The Missouri Botanical Garden is a St. Louis treasure, beloved by many as an oasis in the city and respected internationally as a scientific institution. The unprecedented three-month closure of the Garden this spring was heartbreaking for our visitors, staff, and volunteers. When we unexpectedly closed to visitors in March, Garden staff had no idea how long we would be closed and what it would take to reopen. As we quickly pivoted to working from home, and then working to reopen, it soon became clear to me what a critical role Human Resources would play in creatively addressing the new challenges of operating a botanical garden under the restrictions created by COVID-19.
Early on, the Human Resources team spent long days sifting through materials on websites, attending webinars, and monitoring state, local, and federal legislation to gather any information related to COVID-19. HR created a COVID-19 Safety Task Force. We crafted new safety and personnel policies in compliance with CDC, federal, state, and local guidelines. We configured our HRIS system to comply with new emergency FMLA and extended sick leave laws. We quickly distributed laptops to those working from home. Staff set up offices in their kitchens and living rooms, using Zoom or Microsoft Teams to attend meetings. Our scientists continued their essential research and publications remotely. We created additional safety policies for the few staff who continued to work on grounds at the Garden caring for more than 17,000 unique plants in our living collection.
This was a quickly evolving crisis unlike anything we had ever had to deal with. Information changed constantly, sometimes hour by hour. To ensure everyone was on the same page, the HR team began weekly virtual supervisor Question and Answer sessions to share information about COVID-19, safety policies, technology, or any other pertinent information. We held virtual lunch and learns for staff focused on health and financial wellness. We encouraged Garden supervisors to continue holding virtual staff meetings and to check in on staff working remotely often.
In June, St. Louis City officials gave the Garden permission to reopen to visitors. St. Louis County approved the reopening of the Butterfly House and Shaw Nature Reserve was able to reopen in Gray Summit. This was fantastic news. I know the importance of outdoor spaces in my own life and recognize that to many, they are a source of healing and comfort. How wonderful to once again be able to offer that to our visitors.
Of course, the safety of our staff, visitors, and volunteers, was the top priority in reopening. Once again, the HR team jumped into action. We created additional safety policies and procedures for staff. We worked with IT to develop an online health screening phone application and worked with our Security team to implement a drive-up temperature checkpoint. We are providing necessary PPE for staff and ensuring social distancing. We led return to work training to keep everyone up-to-date on the latest polices. We shared information about COVID-19 testing, did our share of work on contact tracing, and continued to limit staff travel. Anyone who has to travel is still required to quarantine for 14 days before returning to Garden grounds.
Visitors are required to wear masks and social distance. We have limited capacity to reduce crowds. Paths are now one-way throughout the Garden. You can read more about those policies here.
Health and safety are still our top priority as we continue to adapt to this “new normal.” In November, we will open Garden Glow, which has become a holiday tradition for many St. Louis families. We will do this with enhanced safety measures, including requiring masks, reducing capacity, and limiting touch points. During these difficult times, we hope this beloved event will still bring our visitors comfort and joy.
Vice President of Human Resources
Missouri Botanical Gardens