Whether you’re setting up a new office or going back to the one you left behind at the start of the pandemic, you may need a bit of inspiration; looking to what other businesses have done can be a great resource. This series highlights how Kastle clients are leveraging access control technology to bring their return-to-work strategies to life, from better occupancy management to keeping employees secure while at the office.
For the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Inc., in Washington, D.C., pre-pandemic normal meant most employees were working in-office and traveling regularly between offices in other locations. When the pandemic hit, they closed the office like so many other companies and went 100% remote. Now they’re slowly returning to a new normal, allowing a small number of team members to work at the office and increasing that number as safety permits.
In this article, Jen Daly, Senior Facilities Manager at the NRDC, explains how Kastle’s KastlePresence mobile access control and the health attestation feature of KastleSafeSpaces helped her staff gain confidence that they were returning to a secure, healthy environment.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Washington, D.C. office of the NRDC housed 150 staffers. Team members “mainly worked in the office,” said Daly. Additionally, because of its location within the nation’s capital, the office served as a temporary workspace for many staffers from other NRDC locations and a central location for internal meetings. A few employees worked remotely, and even fewer worked in a hybrid (some work in the office and some remote) style.
When the NRDC built the D.C. office in 2011, Kastle installed integrated access control and video surveillance solutions with advanced cameras and access readers originally with keycard credentials. Daly explained that she first became familiar with Kastle when previously working at another NRDC office. “We use Kastle portfolio-wide,” she said. “It’s great because staffers traveling between offices can easily use the same credential across multiple offices to gain access.”
In 2019, NRDC upgraded their card-based access system to the KastlePresence mobile access system, using an app on smartphones as their credential. George Gillespie, Systems Consultant at Kastle managing the NRDC account, recalls that the upgrade was “implemented for ease of use and to provide a touchless, seamless access experience at the suite level across their locations.”
The Move to Remote-Only
Daly became aware of the pandemic before it reached the U.S. and started working on a response plan in January 2020. “At that time,” she recalled, “there were so many unknowns. We were focused on what would happen if someone in the office came down with symptoms and had to be transported to a hospital, as well as what to do if we had to close the office.”
As of Monday, March 9, office leaders encouraged staff to work from home; the office closed entirely by Friday of that week. Daly explained, “Initially, we thought it would only be through the end of March. Then it got pushed to April, then pushed several more times. We were scrambling to get hand sanitizer and masks. It was frustrating. Finally, we realized this situation wasn’t going to end any time soon and made arrangements for staff to come in and get furniture and other things they might need to work from home.”
As the pandemic went on and the staff learned more about staying safe, policies shifted accordingly. For example, said Daly, “A lot of people take public transportation to get to work, and they didn’t feel safe doing it.” For a brief period in the summer of 2020, staff was allowed to come in. Until recently, the closure has continued, and opening plans have been pushed back several times.
Finally, in September 2021, the office reopened at 30% capacity, only Monday through Thursday, to allow time for a thorough cleaning each week. Daly noted, “This Phase 1 opening was the result of closely monitoring local COVID numbers and the vaccine having been available for a few months.” Kastle’s access activity data enabled NRDC to track occupancy rates daily to ensure 30% compliance. Office leaders wrestled with whether to institute a vaccine mandate and decided to do so for workers who wanted to return to the office.
For those workers, things have changed. Anyone who wants to be there must reserve a private office and must work in that space. “We are requiring masks, and there are no meetings or amenities, such as coffee,” commented Daly. As of late 2021, the office is still in Phase 1. Because many are still working remotely, the configuration is one component of a hybrid model.
As processes have changed, so have security measures. Gillespie explained that Kastle is working with the NRDC to make sure the office is as comfortable as possible. “We helped them adapt our software for their current configuration,” he said. With the advent of the pandemic, Kastle launched KastleSafeSpaces as a means to help clients use KastlePresence to screen for health status before entering the workplace. Says Gillespie, “KastlePresence now can include a daily attestation form that requires anyone who wants to come to the office to answer four questions about their health before being allowed to make an office reservation. The software also includes a feature to help office leaders track the vaccine status of employees.”
As of late 2021, Daly’s plan is to enter Phase 2 and Phase 3 when it is safe to do so. Phase 2 involves opening at 50% capacity with in-person meetings, fewer travel restrictions, and amenities returned. Phase 3 is fully reopened. “Neither of those phases will happen until we can make sure we can keep both remote and in-office workers safe and ensure the hybrid model is equitable,” stated Daly.
How Kastle Helps
Daly reflected on how Kastle’s services have enabled easier shifts in policies since the pandemic started. She said, “We appreciate that Kastle is a one-stop-shop for cameras and security software. Their customer service is also great. Whenever we have an issue, they get it taken care of immediately. Gillespie and his team have been working with us side-by-side to make our phased reopening as smooth as possible. We love the added layers of security with elevator keypads (where you scan your credential to get to another floor) and wave door openers, which enable employees to move through the office without touching anything.”
Gillespie added, “Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for our customers to operate their spaces in a safe manner without being overbearing. We do it with a comprehensive system that integrates technology and new safety protocols both for the building and for tenant spaces.”
For companies facing similar return-to-office challenges, it pays to carefully think through strategies and find the right tools to help. Kastle offers protocols to fit users’ needs with operational elements of KastleSafeSpaces® for testing, or vaccination verification within access control. For hybrid work arrangements, Kastle can help with capacity monitoring, including staggered work schedules, occupancy tracking, and space usage.