David Bosquet’s phone buzzes at 6 a.m. on days he goes into the office, kicking off a series of tasks that need to be completed before he can enter the doors of cybersecurity company Rapid7 in Boston.
First up in the morning are automated e-mail and Slack messages asking Bosquet, the director of sales engineering, to fill out an online form declaring that he hasn’t been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or have any symptoms. Once that’s taken care of, Rapid7 activates his employee badge to let him into the building.
While he’s still at home, Bosquet, who is vaccinated, as required, rips open a rapid COVID-19 antigen test, swabs inside his nose, and waits about 15 minutes for the results. Rapid7 sends these tests to Bosquet’s home in North Andover so he can test himself three times a week, regardless of how many times he actually goes into the office.
Assuming the test is negative — reporting a positive result is on the honor system — Bosquet drives his 1- and 3-year-olds to day care, then heads to the office, next to TD Garden. There are no more permanent desks, so Bosquet has to pick out his workspace the night before — though he tends to book the same spot every time, next to colleagues he interacts with frequently.
Once he makes it inside, Bosquet just needs to remember to wear a mask in the elevators.
After all this, Bosquet is finally ready to start his workday.
As office employees get back to the business of going into work, they’re realizing that getting there isn’t nearly as easy as it used to be. From vaccine requirements to regular COVID testing, employees have to jump through a number of hoops first. The processes vary by company, but many employers that have a steady stream of people coming into the office have a carefully crafted plan to ensure their workplaces are as pandemic-proof as possible.
Rapid7′s pandemic policies may seem like a hassle, says chief people officer Christina Luconi, but so far employees have been willing to comply so that they feel safe going in. “Is this how we want to spend our time? No. But we also care about each other, and it’s a good thing to do,” she says. “[The office] is probably the safest place you could be right now.”
Of course, the office is also a much different place than it used to be. The rise of hybrid work, with some employees onsite and others working remotely, has compelled some companies to do away with assigned desks all together. Instead, they’ve implemented a “hot desking” or “hoteling” model that requires employees to book a desk online from a list of open spots.
But just because employees are in the office doesn’t mean they can completely ditch their remote-work habits.
Cambridge biotech EQRx, which launched in January 2020, is now “digital first,” since most of its 250 employees were hired virtually. Rona Anhalt, the company’s chief people officer, says EQRx initially planned to have all its employees work in Cambridge, but the acceptance of virtual work during the pandemic allowed it to hire about half its staff outside Massachusetts — and let them stay where they were.
Employees in the Cambridge area can use the startup’s office space as long as they fill out a form declaring they’ve been vaccinated, but they still need to adhere to a strict policy requiring everyone to be on Zoom even if they’re in the office. “You might have five or six people in a conference room, but we still want them to appear on a Zoom screen on an individualistic level, so [remote workers] are not talking to this big screen full of people,” she says.
EQRx also added several pods to its office so employees can have one-on-one Zoom calls with remote colleagues.
Some companies that require employees to be fully vaccinated also have some type of COVID-19 testing component in their back-to-office protocol. That might include sending employees at-home tests or converting empty spaces into makeshift coronavirus testing stations.
At Verve Therapeutics in Cambridge, employees who go into the office regularly are required to test for COVID once a week in an on-site testing room, using a nasal swab test from California-based Color Health. Employees place their sample in a vial that has a corresponding serial code and register the code through Color Health’s mobile app; within a few hours, the testing company notifies them of their results.
Verve senior scientist Lisa Kasiewicz has been going in to work since the start of the pandemic, and she says the testing system is welcome. “People adapted really well,” she says. “At first the nose swabbing was strange — we wanted to make sure we were doing it right — but people are pros at it now.”
Rapid7 helped persuade employees to test at home by emphasizing how easy it is in a lighthearted manner. In a video made at home on his phone and sent to staff, an employee walks his fellow Rapid7 “Moose” — as co-workers refer to one another — through the process.
“The [antigen] tests show up at your door and it takes 30 seconds to swab your nose,” says Luconi, the chief people officer. “Some people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to swab my nose three times a week, this is going to be so complicated,’ so we made a funny video of somebody showing you how to do it.”
Another feature of the post-pandemic office are contact-tracing tools. While some companies rely on employees to self-report positive tests and notify people they’ve been in close contact with on their own, others have invested in technology to carry out the process.
Before employees were vaccinated at GreenLight Biosciences, which has offices in Medford and Woburn, they wore contact-tracing devices on their belt clips or shirt pockets that recorded when they were within 6 feet of another employee — each of whom was assigned an ID number — and for how long.
Rapid7 gave its staff members a contact-tracer to clip onto their employee lanyards, which they still wear. Luconi has experienced what it’s like to get an alert; in the fall, she and a colleague got Slack notifications on their phones that a co-worker they sat next to in a meeting had tested positive for COVID. The note said: “Moose, we have been made aware of an employee COVID-19 diagnosis detected via our antigen testing in our [Boston] office,” and goes on to explain what the next steps are for exposed employees.
“We immediately had to get PCR tested to get back into the office, to make sure we were negative, or stay home for 10 days,” Luconi says. “It was quick and easy, and [Rapid7] pays for [the test].” (Luconi and her colleague were not infected.)
Bosquet, who has worked at Rapid7 for eight years, is finally getting used to his company’s pandemic policies. After 10 months of going in, he says, the steps have become as much of a habit as brushing his teeth. “Initially it was a little bit of an adjustment after being home,” he says. “Like anything in life, you get into a routine, and it becomes just that: a routine.”