a phased reopening strategy that developed over time during planning meetings with executives, he added.
Treichler gives pointers for other businesses planning to reopen:
1. Choose a reopening date that works for you.
Although Mile High United Way was allowed to reopen its building on May 9, it won’t do so until May 18.
“We wanted to make sure Denver’s stay-at-home order didn’t shift further,” Treichler said. “We used the intervening time to get prepared, communicate the plan to the team, ready the building and make sure we had the necessary supplies in place.”
? Pro Tip: Don't reopen your business based on the dates provided by your state and city governments unless you have a solid plan for keeping employees and customers safe.
2. Consider going employees-only.
When the office reopens, only employees of Mile High United Way will be allowed to enter. No clients, partners or unnecessary personnel will enter the building.
"All client meetings will be handled remotely, and the lobby will remain closed," Treichler said.
? Pro Tip: Take advantage of virtual meetings, and avoid bringing additional people into your business. Consumer-facing businesses should explore ways to reduce close contact, including reconfiguring workspaces, installing physical barriers, closing communal spaces, staggering shifts, controlling customer capacity and following the government’s social distancing recommendations.
3. Develop a seating chart for social distancing.
Mile High United Way has over 100 active employees and an open office plan. Treichler developed a seating chart to accommodate a phased reopening with social distancing in mind, which allows most employees to keep their usual desks.
Starting May 18, employees will have an option to come into the office on assigned days if they feel it's necessary. However, coming in at all is still entirely optional.
"We've gone through each department and assigned days of the week," Treichler said. "No more than 15-20% of staff will be in the building at any one time. If [employees] don't feel entirely safe and comfortable coming in … it's not a problem.”
? Pro Tip: If your business doesn't require staff to be onsite, consider having employees continue to stay at home if you or they have safety concerns.
4. Prevent new cases, and monitor for symptoms.
Mile High United Way has made masks mandatory for all employees in the office. Hand sanitizer will be available throughout the building.
A policy for employees showing symptoms is essential for any business reopening amidst continuing local cases of COVID-19. At Mile High United Way, "if you or anyone in your house is presenting symptoms, you're not allowed to return [to the office] until you've been symptom-free for ten days," Treichler said.
Mile High United Way will rely on employees to individually monitor symptoms during the initial reopening phase. However, as more staff come back into work, this policy may be adjusted, Treichler said.
? Pro Tip: Without a symptom monitoring policy, you are jeopardizing the health of other employees, your business and the local community. To get back to business faster, make a plan to deal with symptomatic employees.
5. Share new policies with employees.
Mile High United Way has developed a "Welcome Back Kit" for employees who return to the office that includes a cloth mask, hand sanitizer and a printed overview of reopening policies.
The kit lays out changes such as new cafeteria rules and standards for proper use of elevators and bathrooms.
For example, “chairs and tables are being removed from our break room, and staff are encouraged to eat at their desks,” Triechler said. “Multi-stall bathrooms are limited to one user at a time, as is the elevator, and all meeting rooms are closed.”
To share all the changes, executives at Mile High United Way will meet with each team individually in addition to distributing the information through the Welcome Back Kit and company intranet.
? Pro Tip: In devising a reopening plan, go through the building floor plan and develop new policies to meet safety and health guidelines. Then, share these with employees.
Staying flexible in an uncertain future
In addition to the phased reopening, Treichler and his team will continue their programs that offer coronavirus-specific relief over the next couple of months.
Mile High United Way intends to maintain a sense of flexibility in its operations and listen to key stakeholders, he added, in order to make the best decisions for both the community and its employees.
"The overarching theme for us is going to be flexibility," he said.
Considering the organization’s work so far, it’s already hitting the mark.