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The Uber approach: three practical actions for making offices COVID-secure and sustainable long-term.

October 13, 2020 / United Kingdom

Hyacintha Hakim is Facility Site Coordinator at Uber’s Amsterdam HQ, so she’s responsible for keeping the office as COVID-secure as possible. 

Here she talks about the delicate balancing act between short-term COVID measures and overarching priorities, like sustainability, culture and employee engagement. Making spaces COVID-friendly is a top priority but as COVID uncertainty stretches on, it shouldn’t be businesses’ only priority. 

Take it away, Hyacintha…

Find the positive angle 

When we first started transitioning people back, there was a big rush to make the office COVID-friendly. We ordered heaps of PPE, like three months’ worth of disinfectant, hand sanitiser and stickers. 

After that initial rush calmed down and we had a chance to reflect though, we realised we needed to think about the employee experience too. For example, the COVID stickers were pretty ugly and didn’t give a welcoming experience to people coming into the office. They created an environment that focussed too much on the negatives – don’t sit here, don’t walk there.

That’s not the office that’s most conducive to people feeling happy, motivated and supported. I think most businesses are realising COVID isn’t a flash in the pan – it’s our new normal. So organisations have to find a way to look for the positives within the measures we’re all taking.

Look for ways to rephase don’ts as dos, for example. Could there be opportunities for humour in your office comms? Could you make changes like offering moisturiser alongside sanitiser, or offering masks made from fun fabric? 

Focus on accountability 

From the office management perspective, we can’t police people’s behaviour – we can only nudge and remind. That means we have sometimes struggled to get everyone to follow the guidelines. Maybe that’s also because of perceived negativity – the working environment has obviously changed a lot right now, and most people don’t love change. 

We’ve introduced a health declaration when you enter the office, which has been helpful to introducing an element of accountability. That’s worked really well for us, because people are taking ownership over their answers. It’s helped people understand, these guidelines aren’t a negative – they’re a positive, designed with everyone’s best interests in mind.

It’s important to introduce measures that are going to make returning to the office sustainable long-term, because nobody knows how long the COVID situation will last. 

Who knows – maybe a health declaration could become a simple measure that’s here to stay, even if COVID disappears? Many companies (not Uber!) seem to have a culture of working even when you’re unwell – COVID has hopefully changed all that for the better. I think people are realising how important it is, if you’re not operating at full steam, to stay home and look after yourself and protect others. 

Consider your overarching priorities too 

Uber want to be as sustainable as possible, so that’s been a real challenge with COVID because there are new contradictory considerations. For instance, when we first opened our offices we piloted wrapped packages of food with disposables, to minimise contact. 

Using disposables isn’t ideal from a sustainability perspective, so we’ve put a lot of time into researching budget-friendly but green disposables. It’s that balancing act again. For us, it’s important to focus on the long-term while also obviously putting COVID first. Asking questions like, ‘what if we have to do things this way forever – how can we mitigate our impact?’.  

Sustainability has also been a challenge from a food waste perspective. Uber normally offer breakfast from 8-10am, lunch from 12-2pm and snacks available constantly in the pantries. Now we only offer lunch and we have a hard stop at 2pm – things have to be thrown out immediately. It’s been really hard to get food availability right, so nobody goes hungry but we avoid waste. We realised people sign-up for food but then don’t show up, for example. 

Allowing employees to order in food is a great fix, because it means people choose more accurately and don’t order food unless they want it. Using UberEats for Business makes managing employee meals easy at scale, removing admin and guesswork. 

We’re also finding that because the COVID situation is fast-changing, it’s hard to have long-term certainty about the catering situation. In the Netherlands, big offices have just closed again. If we have to go back to square one, our people are stuck with sandwiches again – which we know they found disappointing. Uber employees are used to having great food options! UberEats for Business means people can order food they want in a COVID-secure way, even if we can’t offer full catering. 

It’s about making changes that work long-term, so even if COVID continues we’re not sacrificing everything that makes Uber Uber.

This blog is part of The team that Eats together initiative, a content series exploring what normal looks like now, and how to enhance the working world to meet evolved employee expectations.

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The views and opinions expressed are based on the research conducted and they do not intend to present an official policy of Uber or any of its subsidiaries. Examples of advice mentioned in this article are based on open source information and assumptions made within the article are not reflective of Uber’s position.