Watch: What a return to work looks like

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Headquartered in Beijing, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was impacted in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, moving to a fully remote workplace before much of the rest of the world.

“We went from a very face-to-face work culture … overnight to a fully digital culture” said Laurel Ostfield, director general for communications at AIIB, in a video interview with Devex’s Kate Warren.

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There have been pros and cons to that, she said, as it forced a digital transformation to come much faster but also created difficulties in engaging people and teams when simply walking down the hall was not possible.

Adding to the challenge was the fact that, when lockdowns began, many of the bank’s employees were celebrating the Lunar New Year holiday outside of Beijing. With team members spread across 46 countries and most unable to travel back, the bank needed to be flexible in how it approached work and managed the expectations of its staff.

“Many people were living in hotels, were on vacation when suddenly travel stopped,” Ostfield said, and people had not expected to work while away, with many in areas with poor broadband connections.

Safety was the priority when considering a return to work. Per the Chinese government’s instructions, only 15% of staff can be on-site at a time, so teams have put people on rotation to limit numbers in the office, alternating the days that they come in. Employees who are immunocompromised, those with children who are still home from school or day care, and any unable to return home from their location are encouraged to continue working from home.

What does it look like for employees coming into the office? All staff members were equipped with a prevention kit containing gloves, masks and alcohol spray and have their temperatures taken each day. Face-to-face meetings are on hold, and the bank cafeteria is offering takeout only. To discourage the use of public transportation, employees were given a stipend to commute via taxi instead, lowering their exposure risk.

As a new and growing organization, AIIB intended to do quite a bit of hiring this year, Ostfield said, but it is “hard to hire people to work for us when they can’t physically come work with us”. While the bank continues to selectively recruit, the crisis has provided “horizontal” opportunities for current staff members to try new things or leverage their skills for another department, particularly as AIIB refocuses its lending to address the coronavirus pandemic in areas that the bank has not historically invested in, such as health care infrastructure.

Watch more from the Careers during COVID series:
Results for Development’s John Farden explains the shifts in program delivery, job trends, and workforce needs.
Dr. Elvira Beracochea provides insight on how the coronavirus is affecting the way consultants operate.
UNHCR HR chief Catty Bennet Sattler says COVID-19 could change how the agency works.
IOM HR chief Michael Emery discusses the pandemic's impact on the workplace and careers.
RTI International's Bucky Fairfax talks about the opportunities to build in inclusivity and equalize access to leadership.

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