Simon Smith – Rightpoint
- Written by: David Harry
- Produced by: Liz Fallon & Andrew Melson
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Simon Smith was not alone in assuming his company’s shift to remote work because of the COVID-19 pandemic would not be long-term. As the associate director of facilities and operations at Rightpoint, he says he expected the company’s offices to reopen about two months after they closed in March 2020.
More than 18 months later, the reopenings have been partially accomplished, and while Smith is preparing for full occupancy, he doesn’t expect it—and the company won’t require it.
“I’m a motivated person who has the support of the company and is working with teams to figure out what the new hybrid workplace looks like,” Smith says. “We’re figuring it out for the first time, so learning from and with others is the best way to find success.”
Founded in 2007 and headquartered in Chicago, Rightpoint is a digital services agency that helps its clients create and execute digital strategies to better reach customers. Those clients include Cadillac, which Rightpoint helped reimagine its user experience with a new dashboard interface as it introduced its first all-electric vehicle.
Rightpoint has also partnered with an international beauty brand to redesign the company’s U.S. website—and incorporate that redesign into its websites around the world. Rightpoint employees had been working in 12 offices worldwide— including New York, Los Angeles, Sydney and London—when the pandemic began spreading in early 2020.
The first Rightpoint office to close was in Oakland. The Boston office closed days after that. By mid-month, all Rightpoint employees were working remotely. Though his primary challenge was providing the necessary hardware and network connections for virtual work, Smith also needed to consider how to keep his staff of seven busy while offices were closed.
As the team considered how to reopen offices, Rightpoint was discovering it could succeed with remote work. That allowed Smith more time to develop plans while working with changing guidelines. It also allowed the company to reconsider how much office space it needs in its future.
Reserving space, reinforcing safety
A company survey shows 70 percent of employees prefer a hybrid schedule—working one or two days per week in the offices. Based on that, Smith developed a three-phase plan to reopen offices to full capacity. The plan was implemented in July 2021 with a limited opening to test safety methods and procedures with fewer employees in offices. Whether employees return is their call.
“Short of putting everyone in space suits, there’s always some sort of risk,” Smith says. “Rightpoint is making sure no one feels their career is being compromised by staying home.”
Employees are required to wear masks, observe social distancing and be vaccinated to enter offices. There’s also a contact tracing system—a process made easier by requiring all on-site employees to reserve desks through the Robin software Smith implemented.
“Contract tracing is something that never would have occurred to me pre-pandemic,” Smith says. “Now it’s crucial for employee safety. If someone reports symptoms or has a positive test, we’ll be able to know when they were in the office and who was there with them.”
Upon learning that COVID-19 was more likely to spread by airborne particles as opposed to surface contact, Smith began working with landlords and office owners to make Rightpoint’s HVAC systems safer, with improved filtration and air flow, as well as added air quality monitors.
In addition, Smith is working with IT on a digital dashboard showing office air quality and its history, including displays of CO2 levels in rooms to show how many people have been using the spaces. He and the company also developed protocols for dealing with an outbreak as required by New York State guidelines.
Throughout the process, Smith adds he’s seen no shortages of vendors looking to sell Rightpoint technology and solutions for office safety. “Separating the wheat from the chaff,” is how he describes the pitches. However, he adds that Ratio Design and the real estate company JLL provided resources, materials and expertise in navigating how to reopen while Wesbuilt Construction renovated Rightpoint’s New York offices while observing COVID safety protocols.
Change is here to stay
Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Smith moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, but returned to New England when he attended Boston University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2006.
After graduation, Smith joined a now defunct restaurant and club called Wonder Bar in Allston, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. There he served as office manager and then business manager from 2007 to 2013.
He came to Rightpoint by joining Agency Oasis in 2014 as a finance associate. Agency Oasis was acquired by Rightpoint in 2016. By then, Smith had become its office and facilities manager. In 2019, he became senior operations manager and was promoted to his present position in January 2021.
Smith and Rightpoint are in no hurry to reopen offices—doing it right is the priority.
“What surprised me the most is how much we took for granted before,” Smith says. “This has been a seismic change for Rightpoint and business in general. It’s the first time as a country and around the globe that we’ve made teleworking a reality.”
Photo Credit: Kristen Finn
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. II 2022 Edition here.
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