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This Toy Company Reopened Its Office. Here's What Its Employees Think.

When Basic Fun! CEO Jay Foreman told his employees to come back to work last summer, not everyone was happy. Here's what their operation looks like today.

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This story appears in the March 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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.

Image Credit: Peyton Fulford

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.

Related: 4 Secrets to Building a Healthy Hybrid Workplace

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

“My team started using the project management tool Wrike during the lockdown. Now that we’re back in the office, our Teams meetings have morphed into working sessions in Wrike, which in some ways is more efficient. I’ve also added a microwave, a minifridge, and a porcelain duck hand-sanitizer pump to my office so I have everything I need without having to walk around.”

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!”

Related: Getting Your Team Ready for the Hybrid Office

Christine Holste / Senior designer

“If I need to meet with another person, we may talk at their desk or in their office — with masks on. But if there are three or more, we meet virtually. It felt odd at first, but we’ve adapted. The first time someone tested positive, we were all a little freaked out. That was several months ago, and we’ve learned more about COVID since then — so when someone recently tested positive, this time my first thought was about him and his well-being. When a group of people experience something awful together, you really develop a bond.”

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.”

Related: Is Remote Working Sustainable for Your Organization?

Brittney Dobbins / Staff accountant

“At first I didn’t understand why we had to come to the office and be put at a higher risk. But I suppose I was happy to get new scenery versus spending the entire day in my living room. I have my lunch in my car now, since I’m not comfortable taking off my mask in the office to eat. I’ve tried to make my workspace not feel so much like work, with little toys from the company. I really look forward to when we can have Thursday breakfasts again, when we bring in bagels and croissants for everyone.”

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.”

Related: How Should We Return to Work? The Future of the Hybrid Workforce

Joe Smith / VP, product development

“I feel pretty safe in the office. We do lots of Zooms, Teams, FaceTime calls, and live chats to communicate. But we still walk around and have ‘doorway’ meetings and sit-downs if necessary. When two people tested positive, we closed the office for a few days to sanitize it and get tested. I asked everyone on my team if they were comfortable coming back, and they were. We were much more careful immediately following those cases.”

Written By

Liz Brody is a contributing editor at Entrepreneur magazine.