Business

Molson Coors decided to reopen its offices. Things got complicated.




Molson Coors Beverage Co. learned some lessons after bringing company employees back to their office in October. Color-coded bracelets can help colleagues signal openness to a hug. It is important to plan 10 minutes of travel time between meetings. And it’s tough to get some people into meeting rooms with masks if they can join a video call without a mask from the desk.

The company, which makes Coors Light and Miller Lite beers, closed its corporate offices in March 2020 when Covid-19 appeared, sending thousands of employees home. Early this year, the brewery began planning for the return.

The most difficult decision, said CEO Gavin Hattersley, was to adopt a vaccine mandate for 2,200 corporate employees in the United States. The company did so in August, a month before President Biden announced a vaccine directive for companies with more than 1[ads1]00 employees. The White House’s policy is now temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court.

The CEO said he thought Molson’s vaccine mandate was crucial in making employees feel safe enough to return to the office, but worried staff would quit. “How many would leave?” he said in a recent interview. “We just did not have the answer to that.”

In the end, few did. Less than 1% of U.S. corporate employees left the company, either because of the vaccine requirement or because of the mandatory return to offices, Molson said.

Red, yellow and green bracelets that indicate the level of comfort during physical contact are worn by employees in the company pub. Green represents a hug or high-five; yellow represents an elbow skin.

What Molson and many other companies discover is that there is not one incident to returning to an office. It requires a number of decisions, some of which must be reconsidered to keep pace with new developments. Many people are still struggling with when and how to bring workers back as the emergence of the Omicron variant leads to new travel restrictions and some delays in reopening offices.

Molson recently told the employees of the American company that the company will require vaccine enhancers, a decision that was underway before the variant became widely known. Molson has not changed its US office or travel policy due to Omicron. But employees who returned in November to Molson’s British office in Burton-Upon-Trent, England, will work remotely again from Monday during Britain’s last work from home.

“You could not communicate too much”

Molson, based in Chicago, has 17,000 employees worldwide. In March 2020, when the brewery sent the company’s employees home, the company’s managers hoped that they would be able to celebrate the reopening of their offices that year by the fourth of July. Molson’s production staff continued to work at the breweries throughout the pandemic with social distancing protocols and other Covid-19 security measures. Meanwhile, the company staff worked from home for more than 18 months.

Mr. Hattersley wanted to bring his corporate employees back five days a week. But through employee surveys, virtual chats with CEOs and other employee forums, Molson heard from workers who said they valued the flexibility of working from home. On top of that, many were afraid that it was not safe to return to the office. Others were concerned about securing childcare and dealing with unexpected school closures.

Molson’s management team discussed a plan for four days a week early this year, and then decided on a schedule of three mandatory days a week at the North American offices. All corporate employees in the United States and Canada must report to their office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. With everyone in the office on the same days, colleagues could more effectively meet and collaborate in person, the company’s managers reason.

“I like that people are together, and this time last year I would probably think we should be back five days a week,” said Mr. Hattersley, 59, a South African native who joined the company in 2002 and became CEO. director in 2019 «But the world has moved on from that process. And as a management team, as a company, we followed. It just was not going to work. It was not what our people needed, and it was not where the world is. “

Samantha Wolkowicz walks through the hallways of the Coors office. Masks are required in shared rooms.

Communicating that plan – and explaining it – became Molson’s next big challenge. The company realized that employees with children needed a long lead time to prepare for new work and childcare routines. So Molson told his U.S. employees in April about the plan three days a week, setting a Sept. 7 reopening date for U.S. offices. Around 800 employees in North America were to report to offices where they had never worked before.

Molson distributed detailed notes on the reopening plans, tips sheets for hybrid work, guides to the offices and answers to questions that employees sent in via email. Mr. Hattersley hosted monthly sessions in which he answered questions in a virtual chat room.

“You actually could not communicate too much,” he said. “You can not just assume that people will understand what your rationale is.”

The staff wanted to know if going back to the office would put them or their families in danger. Many had children who were not yet eligible for vaccination.

To address these concerns, Mr. Hattersley decided in August to adopt a vaccine mandate for all 2,200 U.S. corporate employees with the exception of approx. 35 unionized clerical staff, and postponed the reopening date to October to give staff time to be fully vaccinated. Most unionized clerical workers were vaccinated; others must be tested weekly for Covid-19. All new employees in the US, including in the breweries, must be vaccinated, and so will visitors to Molson’s US offices.

Coors employees who work at cubicles are not required to wear masks.

Some employees were upset by the announcement. Others welcomed the vaccine mandate, but were concerned about the safety – or length – of their commuter public transport.

Some parents with babies and toddlers said they would have preferred a schedule with only two mandatory days in the office so they could spend more time at home. Sara Welch Goucher, an e-commerce director at the Chicago office, was one of them. During the day, a caregiver looks at her nearly 1-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son at their home in Wheaton, Illinois. Mrs Goucher said her commute to the city center had increased to 90 minutes from 70 before the pandemic because trains on her route run less frequently now.

“I got used to seeing my kids in the small moments between meetings,” said Mrs. Goucher, 35, who has worked for the company for three and a half years. “But I want some time in the office. It gives me a different kind of energy.”

Coffee, donuts and beer

In interviews with more than a dozen workers and managers, employees said they were happy to see their colleagues in person again. The team that planned to return to the US office, decided on a party atmosphere for the first day back and went low-key, said Jackie Heard, an HR manager who helped lead the effort. Gone was the idea of ​​grilling and music. Instead, the company offered free coffee and donuts when employees arrived.

Workers found welcome packs with hand sanitizer, stress balls and handwritten note cards on the desk. Business leaders greeted people throughout the first day. Members of the IT team also circulated, ready to help while people struggled to connect to Wi-Fi networks and printers.

In the marketing department at the company’s headquarters in Chicago, staff could pick up a bracelet in green, yellow, or red to indicate when they were open to a hug or high-five, or preferred an elbow or a wave. Molson’s office in the UK offered green, yellow and red cords for the same purpose.

Josh McDonald, a marketing manager at Coors Light who took a new position and moved during the pandemic from Florida to Chicago, chose a green bracelet. He had never met his teammates in person.

“The funniest thing is the joy of seeing someone you’ve been communicating with for a year and a half [

Microsoft

] Team, as in 3D, says McDonald, 35, who has worked in the company for four years. “It was a lot of soft-stepping” while colleagues measured whether they should go in for a hug.

“I’m a hugger, but I did not want to invade anyone’s bubble,” he said.

Susan Waldman, 56, a global business process owner in Molson’s global business services department, was eager to see her colleagues again, and the vaccine mandate made her feel safer considering the reopening, she said. But she was disappointed that the mandate did not cover Molson’s brewery workers or clergy. “I feel that everyone has to do their part,” she said.

Molson said the breweries allowed social distancing in a way that the offices did not, and that the brewery workers had demonstrated that they could continue to work safely during the pandemic.

Back in an office for the first time in more than a year and a half, employees had to learn some of the tricks and habits of office life again. Among them: Do not forget the mobile phone charger or the office ID tag. They also discovered that they needed to schedule 10 minutes between personal meetings to go from one to the next.

Employees can remove masks to drink at the corporate pub in the late afternoon.

The company asks employees to use office days for personal collaboration and external days for focused, individual work. Working from home is optional on Wednesdays and Fridays, and so far most employees do just that, the company said. The company has handed out supervisors to supervisors to lead hybrid work, and has asked them to intervene if they see someone being excluded from a meeting or a decision because he or she is not physically present. Mr. Hattersley usually works from home on Wednesdays and Fridays to be an example, Molson said.

A hiccup is that many employees conduct video conference meetings at their desks, where they can remove their masks, instead of gathering in conference rooms, where they have to wear masks.

“We can do a better job with it,” said Mrs. Heard, chief of staff. “Encouraging people to get out of the office and have interactions is going to be important to us.”

Sarah Irizarry, a 30-year-old marketing manager at the Chicago office, is struggling with these requirements. Sitting in a conference room for a video conference with a marketing agency while wearing masks is a “double barrier,” she said. Mrs. Irizarry said she preferred to sit at her desk without a mask on for these meetings and try to plan them for the days at home.

Most Molson workers embraced the company’s new approach to office life. One sign is the level of activity inside pubs in the Chicago and Milwaukee offices. They are now buzzing in the late afternoons while colleagues catch up with each other over beer.

Write to Jennifer Maloney at jennifer.maloney@wsj.com

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