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An empty Amazon courtyard in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

More than 600 people signed up to hear guidance on reopening their workplaces during a Madrona Venture Group virtual event Monday afternoon, a sign of the growing interest in returning to work safely when the state starts to lift restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Seattle-based venture capital firm solicited input from more than 50 people at 15 major employers in the region — including Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks — to compile a “Back to Work Toolkit” that provided the basis for the presentation. Madrona worked with the Seattle and Bellevue Chambers of Commerce and other venture partners to present the toolkit.

A new set of guidelines and principles will be necessary until a COVID-19 vaccine and widespread testing are available, Madrona representatives said. The most common piece of advice from companies Madrona interviewed was this: clear, open, two-way communication is essential to making employees feel safe.

“Communication is not just about what you share out but it’s also about the methods and the practices that you establish from listening,” said Katie Drucker, head of business development and partnerships at Madrona, during the event.

Based on its research, Madrona is recommending employers follow these steps as they consider returning to work:

  1. Assemble a task force of representatives from legal, HR, and leadership to manage the transition.
  2. Prepare the office by ensuring a steady supply of the appropriate personal protective gear and implementing new cleaning protocols.
  3. Communicate regularly with employees and distribute training materials for the return to work.
  4. Ensure new policies around COVID-19 containment and disclosure comply with privacy and workplace regulations.

In addition to those basic guidelines, many of the employers that Madrona spoke with are implementing screening procedures for everyone who enters their facilities. They stressed that the return to work will not be uniform, and recommended identifying projects and personnel that should take priority over others.

Washington state appears to be on track for a gradual re-opening starting in May. Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday that day use of state parks, fishing, and golf will be allowed to re-open May 5. Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order is currently slated to expire May 4, though he has cautioned the return will be more like turning a dial than flipping a switch.

“We are close to the point in the spread of this virus where we can enjoy the outdoors again,” Inslee said Monday. However, he added, “if this virus were to spring back, we might have to roll back some of these measures again.”

Likewise, Madrona told attendees of the virtual event to have a game plan for a possible resurgence of COVID-19. Procedures should be in place in the event of a second COVID-19 shutdown, they said.

Download the firm’s toolkit for returning to work here.

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