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How St. Louis Companies Are Pandemic-Proofing Their Offices

Design changes at the eleventh hour to the new Benson Hill headquarters in Creve Coeur were made with COVID-19 in mind.
Benson Hill
Design changes at the eleventh hour to the new Benson Hill headquarters in Creve Coeur were made with COVID-19 in mind.

Bob Harrison likes working in the office. He thinks it befits his company’s culture and helps lead to better collaboration.

Harrison is the chairman and president of the Daniel and Henry Co., an insurance broker and risk management company in St. Louis with 170 employees.

“As time has gone on, the euphoria of what appeared to be efficiency is kind of waning a bit,” Harrison told St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske. “We’ve really realized that we’re a company whose culture is best fostered by working from the office.”

Harrison’s company remains empathetic to employees who need to work remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly because of health issues as well as child care and elder care needs. But, he’s encouraging employees to safely return to the office by ensuring people honor personal space and wear masks in common areas.

“I think to a person, most feel that the opportunity for collaboration, informal communication and spontaneous communication really occurs at the office,” he said.

Harrison is not alone when it comes to wanting workers to come back to the office.

Megan Ridgeway is an architect and principal at Arcturis, a St. Louis-based architecture firm. For the past four months, she’s spent much of her time working with companies to create a safe environment for workers. She works with clients on everything from the installation of touchless doors and temperature check stations to the design of boardrooms and break rooms.

Architect Megan Ridgeway is a principal at St. Louis-based Arcturis.
Architect Megan Ridgeway is a principal at St. Louis-based Arcturis.

“What’s happened over the past many months as this pandemic has raged on longer than any of us had expected or at least hoped, the mind shift has changed to why do we want to get back to work,” she said.

Ridgeway explained that the companies she’s working with are meaningfully introspective about the reasons they want their employees together and in how they go about considering custom solutions.

“We have a number of companies in the region that we are systematically going through the ‘why’ with them, highlighting their highest priorities of being together and then strategically working with these individual companies to identify the right plan of back-to-work and the safe work environment for them,” she said.

In addition to working with the Daniel and Henry Co., Ridgeway worked on the design of Benson Hill’s new headquarters. The ag-tech company’s $52 million building is at 39 North, a 600-acre innovation in Creve Coeur that also houses the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

“After the building was completed and slightly delayed, we made a series of decisions to take a cautious, staged approach to reintroducing folks back to the workplace,” said Matt Crisp, co-founder and CEO of Benson Hill.

At the eleventh hour, Ridgeway and her team recommended and instituted several changes to account for the pandemic that included where furniture was placed, the addition of a temperature check station upon entry to the building and doors that open with the wave of a hand.

“We’re a startup — we like to say we’ve maintained the nimbleness to act quickly, we respected the issue and found solutions,” Crisp said.

If you’ve gone back to working in the office, we’re interested in hearing your experience. What steps is your employer taking to accommodate working in the age of COVID-19? Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to talk@stlpublicradio.org or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform our coverage.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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