This Toy Company Reopened Its Office. Here's What Its Employees Think.
A dozen years ago, Jay Foreman (below) started a company that makes toys, including classics like Tonka trucks, Care Bears, and Lincoln Logs. It’s called, appropriately, Basic Fun! But last summer, it was not fun at all when he told his nearly 80 employees in Boca Raton, Fla., that they had to come back in to keep their jobs. The lockdown had lifted in Florida, and he was reopening.
Foreman started in the toy biz 35 years ago, buying game booths on the Jersey Shore boardwalk. When his mother told him to get a real job, he dumped a pillowcase with his summer’s earnings on the bed: $16,000 in cash. “I knew it! I knew it!” she yelled. She thought he’d joined the Mafia.
Today Foreman is convinced you need in-person collaboration to design great toys — not to mention a lot of squeezing, cuddling, and playing with the prototypes. Zoom does not cut it. So last summer, he installed temperature checks at the door, provided masks (mandatory), separated each desk by 400 square feet, and put hand sanitizers everywhere. Then he reopened, with Fridays being work-from-home optional. “People were very angry at me,” he says. “But I told them, ‘Listen, guys, we need you here, otherwise I can’t guarantee to keep this business alive.’ ” Two employees have since tested positive, but the safety protocols worked and everyone else was fine. The company stayed on track to do $150 million in sales last year.
Ashley Mady / Head of brand development
Karen Sullivan / Good Stuff sales coordinator
“My mother is elderly, and both my husband and I have asthma. So when I was asked to go back to the office, it fueled stress and anxiety and sparked many conversations. But I reassured my family that the company had made huge changes to protect us, and I was going stir-crazy working at home. With all the new protocols, we rarely see our coworkers who we used to run into at the lunchroom or at the coffee station. That’s really sad. But I have purchased lots of cute, fashionable masks with filters to make me feel better!”
Christine Holste / Senior designer
Gene Work / VP, creative services
“I helped prepare the office to reopen. I designed spaces between desks and built walls around the cubicles with acetate windows to close them in but still have visual openness. I also created signage throughout the office to reinforce social distancing and safety, and installed hot-water heaters in the restrooms for more efficient handwashing. We took out chairs to limit participants in conference room gatherings. We still tend to interact one-on-one in person, particularly for creative matters and materials such as packaging. I think information is flowing as well as it ever has.”
Brittney Dobbins / Staff accountant
Merryl Reynolds / VP, sales
“As a vice president, I, fortunately, have a large private office, which has been converted to a mini showroom of our latest toys. My job used to involve traveling a lot to trade shows and meetings with buyers, which I now do by Zoom. But I do miss the in-person meetings. As great as Zoom is, it’s hard to read the room.”